Debunking the 3-4 (Make it Stop)

4 Apr

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I told you, didn’t I?  Loomis is king, man.  I thought he was done for now, but even I underestimated the guy.  How good do you have to be at your job when a blog anointing you as the one true Football God underestimates your ability?  I had already forgotten about Hawthorne.  We got our guy.  Weakened that franchise-not-to-be-named in that funny-smelling city to the North and East, while making a huge leap on defense ourselves.  And then, when nobody was looking, boom goes the dynamite.  Hawthorne’s a Saint.  The crowd goes wild.

Amazing.

But with that final (or not?) piece in place at the linebacker position, the old phenomenon rears its ugly head.  Every time a team signs an inordinate number of linebackers in one offseason, the fans start howling with joy.  “THREE FOUR!” they proclaim.  Yep, we have more linebackers than we need, so we must be going to a 3-4 base set.  Come on over and sit down.  We need to talk.

 Stop it, people.  Just stop.  Every offseason, we sign a linebacker and the message boards and the blogs and Jeff Duncan’s twitter explodes with a bunch of nonsense about the imminent switch to a 3-4.  I’ll spare you a lengthy breakdown of what personnel is needed to run a 3-4.  That’s on the internet, you can find it with a simple Google search, and it’s boring as all hell.  Look for it if you want to.  In the meantime, I want to look at this from a different angle.  I’m a big History guy, and that’s how I’ll look at the defensive moves in the offseason: from an historic standpoint.

So who did we pick up?

1. Defensive coordinator: Steve Spagnuolo.  Look, this is a 4-3 guy, folks.  He loves to blitz, uses multiple packages to do so – from a philosophy standpoint, we’re looking at a Gregg Williams clone.  A Gregg Williams clone that, we hope, can get a lot more out of his linemen than Gregg could (see: New York Giants) and can be a little more level-headed.  One can only hope that he knows to double-cover the best player on the field with a minute left in the game.  But he’s not a 3-4 coordinator, and he never has been.

The story should probably end there.  A guy doesn’t suddenly make such a fundamental shift in philosophy upon taking on a new defense unless the defense is just tailor-made for such a shift, and even then, it’s probably unlikely.  He’s going to go get some talent that will fit his scheme, and let the rest go. But some folks won’t let this go.  So let’s look at what he’s done so far, with help from the Great Loomis.

2. Brodrick Bunkley:  The next Meechum™.  There’s no E in his first name, people.  Besides that, he comes from Philadelphia via Denver, both of which operate a base 4-3.  Before that, he spent his college career at Florida State in, you guessed it, a 4-3 set. 

3. Chris Chamberlain:  Drafted by St. Louis in 2008 by Scott Linehan and Jim Haslett.  Remember his defenses?  Yeah.  Moving on…

4. Curtis Lofton:  A middle linebacker in a 4-3 in Atlanta.  (“2 points” reference goes here).  He played at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops, who subscribes to a 4-3 philosophy.  

5. David Hawthorne:  Loomis’s latest hit, stolen from the Seahawks in a sudden move that took pretty much everyone by surprise, including our local media.  Ok, let’s be honest, that didn’t take anyone by surprise.  The Seahawks run, you guessed it, a 4-3.  He played ball at TCU, who I admit I’m not familiar with at all.  A little searching leaves me with an impression of a weird nickel-base-set 4-2-5 thing.  Four down linemen, two linebackers.  That sounds a lot more like a 4-3 than a 3-4 if you ask me (if you’re still reading at this point, I’ll say that constitutes “asking me”).

To sum up: looking to revamp the defense, our front office chose to bring in a defensive coordinator who has always run a 4-3.  With his advice, they chose to sign a defensive tackle and three linebackers, all of whom are potential (or guaranteed) starters, who have all been playing in a 4-3 base defense their entire careers.

What conclusions can we draw?  Well, I think we can safely rule out the 3-4, at least based on the historical evidence available.  Now, of course, that’s not to say we won’t see four linebackers on the field at one time here and there.  I would hope we can see some unpredictability out of this defense, keeping some quarterbacks guessing at things other than “which three players will stay in coverage on this play while the rest run into the offensive line like a crash test car?”  But a 3-4 base defense is completely out of the question, in this guy’s opinion.  Of course, every other offseason move has taken me at least a little by surprise, so who knows?

What’s interesting to me about all this is the fans’ persistent belief that we will move to a 3-4 every freakin’ year.  Why is that?  It seems most fans (and some experts and coaches, obviously) feel a 3-4 is more effective and unpredictable.  Maybe that’s true.  But there are some great defenses out there using a 4-3 today, and we can have one of our own.  It’s arguable which is more effective.  It’s not arguable which is more effective under an experienced 4-3 coordinator and a boatload of 4-3 personnel.  There are enough changes happening in New Orleans right now – a drastic shift in defensive scheme, and the learning curve that comes with it, doesn’t need to be added to the mix.

In the end, it’s probably the Dome Patrol’s fault.  Hey, I grew up watching those guys.  It was amazing, and a little nostalgia is probably creeping in when your buddy pipes up and says “hey! We have 10 linebackers!  3-4!!!!!”  I went to my first home game in ’92, against the Redskins.  That 3-4 juggernaut of a defense ripped Mark Rypien to shreds.  I’ll never forget it.  But I can move on, and accept that the Dome Patrol isn’t coming back.  We don’t need the Dome Patrol, Saints fans.  They’re all like ninety years old.  If you must nickname this new defense, let’s find something all their own, instead of the ridiculous “Dome Patrol II” meme that pops up every time we make the slightest perceived improvement on defense.  It’s time to move on, and look forward to a dominating defense that will (we can all hope) remind us of the Dome Patrol not in scheme or philosophy or design, but in its effectiveness. 

And maybe a few big hits.  Just to piss ‘em all off.  That would be nice.

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