Tennessee Titans Defense Should Change to a 3-4

Jan 22, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive end Justin Smith (94) and inside linebacker Patrick Willis (52) line up during the 2011 NFC Championship game against the New York Giants at Candlestick Park. The Giants won 20-17 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE

 

The 2012 Tennessee Titans defense will feature a few new pieces on the first and second levels next season. The recent addition of players like DE Kamerion Wimbley, OLB Zach Brown and DT Mike Martin are definitely going to improve a defensive front seven that needed to get stronger up front and much faster at the linebacker position. When looking over all of the new additions along with what the team already had in place, it made me think that the Titans defense may be better off changing their scheme on defense to a 3-4 instead of a 4-3.

Many teams in the NFL are currently running this scheme on defense and the more I look over the current roster I find myself asking: Why not the Titans? 3-4 defenses are built on size up front and speed at the linebacker position. Teams like the Steelers, 49ers and Ravens have been successful at running this scheme and I believe that the Titans have the personnel to run this as well.

3-4 defenses dominate the NFL today. When you look at stats like scoring defense, rushing yards per game, interceptions and total yards, you will find 3-4 based defenses leading the way in those categories.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have made this scheme a staple in the success of their franchise over the years. They have proven that if you have the right parts along the front seven that this style of play can be highly productive. Over the years the Steelers defense has constantly produced Pro Bowl caliber players and has ranked near the top of every defensive statistical category.  Before the start of any NFL season you know that the Steelers defense will be ranked somewhere in the top five by the end of that season.

Teams like the 49ers and Ravens have taken this blueprint and have transformed their respective defenses into monsters, causing some of the most explosive offenses to struggle. The 49ers are arguably the best defense in football and the Ravens continue to be one of the most elite units in the league year in and year out. Both teams are excellent at using the 3-4 to confuse and apply constant pressure on QBs.

The change in scheme did wonders for the Houston Texans last season. In the past the Texans were at best an average defense playing under a 4-3. One season under Wade Phillips and the 3-4 and they became one of the best defensive units in the NFL. They always had good personnel (picking in the top 10 every year can do that) but the change in scheme allowed them to utilize all of that speed that they have acquired over the years.

The 3-4 defense would also allow for a lot more flexibility in the Titans defense, creating different ways to apply pressure and disguise coverages to opposing QBs. I don’t believe that the 4-3 fits this particular defense. The strength of this defense is now in its’ LBs. The team doesn’t have the type of front to rush four and drop seven into coverage like Titans defenses of the past. New and creative ways to get after the quarterback are needed for this team. With the speed that they have acquired it may be best to put these guys in space and allow that speed to create the pressure.

The Titans have plenty of big bodies up front and the talent at linebacker to make this work. Jerry Gray could use guys like Jurrell Casey, Shaun Smith and Mike Martin up front to occupy space and allow the young linebackers to roam and make plays.

The best part about a possible change is that the Titans have four talented linebackers that can fly all over the field. A linebacker corp of Wimbley and Zach Brown coming off the edges with McCarthy and Ayers in the middle could be a dangerous combination for opposing offenses. It would create more opportunities for the young secondary to make plays and give the offense better field position when starting drives.

I would love to see Jerry Gray employ the 3-4 this season and take advantage of the speed on the roster. The Titans have one of the most talented, young linebacker corps in the league. Many teams would go crazy to have this kind of talent at linebacker. Turn them loose.

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Topics: Houston Texans, NFL, Tennessee Titans, Titan Sized

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  • seagle1

    @ Eddie, while I would be surprised this year if we don’t show and play out of a 3-4 about 6-10% of the time I really don’t think we have the pieces in place to make a full transition to a 34 permanent. Heres a couple reason why I think this. While Casey and Martin are big, they would basically have to play a 5 technique as DEs in the 34. Relying on Martin to do that as a rookie wouldn’t be that good of a move. Actually relying on any of our DL to play 5 technique for an extended amount of time would be very difficult. They would have to 6-5 300…or close to. Then, who plays the nose….most DT that play a zero technique in a 34 are 6-5 350….we don’t have anyone like. Like I said earlier….I do believe we’ll see some 34 to get our LBers on the field and to show a few different looks but the transition to a permanent 34 takes time and a total adjustment in philosophy.

