View Full Version : Excellent Article Today on the 3-4 Defense

12-08-2004, 03:33 PM

It may be time to look at the 3-4 defense
http://images.nfl.com/images/author/7193.jpg By Pat Kirwan (http://www.nfl.com/writers/kirwan)
NFL.com Senior Analyst
(Dec. 8, 2004) -- There are conversations and opinions popping up everywhere about the reasons the AFC is dominating the NFC in interconference play this season. There is plenty of speculation that an 8-8 team, or possibly a 7-9 team, could make the NFC playoffs, while a 10-6 or maybe even an 11-5 AFC club could be left out.

The playoff system doesn't need to be questioned or tweaked, but following the old adage, "Just win your division and the rest will take care of itself," is still great advice. No truer words have ever been spoken when it comes to the NFC West. St. Louis and Seattle are at the top of the division with 6-6 records. How did so many teams in the NFC get to this point with such poor records? And more importantly, how did they fail to win at least half of the interconference games?
The AFC has beaten the NFC in interconference games 14 more times. There are a number of reasons people point to, like the AFC has better coaches. The AFC supporters bring up New England's Bill Belichick and Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher. The NFC counters with Dallas' Bill Parcells and Philadelphia's Andy Reid. Some quickly say the best quarterbacks are in the AFC. Indianapolis' Peyton Manning (http://www.nfl.com/players/playerpage/12531) and New England's Tom Brady (http://www.nfl.com/players/playerpage/187741) are the best examples of what the AFC has to offer. The NFC can easily argue that Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb (http://www.nfl.com/players/playerpage/133361), Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper (http://www.nfl.com/players/playerpage/133263) or Green Bay's Brett Favre (http://www.nfl.com/players/playerpage/1028) make the QB discussion a moot point. Subjective discussions about players and coaches rarely go anywhere, so I looked for something unique to the AFC that may be tangible to explain at least one of the reasons the AFC dominates the NFC in 2004.

http://images.nfl.com/photos/img7977052.jpg Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis and the Ravens LBs have things in hand.
One concept that is worth discussing is the type of defense played in the AFC. Not one team in the NFC is committed to the 3-4 defense, while in the AFC six teams are built on the 3-4 package. Before I break down the results of the 3-4 defense so far this season, the one fact that caught my attention was that the AFC's 3-4 teams have totally dominated NFC teams when they went head-to-head. New England, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Diego, Oakland and Houston have a combined 12-5 record when they play NFC teams. That win-loss ratio is close to the entire gap between the two conferences of 14 games. If you throw out the Houston Texans, who are 0-3 vs. the NFC, then the 3-4 teams are 12-2 when they meet their NFC rivals. The 3-4 isn't the only defense that works in the NFL by any means, but it sure looks effective, and the league rankings in a number of critical defensive areas sure support its use.

My own football experience has been with the 4-3 under/over front developed mostly by Monte Kiffin, the defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and used throughout the NFL. The simple win-loss record of the 3-4 against a conference that doesn't use it as a base defense led me to look at the production league-wide, and I was impressed. After we look at the league rankings in a number of areas, I will try to present some of the reasons why it is so effective. Here are the rankings of the top four AFC 3-4 teams, who by the way have a 10-1 record against the NFC.

Numbers represent ranking in the NFL:
Team Opponent rush yards. Rushing TDs Avg. yards per run Runs over 20 yards Sacks Forced turnovers PIT 1 1 (tie) 2 (tie) 4 (tie) 2 8 NE 6 4 14 2 (tie) 3 4 BAL 10 5 (tie) 2 (tie) 2 (tie) 7 12 SD 2 25 (tie) 4 (tie) 1 30 10

These 3-4 teams dominate many categories in the NFL, as we can see in the above chart. Take sacks, for example. New England, Pittsburgh and Baltimore have generated 111 sacks, or an average of 37 sacks per team. Twenty-six teams play some form of the 4-3 defense, and only the Eagles can match that kind of production. After digging a little deeper in the probe of these sacks, it becomes a reality that the outside linebackers have 45 of the 111 sacks for the 3-4 teams. Quick, agile athletes like Joey Porter (http://www.nfl.com/players/playerpage/133392) and Terrell Suggs (http://www.nfl.com/players/playerpage/396177) flourish in the 3-4 defense. According to one college scouting director, "I wish our coaches would switch to a 3-4 because it is easier to find outside linebackers than it is to find defensive linemen."

The run defense is just as impressive with these four teams giving up an average run of no more than 3.6 yards per carry and just 90.5 rushing yards per game. As one coach said, "With one less player with his hand on the ground at the snap, the ability to flow to the ball appears to be better." An NFC offensive lineman told me, "We don't see much 3-4, and when we do, it causes problems."

It is very impressive to look at the ranking of these AFC 3-4 teams when you look at how few runs they give up over 20 yards. These 3-4 teams are the best in the NFL at keeping the running game contained. A starting safety on one of these teams said the two-gap front of the 3-4 and the fast flow of the four linebackers gets to the ball quickly and provides few cracks to gash the defense with. You can argue that point all you want, but the numbers don't lie.

Finally, the AFC has won the interconference battle every year since 1995, and I'm sure there are many reasons it happens. I'm not prepared to say the AFC's love of the 3-4 is the main reason for the winning record of 32-18 against the NFC. But I do believe the 3-4 package is experiencing success, and when the first-place teams in the AFC East, AFC North and AFC West are using the 3-4, it may be time to look at it with a different attitude.

At the very least, a few NFC teams need to incorporate it into their 2005 package and try and create problems and mismatches so they can win their division. The rest will take care of itself.

12-08-2004, 03:36 PM
I'm going to note something that Kirwan doesn't, that I can't prove or anything, but that simply makes sense to me:

When 26 teams in the NFL play one style of defense, and 6 play another style, and the 2 styles demand different "types" of defensive players (to some degree), it is easier for the 6 teams to get excellent/very good players for their style than it is for the 26. It's simply supply and demand.

Spicy McHaggis
12-08-2004, 04:36 PM
Good point Amnorix, all those "tweeners" in a 4-3 are almost perfect fits in the 3-4

12-08-2004, 04:51 PM
I love the 3-4.

Unfortunately, it looks like we've finally got the beginnings of a solid defensive line and some WEAK LB's...Fujita would be a good 3-4 guy, and I think Stills would be a good 3-4 MLB, but I don't like what we've have to throw out there just to make it work.

12-08-2004, 06:41 PM
I love the 3-4.

Unfortunately, it looks like we've finally got the beginnings of a solid defensive line and some WEAK LB's...Fujita would be a good 3-4 guy, and I think Stills would be a good 3-4 MLB, but I don't like what we've have to throw out there just to make it work.

And Jared Allen is not a 3-4 player----too small for end, and too big for OLB. But he should be a nice fit as a 4-3 end.