3-4 Teams Successful in Week One

There are currently just seven teams in the NFL that employ a full-time 3-4 defense, and one other team, San Francisco, that uses it part-time. A strength of the 3-4 is that it's more of an attacking type of "D," and it's easier to hide blitzers and confuse quarterbacks. One of the weaknesses of 3-4 defenses is that it's generally not as good against strong running games in regular seven man sets.

Those seven full-time 3-4 defensive teams had a collective record on opening day of 4-3, two of the three losses coming from Cleveland and Miami via Dallas and the New York Jets, two other 3-4 teams. A year ago, 3-4 teams finished with a combined record of 70-58, with four division titles.

With all the recent success of 3-4 defenses, and the fact the NFL is a copycat league, it's a wonder why more teams don't employ that type of scheme.

"It takes certain personnel," explained Houston tight end Owen Daniels. "I guess it's just different defensive coordinators' mentalities and what works best for them and what they have the most success with."

Another advantage that 3-4 teams have against teams that employ a 4-3 scheme, is that it's nearly impossible for the 4-3 offenses to practice against it the week of the game.

"It's always different," Daniels said. "That's why the film part is so important."

So how do defensive players feel about playing in a 3-4 as opposed to a 4-3? Texans linebacker Morlon Greenwood gave his thoughts, as his Houston team is a standard 4-3 team, but he began his career in Miami, playing in a 3-4.

"The gaps aren't that defined as in a 4-3," Greenwood said. "Everybody has their certain gap in the 4-3. In the 3-4, the linebacker has to do a lot of two gapping. So, it is kind of like you're guessing, ‘is the ball going here or is the ball going there.'"

With the different looks that a 3-4 scheme can give, it can be extra difficult for visiting teams to audible due to crowd noise. The Houston Texans opened up their season in Pittsburgh, a 3-4 team, and they get to play another 3-4 team in Baltimore during week two, but this time at home.

"It definitely helps to be at home and have our crowd behind us and playing on our home turf," said Texans quarterback Matt Schaub who struggled against the Pittsburgh 3-4 as he accounted for three turnovers. "The 3-4 defense, they just provided different multiple fronts and multiple ways of blitzing and getting after you. You just have to be on your p's and q's and in your assignments."

The 3-4 defense can also benefit teams in the draft, as there are several players that were defensive ends in college that weigh around 250 pounds, that are simply too small to be 4-3 defensive ends at the pro level. The 4-3 allows them to stand up and play outside linebacker, and thus gives teams more of a talent pool to choose from.

A perfect example is Jaguars second-round pick Quentin Groves. Groves is 6'3", 259 lbs., and was a standout defensive end at Auburn University. Thus far, Groves has struggled in his NFL career as he appears to be too small to play against the run with his hand on the ground. It isn't that Groves isn't a talented player, he just seems to be more suited for a 3-4 defense, where he could likely be an every-downs defender. In Jacksonville and with other 4-3 teams, he will be relegated to situational duties.

"We want him to know that this is what it takes to play defensive end all the time, and this is some of the dirty work, the tough sledding work that you have to get in. To get dirty with the tackle, the tight end, the combination blocks, and we know right now he's going to struggle at that. We don't want him to never be in that situation and not work on it. We want to develop a complete football player," said Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio.

New England, San Diego, Dallas, and Pittsburgh are among the seven teams that employ a full-time 3-4 defense that are considered by many as Super Bowl contenders. Six 3-4 teams are in the top 12 in defense through one week of the regular season. With the success that these teams are having, it is only a matter of time until more teams begin to make the switch, as the NFL is the ultimate copycat league.


Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie is a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports and Sirius NFL Radio, and has been featured on the NFL Network. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.


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