View Full Version : It's all about the 3-4 Defense.

02-23-2009, 07:28 AM
I didn't see this 1st article posted, so here ya go.

NFL draft could hold key to Broncos’ defensive renovation efforts
Denver's picks can go a long way to alleviating trouble spots
By Jeff Legwold, Rocky Mountain News

INDIANAPOLIS — It might have been one part parting shot and one part plea.

But as Mike Shanahan was set to step away from the Broncos upon being fired after a 14-year run that included two Super Bowl wins, he simply said:

"This defense can be fixed. I believe that, and I don't think it's that far away."

But, in the end, that defense likely cost Shanahan his job, as the team went through three defensive coordinators during his last three seasons at Dove Valley. Larry Coyer gave way to Jim Bates, and Bates gave way to Bob Slowik.

Yet the missed tackles, the ill-timed mistakes, the touchdowns kept coming, while the sacks, the big stops and interceptions did not. And even an offense that finished second in the NFL in yards gained per game couldn't save it.

So, like Coyer, Bates and Slowik, Shanahan is out and a new football hierarchy is in, with head coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Brian Xanders now calling the shots. And while the two won't publicly say the team's defense needs the most work, they already have released six players on the defensive side of the ball who played in the season finale - it was a 52-21 loss at San Diego - and three of them started that game.

And while defense largely has been out of sight for the Broncos the past two seasons, it certainly is on the mind of many. Asked during Super Bowl week to compare his career arc to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler said, "He's got one of the best defenses in the league for the last five, six years. It makes things easier, it really does. Defense wins championships."

So consider:

* The Broncos are one of only three teams to have surrendered at least 400 points in each of the past two seasons. Detroit, 0-16 in 2008 and 7-9 in 2007, and St. Louis, 2-14 and 3-13, are the others.

* No team intercepted fewer passes the past two seasons combined than the Broncos' 20 (six in '08 and 14 in '07). Detroit was next, with 21.

"And I know we want to be a big, physical, tough team to fix that," new Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "We play in a dome, but we want to play like an outdoor team."

As for the Broncos, McDaniels said Friday that they will play at least some 3-4 on defense in the upcoming season because of the problems it presents to offenses.

It makes the Broncos one of several teams making the change - the Green Bay Packers recently made the switch to a 3-4 with Dom Capers as their new defensive coordinator, and the Kansas City Chiefs are expected to change once they choose their defensive coordinator - and puts them on hunt to fill some new roles in the scheme.

"(The 3-4) is a completely different skill set, and not just the linebacker position, which is what everybody sort of sees," Schwartz said. "It's the nose guard and the defensive tackles, and it would probably take a pretty major overhaul."

Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert, whose team has played a 3-4 defense since former coach Bill Cowher was hired in 1992, said that, along with finding a nose tackle to anchor the center of the line, the two outside linebacker spots can be difficult to fill.

That's because players who were once undersized defensive ends, playing along the line of scrimmage at 260 pounds or so, now are being asked to drop into coverage as well as rush the passer. For the Broncos, that would mean players such as Elvis Dumervil or Jarvis Moss, who have played almost exclusively along the line of scrimmage, suddenly would find their things-to-do list has become much larger.

"The 265-, 270-pound end will have the most difficulty," Colbert said. "The interior defensive lineman can usually make the change because their techniques usually don't change, if they have the size. . . . When we look at a 260- or 255-pound guy, (we ask) can they make the transition to do the things they need to do, from a coverage standpoint? That's always our challenge.

"It limits your pool to a certain extent, and it also reminds you you're going to have to have a lot of patience with these guys as they develop. Everyone who has been in our system as outside linebackers, it usually took them a minimum of two years - and usually three to four years - before they were ready to contribute."

McDaniels said the Broncos were prepared to have that kind of patience when looking to play the 3-4.

The draft this year, though, can offer them some help in some trouble spots. It is one of the strongest drafts in recent memory at linebacker, especially at the top of the board.

