Ditch mediocrity by switching to a 3-4 defense


One common argument I have heard against moving to a 3-4 defense is that we presently don’t have the personnel for it. I have three thoughts on this: 1) we obviously don’t have the personnel for a 4-3 either; 2) don’t we have to make serious personnel changes anyway?; and 3) why are we clinging to a style of defense that has yielded mediocre results at best for years? Would it hurt to try something new like a 3-4? The only time I remember the Packers D being good in the last few decades was during the mid 90s with Reggie and company. Well, boredom carried me to ridiculous levels just now because I decided to see how the Packers have finished in the main defensive category of yards per game over the course of the last 12 years or so. (I didn’t go back further in part because this took too long and also because our defenses just sucked before that.)

  • 2008 = #20 overall, #26 rush, #12 pass
  • 2007 = #11 overall, #14 rush, #12 pass
  • 2006 = #12 overall, #13 rush, #17 pass
  • 2005 = #7 overall, #23 rush, #1 pass
  • 2004 = #25 overall, #14 rush, #25 pass
  • 2003 = #17 overall, #10 rush, #23 pass
  • 2002 = #12 overall, #21 rush, #3 pass
  • 2001 = #12 overall, #16 rush, #15 pass
  • 2000 = #15 overall, #8 rush, #19 pass
  • 1999 = #19 overall, #22 rush, #18 pass
  • 1998 = #4 overall, #4 rush, #10 pass
  • 1997 = #7 overall, #20 rush, #8 pass
  • 1996 = #1 overall, #4 rush, #1 pass

Sure there were a couple decent seasons from the pass D, but overall, the defense has been consistently mediocre. Only 2 times in the last 12 years have the Packers had a defense finish in the top 5 overall in yards per game allowed, 1996 and 1998. Of course, LeRoy Butler recently shared with the 1250 WSSP listening audience that during those  years it was common for the defense to shift from their 4-3 base to a 3-4 set. On the show, LeRoy talked about how effective their use of the 3-4 was back then and how in general, a 3-4 defense gives a team a greater variety of looks/options with regard to blitzing, coverage and gap fills (if you will, I made that expression up…I have to admit, I did consider not admitting I made this expression up so I could mislead you all into believing I’m down with modern defensive lingo – but I’m not down with any defensive lingo so I decided to come clean).

Anyway, my point is this: why not just give it a try? Whether it’s Mike Nolan or Keith Butler or Andy Hayes. Just give it a try.

(Note: as I sifted through the defensive stats of the last 12 years, it wasn’t surprising to me to see Pittsburgh up near the top almost every year in every defensive category. By now, you all know of my developing man-crush on Pittsburgh’s D Coordinator Dick LeBeau – he’s a genius. Oh, and he has used a 3-4 for years.)

19 Responses to “Ditch mediocrity by switching to a 3-4 defense”

  1. Bill Walsh Says:

    Hey, the news up here is mentioning Gregg Williams. He’s a mad genius.

  2. Ace Says:

    Le Beau is about 71 and going no where else to coach. No need to mention him again Andy, only his lieutenant. I would say Nolan and Williams would be SUBSTANTIAL improvements over Sanders, who was doomed from the start. Nice man, poor coach-lack of talent and major injuries notwithstanding.

  3. DaveK Says:

    Bring in the best and brightest D.C. regardless of scheme. A smart D.C. will make best use of the talent we have regardless of scheme. I think too many people are hung up on the 3-4 or 4-3 thing. Good coaches figure out how to tweak a scheme to best utilize good players. First, hire the brightest D.C. out there who can run the entire defensive show. Two, get him some talent in the draft/FA to improve that line. You do both those things and you will see a much better defense next year.