  • eboyd

     @seagle1 W^ seagle. Got to disagree with you. The Titans have more than enough size up front to make this work and several guys on the roster weighing in at 300lbs. The size that you mentioned for a nose tackle is not completely true. The 49ers and Steelers both have NT that are smaller and control the middle. Casey Hampton of the Steelers is listed 6’1 325 and Isaac Sopoaga of the 49ers is listed as 6’2 330 and both teams are very successful with them in the middle. You could easily have Shaun Smith play NT. He’s 6’2 325. Surround him with strong athletic guys up like Martin (6’1 306) and Casey (6’1 300) and this can definitely work. The great thing about a 3-4 is that defensive line is not asked to put up big sack numbers. They have to take up space and allow the LBs to clean up.
     
    The Texans didn’t have your prototype NT and were one of the best defensive units in the league. Shaun Cody is 6’4 301. They surrounded him with strong, athletic guys up front and allowed their speed at LB to make plays.

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  • seagle1

     @eboyd 6’1 325 is alot bigger than 6’1 300….and just because someone is big doesn’t mean they can fit and play in a 34 defense. It is a very difficult transition from a 43 to a 34 and size of players is but one variable that you have to deal with. Just the complexity of going from a 1 or 3 tecnique tackle to a 5 technique DE in a 34 is very tough.
    Just like thinking that since Zach Brown can run a 4.50 he’ll be great coming off the edge. That would be a very, very tough transition in itself….coming off the edge and pass rushing against a decent LT in the league is a very, very tough job and asking him to do that as a rookie is a very big stretch. 
    To the Texans, they are also coached by a guy that has run or been involved in the 34 defense for most of his life. Make no mistake, Phillips is easily one of the best DC in the league.
    With that said, I love switching to a 34, I love the defense itself and the creativity that it brings. I do think that its a great idea if we run the 34 as a change up, a way to throw QBs off and a way make our guys multi dimensional. I just know it is ridiculously tough to transition to full time. There have more than a few teams that switched to a 34 and it took years to take hold.

  • eboyd

     @seagle1 It’s a difficult transition but they do have the personnel to make it work.
     
    What other reason do you take Zach Brown?? Gray mentioned that a big reason the team took Brown was because of his speed and athletic ability. You don’t draft a guy with that kind of ability because he’s quick to get to his spot in a Cover 2. He will be able to help out in coverage but he was brought in to get after the QB.
     
    Wade Phillips has a great system but you forget that he had limited time to implement that system last season and the Texans excelled. Not to mention they were making a transition from a 43 to a 34 and did so in a matter of weeks. The Texans brought him in because their personnel was better suited to run a 34.
     
    If you feel that they can implement a 34 as a change up then why can’t they use it on a full time basis? The defensive strength is the LBs now. Got to play to your strength instead of running the system that you’re comfortable with. The great teams implement schemes based on the talent on the roster.
     
    I would like to see Gray run some 34. Just feel like the talent on the roster is better suited to run this system than a 43.

  • seagle1

     @eboyd What other reason do you take Zach Brown? You specifically take Brown because he adds more athleticism to the WILL position. He will be more athletic and hopefully better in coverage than Witherspoon. That is exactly why you draft a guy like him, to help in a cover 2, man, quarters, fire zone….whatever. Just talking athleticism here but think about Derrick Brooks…didn’t really get after the QB at all….Lance Briggs…doesn’t get after the QB. There are more than a few 43 WILL backers that don’t blitz a ton. He was specifically brought in to help out and play WILL. Sure I bet he’ll blitz some but out of a 43 he’ll have help from a DE…in a 34 he would be going up solely against a tackle…its just tough to be in that position.
    Wade Phillips did do a great job with that D and I still think there aren’t too many people that could have done that. They had the front seven that was set up to succeed. And moving Ayers from SAM to Mike in 34….that’s asking him to learn an entirely different position all together….that is way too tough.
     
    Now, implementing a 34 on a part time basis is great because you only run certain sub sets and it is much easier to learn when you are only learning a limited amount of plays and sets. We are really looking good at LB now and I really like the 34 in situations but going full time is ridiculously tough. Imagine being a rookie and having to digest 60-70 plays a day during training camp. That’s just with a base defense.
     
    I’m sure we will see some 34 this year, how much..we’ll see.
     
    Gray is a great DC and I’m sure wih a full offseason he is going to throw more than a few wrinkles at opposing offenses.
     

  • dragak1981

    I agree i would like to see the Titans go 3-4 some of the time…but I think they are too thin at LB to do it…if someone goes down with an injury, I don’t think they want to have to rely on Tim Shaw or Gerald McGrath to makes plays…that is not in their repertoire.  Also, the guys up front are not ideally suited for a 3-4.  Who knows if shaun smith will even be on the team.  He is the only one that is a potential nose tackle.  Martin could do it but he is a little light.   Also, it may not be the best use of the personnel we have up front…think the Jason Jones to DE experiment…He was a beast at tackle and kitty cat at DE…

  • eboyd

     @seagle1 You actually proved my point about why a 34 would be a better fit. Bringing in Brown primarily for coverage reasons won’t mean a thing when the front four can’t get to the QB.
     