And there are some who played as undersized pass-rush ends in college who also might be able to make the transition to outside linebacker, if asked. And a player such as Purdue's Alex Magee could be a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, though he rushed from the outside for the Boilermakers.

There also is depth to be found at cornerback, and while it's conceivable no safety will go in the first round, there are plenty available in the second and third rounds who project as productive players.

"With respect to the defense, we're going to have a system of tough, smart, instinctive, productive players that play great under pressure," Xanders said this week. "So whatever we run out of the tunnel with, we're there to stop that offense and deny points."

That's something the Broncos haven't done consistently in quite some time.

02-23-2009, 07:32 AM
Broncos blend with the NFL trend
By Mike Klis

INDIANAPOLIS — The schematic symbol of the 1960s was the power sweep.

In the 1980s, it was the West Coast offense.

The first decade of the 21st century has become about the 3-4 defense.

In 2004, the San Diego Chargers became the fifth NFL team to convert from the traditional 4-3 defense to the 3-4. For the 2009 season, there will be 13 teams using the 3-4. That includes Arizona and San Francisco — both will use a 4- 3/3-4 hybrid. And the growing list of trend followers includes the Broncos, who — based on the players they will pursue in free agency and evaluate in the draft — are about to make a full conversion to the 3-4.

Why in the name of the Fearsome Foursome and Purple People Eaters are so many teams essentially moving their four-man set from the front line to just behind the line?

"You don't win by saying this is what we do and not changing," new Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels said. "Because if you don't change in this league, somebody will figure out a way to beat you."

If the difference between the 3-4 and 4-3 were limited to a sequence of numbers, nearly every team would change its defense from week to week. But only the Broncos made the odd decision to convert their defense in midseason last year.

After 14 years of building a roster for a 4-3 defense, the Broncos' in-season foray to the 3-4 failed miserably. The Broncos surrendered 448 points in 2008, the second-highest total in the franchise's 49-year history.

There were many reasons the Broncos failed to make the playoffs last season. Overlooked was their insistence of trying to force round pegs into square holes.

"All your defensive line and all your linebackers are different," said Kevin Colbert, who built the 3-4 defensive roster for the Super Bowl-champion Pittsburgh Steelers. "And your secondary, to a certain extent because of what goes on up front, they have to play a little bit differently as well. But it's mainly those front seven guys.
Post Poll - 3-4 Defense

Now that Broncos coach Josh McDaniels has acknowledged the team will implement a 3-4 defense, what area should Denver address first in the offseason?
Nose tackle: Sign the Titans' Albert Haynesworth or draft Boston College's B.J. Raji.
Middle linebacker: Sign a top free agent (Kawika Mitchell, Mark Simoneau or Dan Morgan) or draft Rey Maualuga of USC.
Cornerback: Draft Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins, Vanderbilt's D.J. Moore or Alphonso Smith of Wake Forest.
They will have different roles for sure."

This is the greatest challenge in converting from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4. The requisite characteristics of those front seven players differ dramatically. For the Broncos, Elvis Dumervil and Jarvis Moss were considered prototype pass-rushing defensive ends in the 4-3. In the 3-4, they will have to learn how to play outside linebacker, whose standard assignment is to stand up and drop into coverage on first and second downs, and drop into a three-point stance and rush the passer on third down.

Making pieces fit

The greatest adjustments are at defensive end, defensive tackle and outside linebacker. In fact, the 3-4 has increased the number of defensive positions from 11 to 14. Added are the nose tackle, the outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid and the five-technique defensive end.

The need for a 3-4 nose tackle is expected to stimulate the free-agent market for the likes of Atlanta's Grady Jackson, who recently turned 36, and Green Bay's Colin Cole and New England's Mike Wright, who are considered backups.

It's also why Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji could be propelled to a top-five overall draft pick and Mississippi's Peria Jerry may not fall past the first round.