  4. Aaron Says:

    Corey and I were discussing this last night while recording our end-of-the-year podcast – why has it been seemingly impossible for the Packers to field a decent defense since Holmgren (and more importantly Shumur) left? It’s been over a decade since we had a defense worth a damn. Seems pretty inexcusable…

  5. awhayes Says:

    DaveK – I would say chances are really good TT/MM go with a very knowledgeable, experienced coach and that they don’t takes any chances w/a new scheme. I would be surprised if they don’t give Gregg Williams a fairly ridiculous offer. Why? Because like politicians, TT/MM are essentially up for re-election this year and taking any chances or even perceived chances could get them canned if it doesn’t really pan out. Williams would be a very safe choice. And, to be honest, I wouldn’t be too disappointed with Williams as DC even though he plays a 4-3 – he is knowledgeable and experienced and has a history of producing good defenses. That said, I do believe we’d be better off in the long run if we hired a d-coordinator who implemented a simple but effective 3-4 scheme because I believe it’s a better concept. (Interestingly, Mike Singletary in SF has apparently done a great job with his version of a 3-4 and it showed in quality defensive performances by SF down the stretch.)

  6. awhayes Says:

    Aaron – I need to check out that podcast…

    Throw in there that we ended up in the playoffs many of those years and it makes our defensive mediocrity even more surprising/inexcusable. Even if the new DC we bring in uses a 4-3 defense, I’d be fine as long as we have a good defense and a d-coordinator who can get these guys playing as a unit. I will say this, if we select a smart, capable guy who helps our defense perform at a high level (at least a top 10 level), it very well could be what ends up saving MM and TT their jobs. This is an important decision.

  7. Ron La Canne Says:

    3-4, 4-3 all I want to see is an attacking, aggressive hard hitting defense. It appears from experience that the 3-4 lends itself to that style of play more than the 4-3. I do want this, I NEVER, EVER want to hear the words “bend but don’t break” used again when describing the Packer defense. Kick Ass would be satisfactory.

    And let’s never forget the Packers are roughly 4 or 5 good D-Linmen and LB’s away from stability on the roster, regardless of whether it is 3-4, or 4-3. The new coach means nothing unlesss talent level is increased. It must be increased.

  8. 56Coop Says:

    I may be showing my football defensive strategy stupidity here, but would it be outside the realm of possibilities to utilize both a 3-4 and a 4-3. I realize it may be a little more complex than going from under the center to shotgun or from an I formation to a clean backfield but surely these guys are savvy enough to grasp the concepts. So all you great football minds–what do you think? Educate me!!

  9. 56Coop Says:

    Also, I’m going to open an opinion poll here. What does everyone think about making a run for Pacman “Penetentiary” Jones? Not worth the trouble, lost all his talent, good addition for GB, what do you think?

  10. Ron La Canne Says:

    Jones – a total waste of salary cap. History says he’d never finish the season and is likely to be a cancer in the locker room. If I see the Packers trying to get him, they are in worse shape than even I think.

    4-3, 3-4 combo? Sure Nolan did it in San Fran and if you go back to the Packers of the mid-ninties, they had a 4-3 base but threw in a 3-4 set regularly.

  11. Aaron Says:

    “…would it be outside the realm of possibilities to utilize both a 3-4 and a 4-3?”

    No – though that was partly what caused Nolan’s defense to be so ineffective in San Fran…

  12. joshywoshybigfatposhy Says:

    i should preface this by saying i’m a 26 year-old wimp with no experience in barfights or even any significant recess scuffles from my youth, much less real combat, but — the people who think football is a game for braindead oafs are the same people who think battles are just a bunch of idiots with explosives and sharp sticks running at each other.

    defense in football = offense in war. the will to attack, and the ability to react quickly to he who has the ‘high ground’ (the ball). here’s an outline about 3-4 vs. 4-3: http://www.nfl.com/news/story?id=09000d5d80d6974b&template=with-video-with-comments&confirm=true – the last little paragraph is a good summary

    “The 3-4 defense offers flexibility in looks, features quicker athletes rushing from the outside and forces offensive adjustments that empty the backfield. Not many teams want to be in a 4-3 defense when the opponent has a 3-by-2 empty set with no one in the backfield except the quarterback. However, 3-4 teams are ready for that adjustment with a three-man rush while many four-man fronts have to pop out a lineman into coverage.

