Thursday, October 31, 2013

Gir's Weekly Column: Volume 78

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Gir's Weekly Column: Volume 78

By Gir Todafunk
Special To The Daily Magi
August 2, 2056


What's going on, everyone? I'm Gir Todafunk with another weekly column for the Daily Magi and Magi Football blog. We are inching close and closer and closer to the start of the college football season, and this week, I want to talk a little bit about the 3-4 defense. In American football, the 3–4 defense is a defensive alignment consisting of three down linemen and four linebackers. The 3–4 defense declined in popularity over the years, but has found renewed use by modern professional and college football teams. The 3–4 defense is so named because it involves 3 down linemen and 4 linebackers. There are usually 4 defensive backs.

Teams that regularly incorporate the 3–4 defensive alignment scheme include the Cleveland Browns, San Diego Chargers, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, and Houston Texans. The Cardinals already incorporate the 5–2 defense, an older variation of the 3–4, in some of their defensive schemes. The Miami Dolphins have also incorporated elements of the 3–4 defense into their scheme, under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, but with the hiring of Kevin Coyle as their new defensive coordinator, the Dolphins will switch to a 4–3 defense under new coach Joe Philbin. The Ravens run a hybrid defense and occasionally shift to 4–3 schemes during games. With the hiring of defensive coordinator Dom Capers, the Green Bay Packers have switched to a 3–4 defense (2009). With the hiring of Chuck Pagano as their new Head Coach, the Indianapolis Colts have switched to 3-4 Defense. The Buffalo Bills installed a 3–4 scheme to begin the 2010 season, but made frequent use of 4–3 sets as the season progressed, and will stick with the 4–3 for 2012 following the signing of free agent defensive end Mario Williams. However, with Mike Pettine as the Bills new defensive coordinator, they will move back to the 3–4 defense and Williams will move back to outside linebacker. Under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the Houston Texans have adopted the 3–4 defensive scheme for the 2011 season. The Dallas Cowboys will switch to the 4-3 Defense with the hiring of Monte Kiffin as their defensive coordinator. Sean Payton announced that the Saints will switch to the 3–4 defense for the 2013 season, and the Cleveland Browns will switch to a 3–4 "stick-em" defense. With the hiring of Chip Kelly as head coach and Billy Davis as defensive coordinator, the Eagles will shift to a hybrid defense that will incorporate 3–4 and 4–3 schemes.

Typically, there are two major variations of the 3–4 defense. Both variations are directly related to coverage schemes on obvious passing downs. For the first type, the outside linebackers will rush the quarterback, the great majority of the time. This defensive scheme is largely attributed to Dick LeBeau, although there is some discussion that Joe Collier of the Denver Broncos "Orange Crush" was the actual originator of the "NFL 3–4". In the 1970s the Miami Dolphins would bring in Linebacker Bob Matheson (number 53) to be a fourth linebacker in passing situations, a formation known as the "53 Defense." On key situations, the rush linebacker will be sent to cover the flat on the opposite side of the blitzing defensive back; this is called a "zone blitz". The other common 3–4 defense is typically associated with the New England Patriots. This scheme requires outside linebackers to have the ability to back pedal and drop into coverage. Of course they do rush the passer at times, it is just that they are much more likely to drop into coverage.

The Chicago Bears are the only NFL team that have never used the 3–4 as their base defense. Before the 2010 season, the Washington Redskins had also never run a base 3–4, but under the direction of new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, the Redskins have adopted the 3–4 and its many variants, such as the 2–4–5 and the 1–5–5, based on formations used by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Conversely, the Steelers have used the 3–4 as their base since 1982, the season after Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene and end L. C. Greenwood retired. In fact, the Steelers were the only NFL team to use the 3–4 defense during the 2001 NFL season, but finished the season as the number one defense in the NFL. It is believed that the Steelers success with the 3–4 defense is the primary reason why many NFL teams have started returning to the formation.

The 3–4 defense was originally devised by Bud Wilkinson at the University of Oklahoma in the 1940s. Chuck Fairbanks learned the defense from Wilkinson and is credited with importing it to the NFL. The 1972 Miami Dolphins were the first team to win a Super Bowl with the 3–4 defense, going undefeated and using number 53, Bob Mathison as a down lineman or rushing linebacker. When the Oakland Raiders defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV, it marked the first Super Bowl in which both teams used the 3–4 as their base defense. Also notable, the Big Blue Wrecking Crew, the defensive unit for the 1986 New York Giants who won Super Bowl XXI, was a 3–4 defense and featured all-time great Lawrence Taylor as outside linebacker. By the mid-1990s, only a few teams used a 3–4 defense, most notably the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers.

I'll talk a little bit more about the 3-4 defense in my next weekly column. I'm Gir, Mr. Wonderful, signing off. You are not alone.

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