"B.J. Raji is a good start for them, Day One," draft analyst Mike Mayock said when asked about the Broncos' wish list with their No. 12 overall pick.

More than at any other time, this year's scouting combine has its own "Shawne Merriman-James Harrison" category. The top hybrid prospects this year are Aaron Curry, Aaron Maybin, Brian Orakpo, Everette Brown, Larry English and Brian Cushing. All are projected as first-round picks, in part because of the increased demand for their position created by the increased number of teams using the 3-4.

It's one thing for the Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs to convert because their new football bosses, McDaniels and general manager Scott Pioli, respectively, came from New England's 3-4 system. The surprise is the Green Bay Packers, who went 13-3 and reached overtime of the NFC championship game just a year ago. In an industry in which head coaches must win today, tomorrow and next week, wasn't Packers coach Mike McCarthy apprehensive about abruptly demolishing and reconstructing his defense four years into his reign?

"It was a scheme that I've always felt challenged competing against from an offensive perspective," said McCarthy, an offensive-oriented coach who hired 3-4 guru Dom Capers to become his new defensive coordinator. "I think it not only helps our defense, it helps our football teams as far as our special teams because there's more linebacker body types on our roster. It's a philosophical change that I strongly believe in."

Linebackers get a boost

In theory and practice, backup linebackers are to special teams what receivers are to the passing game. The Broncos' best special-teams players last year were rookie linebackers Spencer Larsen and Wesley Woodyard.

Among all current Broncos linebackers, Larsen may benefit the most by the 3-4 conversion. A ferocious hitter, Larsen doesn't quite have the range to play every down as a 4-3 middle 'backer. But with the extra linebacker help in the 3-4, he can narrow his task to unloading on the running game.

"It just gives some more balanced rushes," McDaniels said. "You never feel like you're out of whack in terms of the rotation. There are as many guys on this side as there are on that side, and it gives you more flexibility. The challenge is finding the players that fit really well in it, and that's what we're after. That will be ongoing from this point forward."

02-23-2009, 07:35 AM
It's all going to require patience. Not only finding the role players, but good ones who bring leadership and pride. 2-3 years?

02-23-2009, 10:32 AM
It's all going to require patience. Not only finding the role players, but good ones who bring leadership and pride. 2-3 years?

It will take 2 years from when we get our quality NT. That is such an important piece. If we don't find that guy until next year, or the year following that, it will be 2 years from that point. Get the picture here? We need the frickin NT RIGHT NOW!

02-23-2009, 01:27 PM
It will take 2 years from when we get our quality NT. That is such an important piece. If we don't find that guy until next year, or the year following that, it will be 2 years from that point. Get the picture here? We need the frickin NT RIGHT NOW!

They aren't any good until they've developed some quality old man strength. Age 24 or 25 minimum.

02-23-2009, 02:13 PM
Bart Scott isn't an OLB.

02-23-2009, 06:43 PM
Funny cause I was thinking Colin Cole was a dark horse for NT.

02-23-2009, 07:17 PM
I agree that NT and LB are issues but the Orange Crush didn't really click until they traded for Bernard Jackson and had a Safety that could lay wood.

We need a lot of pieces. Not just NT and OLB.

I like 3-4 vs run game, I hope they get it together because nothing worked the last 2-1/2 years.

There have been teams that moved to 3-4 and then back to 4-3 also. It works both ways.

I hope they find a way to get the most out of the players on the field rather than play a scheme because that's what they want to run.

02-23-2009, 07:19 PM
I agree that NT and LB are issues but the Orange Crush didn't really click until they traded for Bernard Jackson and had a Safety that could lay wood.

I forgot to add that Baltimore, Pitt, and even NE (until Harrison got hurt) all had very good Safeties.

02-23-2009, 07:23 PM
Funny cause I was thinking Colin Cole was a dark horse for NT.

We started talking about him and bam he shows up in the Post. Go figure.