Let’s talk some more about the 3-4 defense. We’ll go back to basics to make sure everyone is on the same page and knows what we’re talking about. The 3-4 is 3 defensive linemen and 4 LBs.
Am I an artist or what? Picasso and Van Gogh are hacks. I’d like to see de Kooning try and make that into a woman. Enough about my artistry…
Before going any further, we need to talk about responsibilities. You can run different kinds of 3-4 just like the 4-3. You can use smaller, faster players and go with a 1-gap system. You can go with bigger players and run a 2-gap system. Wade Phillips loves the 1-gap attack. Bill Belichick is a guy who would prefer to 2-gap. My guess is that Chip Kelly would prefer to have more athletic guys and play a 1-gap style. That’s strictly a guess.
Let’s talk about each position.
OLB – This player is called a linebacker, but essentially he is a pass rusher. Think of James Harrison, DeMarcus Ware, Clay Matthews, and in the old days…Lawrence Taylor. The Patriots prefer tall guys while the Steelers like short OLBs. If you believe a recent report, Kelly will prefer taller OLBs. 6-3 and above would qualify as tall for this spot with 6-5 probably being ideal.
DE – The end in a 3-4 plays what is called the 5-technique. His job is to be equally good as a run defender and pass rusher. JJ Watt is the best 3-4 DE in the league. He was a high pick. The Steelers have had success developing mid and late round picks to be DEs. Some teams that like big players are moving big guys to this spot. Haloti Ngata lined up at DE most of the last 2 years. Red Bryant is a massive DE for Seattle. My guess with Kelly is that he’ll look for guys in the 6-4, 300 range.
NT – 10 years ago this player had to be 330 pounds and strong as an ox. Now we see Jay Ratliff (295 or so) and Shaun Cody (300 or so) as effective NTs. There are still big NTs. Terrence Cody is a big man. Casey Hampton too. My guess is that Kelly will go smaller here, but not small. He might like a NT that is 6-3, 315. That size player can still get upfield, but is also able to anchor against double teams.
ILB – You are basically looking for a pair of MLBs. You would like the players to be able to rush the passer since blitzing is a big part of the 3-4. The ILBs must be able to deal with blockers if playing in a 1-gap system. You need at least one to be good in coverage. Speed isn’t as critical since there is less ground to cover.
I will put together a depth chart for the Eagles based on current personnel.
DE Fletcher Cox ……. Ronnie Cameron
NT Mike Patterson … Antonio Dixon
DE Cullen Jenkins …. Cedric Thornton
OLB Trent Cole …………….Vinny Curry
ILB Mychael Kendricks … Jamar Chaney ….. Marcus Dowtin
ILB DeMeco Ryans ……… Casey Matthews … Ryan Rau
OLB Brandon Graham …. Phillip Hunt ………. Everette Brown
Cox, Jenkins, and Thornton are all natural 3-4 DEs. They should do just fine.
NT is a complete mystery. Dixon hasn’t played a full season since 2010 so you can’t count on him. Patt is very hard to figure out due to his medical situation. This is the one spot the Eagles would have to bring in a starting caliber player.
OLB is a partial mystery. Plenty of people thought Graham was suited for the 3-4 before the draft. I think he’s still a good pass rusher, but I do question how effective he can be on those plays when he is asked to drop back in coverage. Cole doesn’t have the overall athleticism you’d like, but he’s strong, tough, and smart. He knows how to rush the passer. He has a great motor and I think can be okay as a short term 3-4 OLB. Curry I think can play in the 3-4. I actually want to save him for a separate post. Hunt can, but one of the reasons he chose the Eagles is that he wanted to play in a 4-3. Also, he’s small and if Kelly wants big players, that doesn’t bode well for him.
ILB would be fine with Kendricks and Ryans. Mychael lacks ideal height, but has the skill set to be a very good ILB. Ryans is best suited for 4-3 MLB, but can play in the 3-4. He’s an older player and you’d want to find a young player to develop behind him no matter what.
Could there be some changes? It is possible that Cole and Curry could bulk up to the 275 pound range and play RDE. Bruce Smith was a 3-4 DE in the 270s. It can be done. I do not like Cox at NT. He’s better with some space to work with. That said, could the coaches look at him as a better version of Jay Ratliff and want him there. Possible I guess. I do think Thornton would be most natural at DE, where he played in college.
One huge thing to keep in mind is that the 3-4 is a base defense. The Nickel alignment would still be the 4-2-5. The Dime would be 4-1-6. Because teams are so exotic on offense these days, the base defense is only played about half the time. That means that almost half the snaps would involve a 4-2-5 look.
Trent Cole would still be right at home in the Nickel. Cox would slide inside to DT, just like JJ Watt does for the Texans. Curry and Graham could be DE or DT. Hunt could be the LDE. The point is that you’d have plenty of snaps in a 4-man line to work guys into roles that they are suited for.
* * * * *
Why go 3-4?
Grantham figured out he was a 3-4 guy during a stint with the Indianapolis Colts from 1999-2001. At the time, Peyton Manning was maturing into one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. In practice every week, Grantham watched Manning diagnose and pick apart even-front defenses. As soon as the defenders lined up, Manning recognized the coverage and could spot any weaknesses.
That wasn’t the case in 2000 when the Colts faced the New England Patriots and first-year coach Bill Belichick. “When [Manning] went against an even front, he knew the coverage and what you were doing based on the alignment on the front,” Grantham said. “But when he went against the New England Patriots and everything was balanced, he had a much tougher time. You could mentally and physically see the stress during practice of where the fourth rusher was coming from.”
Simply put, the 3-4 makes you less predictable. You have 7 potential pass rushers on each snap (not counting DBs). In the 4-3, the rushers are mostly going to be the DL. LBs will blitz on occasion. LBs blitz in the 3-4 on a regular basis. That’s why it is important that all members of the front seven be good pass rushers.
The 3-4 is no magic bullet. You need good players and a good coach. Just switching the scheme means nothing. The Skins were 28th and Dallas 19th this year, both as 3-4 teams. The Giants were 31st and the Eagles 15th as 4-3 teams. By the way…did anyone really think the Eagles gave up the fewest yards in the division?
My guess is that Kelly likes the unpredictability of the 3-4. He probably also likes the fact it gives you the freedom to better adjust to your personnel. Kelly likes systems that allow him to adjust to his players.
* * * * *
I wrote up some thoughts on Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones. More than a few fans have asked about him as a target at #4. I think that would be a bit early for him.
I also included some good Youtube videos to watch. Take a look for yourself and see what you think of Mr Jones in action.