Pittsburgh's 3-4 Defense Creates Unique Problems

October 18 – When the Bucs put 28 points on the board against the Titans last Sunday, one might have thought things were starting to look up for Tampa Bay's offensive unit. But the Buccaneers offense is going to be facing a unique style of defense in the Steelers 3-4 scheme when Pittsburgh invades Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. This particular style of defense might make things even more difficult for an offensive unit that has already had a hard time moving the ball consistently this season.

When the Buccaneers host the Steelers at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, their offense will not only be entertaining the NFL's No.1 ranked defense, but the Tampa Bay offense will also be staring at a somewhat unfamiliar defense in Pittsburgh's 3-4 scheme.

"A 3-4 is not my favorite defense," said Bucs rookie LT Kenyatta Walker. "But it's a defense that you have to have your head up and pay attention to details. It's harder. It's confusing and they're going to throw a lot of different things at you. They've got a lot of different linebackers in there trying to get a lot of different mismatches. It's just something you have to deal with."

Not many teams use anything other than the traditional 4-3 defensive scheme these days, and that is one of the reasons why teams who do use the 3-4 defense (three defensive linemen and four linebackers) have an advantage. What makes Pittsburgh's defense scary is they use this unpopular scheme and have nearly perfected it this season.

"They're playing good defense up front," said RT Jerry Wunsch. "We haven't seen a team not play good defense up front yet this year. It's something different than everybody else is running. It's not the regular everyday defense. There are a lot of blitzes coming from a lot of different areas. They can be sliding one way and could end up on the other side and all of the sudden you're in it. When you're stuck and don't quite understand what's going on, you can always follow this rule. But this week, the rule gets broken."

Pittsburgh's No. 1 ranked defense could give Tampa Bay's 24th ranked offense some problems on Sunday and for obvious reasons. The Steelers are ranked 11th in the NFL in run defense and 1st in the NFL against the pass. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers are ranked 23rd in rushing offense and 19th in passing offense. Finding consistency on offense will be a difficult task for the Bucs, especially when the Steelers are executing so well on defense.

"They're playing extremely well," said Bucs QB Brad Johnson. "There are a lot of guys that you probably don't know their names, but they're probably the most tenacious defense in the league right now. They're not giving up a lot of big plays. They run a 3-4 defense, which is a little bit different for a lot of different schemes. But we won't really change a whole lot of what we're trying to do."

The Pewter Pirates feel they will benefit from a preseason game they had back on Aug. 26 against New England. The Patriots play a 3-4 defense as well, and although it was preseason, the Buccaneers' offense found success against this type of scheme.

After struggling offensively in their first two preseason games, several of the Bucs players had success against New England's defense in route to their 20-3 victory over the Patriots. Bucs QB Brad Johnson completed 14-of-22 passes for 117 yards and threw his first two touchdowns as a Buccaneer. Running back Warrick Dunn rushed for 115 yards on 12 carries (9.6 average). Bucs WR Keyshawn Johnson hauled in his first catch of the preseason and added four to it to give him a total of five catches for 37 yards against New England. But the Bucs are quick to point out New England's 3-4 defense, which is currently ranked 13th in the NFL, is not the same as Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense.

"That was good for us to have played that game against the 3-4," said head coach Tony Dungy. "But these guys are a little different style and a little more physical than New England."

Bucs QB Brad Johnson shares similar views on the differences between Pittsburgh's defense and New England's.

"It gives you another chance to practice against the 3-4 defense," said B. Johnson. "They're a little bit different in some of their schemes. They're not quite as conventional as New England was in their 3-4 defense. You've got guys running around sometimes and you don't know exactly what position they're in. You have to point out a lot of the guys you are going to block and some of your break off routes."

Some of the Bucs players believe the NFL did them a favor by placing New England on their schedule, even if it was only in the preseason.

"I think that is why they try to get them on the schedule," said Wunsch. "So you don't get surprised the first 3-4 team you see in the season. So you want a 3-4 team in preseason. You get a feel for what to expect. Even though not all 3-4 defenses are the same. They are different schemes and you can't mistake one 3-4 for another 3-4."

Tampa Bay's offense feels it must start scoring early in games in order to reach its full potential, but scoring opportunities may be limited this Sunday against Pittsburgh's No. 1 overall 3-4 defense.

"You don't get to practice against it (3-4 defense) too much," said Dungy. "We practiced against it when we played New England and that helped. But it changes all of your rules allows the defense to try and get mismatches with outside the linebackers rushing the running backs. That's something we're going to try and avoid. But it's a little different and we only have three days to practice for it."

Copyright 2001 Buccaneer Magazine/BucMag.com

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