Zach Brown, one of the few bright spots on the Titans defense this year. Mandatory credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee Titans and the 3-4 Defense

There has been a lot of clamor from a good amount of Tennessee Titans fans to switch to a 3-4 defense.  The ineptness of the defense this past year combined with the success that other teams in the league have had running the 3-4 defense has made it an attractive option.  With Rob Ryan and Romeo Crennel (both run a 3-4 scheme) on the market as well, it’s hard for Titans fans to dream of what might be.  So let’s take a look at how feasible it would really be for the Titans to switch schemes.


First off, the Titans would obviously need a new defensive coordinator to that runs the scheme.  Pettine is off the market now, but Crennel and Ryan are both available.  Getting a new defensive coordinator would make it the switch worth it in my opinion regardless of how difficult the switch would be.  But if Gray stays you can kiss 3-4 goodbye regardless.

*Update:  Rob Ryan has now been snagged by Jeff Fisher.


The 3-4 requires a different set of players than a 4-3 scheme.  To be effective the 3-4 defense needs to be built from the inside out starting with a nose tackle.  A good strong nose tackle can take on the A gaps and occupy a double team of center and guard, allowing the defensive ends to take on the offensive tackle.   You also need two fast edge rushing OLB’s.  Two stout ILB’s need to be able to take on the extra line man/tight end/full back and take care of runs up the middle as they often get to the second level with ease against a 3-4.  They also need to be able to move side to side relatively quickly.  The strong side OLB also needs to be able to drop into coverage with ease to follow tight ends on routes.  The OLB’s in a 3-4 are often undersized DE’s that can’t play DE in a 4-3.  It REALLY helps to have an active strong safety that can play up in the box as well (think Polamalu).

Do the Titans have the players?

So who would play where?  Here’s the best case scenario with the players/starters we have:

NT- Jurrell Casey and Mike Martin

DE- Rotation of Derrick Morgan, Mike Martin, Karl Klug, Kamerion Wimbley

OLB – Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown

ILB – Colin McCarthy and Zach Diles

I’ve heard arguments that you move Brown inside and let Wimbley play OLB.  This makes no sense to me.  Zach Brown was one of the lone bright spots on this defense as he began to play at high level at OLB this year.  So of course you should move him from that position to one he doesn’t play, right?  That’s exactly what the Titans did with Alterraun Verner.  Excellent nickel back who was moved to the outside where he is good but not great.  You end up downgrading at 2 positions and excelling at none.

I love Casey on the line and he comes off the ball with a burst on every play.  But I’m not sure he could really hold up on double teams for an entire game as a true nose tackle.  At the same time, however, I do think Morgan and Klug are perfect for the DE position in a 3-4.

McCarthy would HAVE to stay healthy for a switch to work. Mandatory credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports


To be effective you HAVE to build from the inside-out when constructing a 3-4 roster.  Without a solid nose tackle and 2 good ILB’s the defense will get gutted like a fish up the middle all day long.  The problem is, many fans have seen Ayers rush the passer with success, and with the addition of Brown on the other side,  think we have the players to make it happen.  Although the OLB in this scheme get all the sacks and therefor attention, they aren’t the most important pieces.

The Titans barely have ONE MLB right now let alone 2 with depth behind that.  I love Colin McCarthy, but we can’t count on him to be there consistently yet.  And who do you want next to him?

Could the Titans make the switch? Yes.  But it would take a near perfect draft and free agency with little to no injuries.  The Titans would have to draft/acquire a solid nose tackle and 2 more linebackers at a minimum to make the switch.  With as much help as the secondary (safeties in particular) and the offensive line needs as well, this is just too much to do right now.   The Texans made the switch with success in one year so it’s not like it can’t be done.  But I just think Munchak has bigger fish to fry with a playoffs or bust year looming in front of him.

What do you think?  Should/Could the Titans make the switch?


Hit me up on Twitter  @gunnelsj


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Tags: 3-4 Defense Colin McCarthy Defense NFL Tennessee Titans Zach Brown

  • Justin Stewart

    For me, I don’t think Martin could be a NT. Probably a great DE in a 3-4, but I don’t think a NT. Just not enough to his body.

    • Joshua Huffman

      I think Martin is a bit of a tweener, kind of like Jerel Worthy in GB. Could play NT on 3rd down passing situations. DE on 1st and 2nd. Either way, I hope he gets more reps in his sophomore year.

      • Justin Stewart

        True. And I suspect we’ll see plenty of him in 2013.

  • Justin Stewart

    On another note, it’s hard not to notice how well the Colts made the transition to the 3-4 defense. Amazing how smoothly they did it.

    • Shawn Eagle

      The colts were very lucky to have a head coach that coached then 34 and two very special edge rushers in Freeney and Mathis.

  • Joshua Huffman

    Whatever scheme they run, they need A) end-rusher B) Better run-defenders in the middle C) safety D) better coaching.

    • josh gunnels

      wrong order. A) better coaching B) safety C) end rusher D) ILB/DT

  • Phill Lytle

    The Titans don’t have the pieces right now – and like Gunnels said, it would take a perfect draft and free agency to get the right pieces in place by next season. A 4-3 can very effective – the Titans just need a few more players, and possibly a new D. coordinator to make it work.

  • josh gunnels

    i think the main reason people think we have the pieces right now is because they see ayers and brown at OLB and get excited about them rushing the passer. but then those same people say to move brown inside and let wimbley play OLB. makes no sense to me

    • Shawn Eagle

      The only spot for Wimbley in a 34 is outside. I haven’t really heard anybody thinking Brown could play inside but I can say…that ain’t working. I agree with Phill….the pieces aren’t there. We have no linemen that can hold up the zero technique tackle, and no end that is big enough to play the 5 technique.

  • Brandon Paille

    I believe what our defense needs is better players. Regardless of scheme, our personnel is lacking. I know everyone is all over Gray, and rightfully so, but he wasn’t out there missing tackles. When Gray had excellent players he had a dominant defense. This begs the question is he the right coordinator since we are obviously a couple years away from being a stout defense? Furthermore, I don’t think we have a NT on our roster. So let me ask you this. If we have drafted and signed players to play a 4-3 and have sucked at it, why would we try and change to something that requires different types of players completely? We get a little more experienced and upgrade a couple positions and Gray, or whoever the coach is will look much better.

    • josh gunnels

      that’s the point exactly. we’re even further away, personnel wise, from a 3-4 than the 4-3 we’re already not good at. But you’re cutting gray too much slack. yes, the Titans overestimated the talent on the roster, but the play calling was atrocious as well.