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.