    The Bears and Bucs featured players along the defensive lines that were All-Pro caliber. Those teams had players like Simeon Rice, Julius Peppers and Warren Sapp up front. The Titans are nowhere close to resembling either of those teams. Those teams went with a scheme that was best for the personnel on the roster. It made sense to have players like Brooks and Briggs who could cover because they already had the players up front to get after the QB.
     
    Although Brown has a similar skill set and will play the same position he will never be that caliber player until the Titans begin generating pressure on the QB. The Bucs and Bears had/have dominant front fours that allowed their WLBs to roam and make plays. If the Titans had those kind of defensive lines then it would make sense to have him on the field in coverage but they don’t.
     
    Rookies are asked to learn an entire playbook, whether it’s 34, 43 or 46. Regardless of type they still have to learn the plays.
     
    I disagree that a 34 is difficult to learn. The Texans put that theory to rest last season. In a 34 more of an emphasis is placed on the the LBs which is now the team’s strength.
     
     

  • eboyd

    Shaw and McGrath would not be relied upon. They are just depth at the position. Add Witherspoon and you have all the depth that you need at LB. Injuries happen but the Titans have plenty of depth all round.
     
    In my opinion they just are not suited to run a 43. Teams like the Bears and Giants are perfect for it because their defensive lines can get to the QB without having to send extra defenders. This allows them to do more with their LBs and DBs. A great 43 defense has to have a great defensive line and the Titans just don’t have it.

  • Randy Bowers

    It would be sweet just to see a change. Which I think we will! They have slit of speed now which in previous years they slacked. It would be a smart move in my eyes!!! TITAN UP!!!

  • dragak1981

     @eboyd Agreed…we would need an albert haynesworth type that we don’t have to make our 4-3 effective… i mean he made everyone around him better plus made plays (when he wanted to)…Perhaps Martin can be that guy and demand double teams…that would leave quite a few one on one opportunities for guys like Klug and wimbley…however…I think we don’t have adeqaute talent at DE to fully take advantage of it…Ball aljd douzable are not much to rely on…and I dont know if Scott Solomon will even equate to those too…

  • seagle1

    Go and watch the post draft press conferences about Zach Brown, Gray made it clear that they thought he would work well as a WILL LB that would do a great job in coverage. Being able to cover just a tad bit longer can turn a pressure into a sack. Brown should be able to get into his drops quicker and stay man for man longer than Witherspoon can….hence the term, “Coverage Sack”. Lance Briggs was an all pro LB for the Bears before they traded for Peppers, they brought Peppers in because their D-line wasn’t getting any pressure. They stuck to their guns and stayed with their 43 cover 2 defense so now, now they have a good front four. Before that they didn’t use Briggs to blitz even though he probably could. Likewise, the Bucs had to trade for Simeon Rice before their line could be considered dominant. At the same time, they always stayed with Monte Kiffin’s cover 2 scheme. Brooks was a great will LB, the most sacks he ever had in a season was 3. So before Rice and Peppers were ever traded to the Bucs and Bears respectively, these teams were already running, continued to run, and still run a 43 defense. They found the players they needed to make their defense work better. Just like the Titans got Brown to make their 43 defense work better. Just like years ago when we had Peter Sirmon and we went out and got David Thornton to add more speed to our LB corp.
     
    Rookies do have to learn an entire playbook, that’s why for alot of rookies it is a very tough transition because the ammount of info that one has to process is unbelievable. I’ve known some guys in the league that said there were times they were having to learn close to 100 plays a day. Its a very tough transition, imagine playing will LB in a 43 and then transitioning to a 34 OLB. I know it sounds funny but that is an absolutly tough transition. That’s like some guys just simply can’t play with their hand on the ground(3 point stance), much like some have a very hard time playing standing.
     
    I totally agree that Brown will never reach his potential until we can generate consistent pressure on the QB. Of course that’s why they got Wimbley and hope he can be that guy because no matter what….the absolute best thing to do is be able to generate pressure with your front four…that’s the main goal.
     
    Glad you brought up the Texans again….it says alot about a team that takes their pro bowl MLB in Demeco Ryans and trades him for a 3rd….why would they do that? The guy is a former pro bowler? He just didn’t fit in the position he was cast when they played a 43.
     
    We’ll just have to agree to disagree. I really think the 34 is very difficult to not only get the right players to play in and be successful in but also difficult to learn .