    The NFL’s top two defenses (Pittsburgh and Baltimore) are 3-4 teams. The top two defenses in sacks (Dallas and Pittsburgh) are 3-4 teams. Therefore, it might be time to consider the 3-4 a better package against modern offenses.”

    i realize the personnel issue is real, but i think if it’s possible to slowly edge your way into a 3-4, by introducing it bit by bit as you acquire players — if that’s possible — is really in our best interest. if Terrell Suggs is available, he’d be a good start.

    on another note, if ‘mike and mike’ start using the name Penitentiary Jones in a few weeks, you know i’ll be taking credit with every comment thereafter for a year or so. it probably won’t though – Penitentiary is too hard to spell for braindead oafs like myself (no offense Coop56, you probably just blindly cut and paste like i did).

    that is all.

  13. joshywoshybigfatposhy Says:

    so that’s not all — jones isn’t worth the powder to blow him up. he wasn’t even that productive this season. it will be even harder to produce wearing handcuffs and a tracking-bowlingball-anklet, which i hear is goodell’s plan if jones gets in trouble again.

  14. 56Coop Says:

    No offense taken joshy. I’m college educated & had no idea penitentiary had 2 i’s. (Maybe penis is the root word–no pun intended). And just for the record I’m in agreement that Pacman would be a waste of time, although I don’t think Goodell has the power to cuff & shackle him. If he gets into trouble again though I think a court of law will. Finally, I meant to give you credit joshy for the penitentiary handle on Pacman. I did read it in your earlier post.

    When I was in high school we used to run a 4-4 defense. Back 4 were offset to front 4, We used to run cross blitz’s out of it; sometimes we had the backers & ends up front but most times we had the guards & tackles on the front –ends would usually drop back to outside flats and backers cover shallow middle. Usually we would run a cross backer blitz 3 or 4 times during a defensive serires. Backers took a shutter step then crossed and came in between the tackles & guards. The real reason we ran it though is it was a very simple scheme to understand and we needed it to be as simple as possible.

    I’m suer that just bored the hell out of all of you bit it was fun to reminesce (damn joshy–now you got me worried about every word I’m misspelling now–what are you an english major)? 😉

  15. 56Coop Says:

    Damn, I’m gonna have to start proofing before I hit submit

  16. bucky Says:

    Penitentiary: c.1421, “place of punishment for offenses against the church,” from M.L. penitentiaria, from fem. of penitentiarius (adj.) “of penance,” from L. pænitentia “penitence” (see penitence). Meaning “house of correction” first found 1806 (originally an asylum for prostitutes).

  17. joshywoshybigfatposhy Says:

    i feel even more like a jackass, realizing that i actually spelled it right the first time. and no, my brother’s the english major. philosophy was my meaningful pursuit of no substantive ends. now i work in an office and spend my ‘spare’ time nerdifying football blogs.

    anyhow, i’ve got to say – on winston moss’ alleged comments (can’t remember where i read them) – in essence he said he’d be a ‘motivator’ as a head coach (and leave the coordinating of offense and defense up to the oc and dc). i wouldn’t list motivating as one of his strong points, if the motor of the lb’s this year is any indication.

    on another unrelated note: and everyone thinks ed hochuli is such a tough guy

  18. Mike McCarthy to embrace 3-4 defense? « packergeeks Says:

    […] have outlined my reasoning for wanting to move to a 3-4 in a past post. Many are worried about how a 3-4 scheme will fit with our present personnel. My simple response to […]

  19. Chicago thoughts on Capers « packergeeks Says:

    […] January, I argued that the Pack ought to move to a 3-4 defense. I’ve felt this way for a while now primarily […]

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