  • eboyd

     @dragak1981 The 43 is great when you have the horses up front to create pressure. When you look at the great 43 defenses around the league they have the players up front to run that system. Take a look at the Giants, Bears and Lions. They have dominant players on the D Line that allows them to drop seven into coverage. Now compare those teams to what the Titans have up front. Inconsistent play from the DE position (Morgan) and a lack of push up the middle from the tackles. That combination spells disaster for a 43 defense.

  • eboyd

     @seagle1 He will work well on the weak side but it doesn’t mean that’s the only position he can play. He could easily have the same impact on the opposite side. You could put Wimbley or Brown on either side and they could have some success.
     
    What NFL are you watching?? No defense is successful without being able to get to the QB. If a LB has to cover a tad bit longer that means that the front four is not getting to the QB. At some point a receiver will become open if he has the chance to run around a tad bit longer.
     
    The Bears went to a SuperBowl because their defense played lights out. Although they didn’t have Peppers they were still able to apply pressure up front that allowed players like Briggs and Urlacher to roam and make plays. Peppers was brought in to upgrade their pass rush. It’s much easier to run a 43 when you already have several pieces in place which the Titans don’t have.
     
    Same situation with the Bucs. These guys already had talented pieces already in place. Players like Sapp and McFarland were already there along the front line. Rice just upgraded their rush from the end position.
     
    In both cases each team had the players up front to run the scheme successfully. You can’t ask LBs and DBs to cover a tad bit longer. It’s hard enough for them to cover receivers in the time frame that they already have.
     
    It does say a lot about the Texans. It says that they felt they had pieces in place to move on. Ryans was not as productive as you may think in their 34 system and the team has the players to replace him and be even better next year. Players like Glover Quinn, Brooks Reed and JJ Watt are their future.The Texans would not have allowed Ryans or Williams to leave if they didn’t have other pieces already in place to move on. The team just added Mercilus to replace Williams and although Ryans was an All Pro a player like Brian Cushing can easily replace him in the defense.
     
    They got a 3rd round pick for a guy they were going to replace anyway. I would say that was a smart move.

  • seagle1

    @eboyd Ay yi yi Eddie, yeah he may work as well on both sides but traditionally that doesn’t happen. Just like you normally have a bigger run stopping DE and a quicker pass rushing DE in a 43….those guys don’t normally flip flop positions. Sam backers are always better against the run and more stout at the point of attack. That’s just basic football.

    I totally agree, sacks and pressuring the QB are of utmost importance in football, that’s why WR brought in Wimbley….to generate more pressure, but coverage and QB pressure work hand in hand as well…if you have the best rush in the league but can’t cover….you’re done. Plain and simple.

    The bears did go to a SB…they did generate pressure with Tommie Harris, adewale oguleye and mark Anderson and even dusty dvorecek

  • seagle1

    The bucs did have pieces to the puzzle…but rice put them over the top….just like we have some good pieces and hopefully they pan out and help our pass rush.
    The pass rush is extremely important….my point was that the bucs and bears didn’t switch defenses once they didn’t have pass rushers, they went and got pass rushers and plugged them in and it made their defense better.
    I don’t see us switching defenses at all…except
    On occasions to show different looks.

    The Texans do benefit from having a good front seven but they have invested heavily in that area to get there….JJ watt, Connor barwin, Cushing, and Anderson all help that machine run, they all play vital roles.

  • seagle1

    Ok, I’ll make my stance simple…and complex ;) if….a big if….our d lineman, Martin, Casey, and Morgan, can learn how to play and be effective in a 34 front, and our LB crew(Brown, spoon, McCarthy, and ayers, and Wimbley) fit in as 34 line backers…..then I’m all for it. However…..OTAs are beginning and believe me, if there is going to be a philosophical change on D it would be on the front page of the Tennessean. Kerry Gray did a great job with our defense last year with just a training camp to work with and I can’t wait to see the wrinkles and improvements he adds this year with a full offseason to prepare. I just don’t see it happening, for better or worse we’re a 43 team that will tinker with showing multiple fronts as long as everyone is on the same page.

  • eboyd

    I’m never said that it’s definitely going to happen. I said they should consider it and gave reasons as to why. Great back and forth today. Hopefully, we can have a similar discussion on my next article. Got to get ready to go yell at these Lakers in a few minutes, LOL!!! Catch you guys later.

  • seagle1

    @eboyd Yeah good stuff….I just don’t see it happening….hell no…let’s go back and forth on my next article!!!!

  • eboyd

     @seagle1  @eboyd You got it homey. I’ll be looking out for it.