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A case for the 3-4 defense

I can’t say which defense is more effective, the 4-3 or 3-4, I just do not have access to the necessary statistics to verify that. Right now more than half the teams in the league run the 4-3. The Giants have had some success running the 4-3 although we have had issues for many years at the linebacker position. When was the last time the Giants had a probowl caliber linebacker? That was Antonio Pierce whose athletic abilities were limited, his understanding of how to run the defense was his strong point and it helped raise his game to that level. Losing him was like having the brain carved out of the defenses head. The Giants have not yet been able to be whole again as a defense since he retired. Goff was starting to play fairly well and then went down with an injury.


So here are my reasons for preferring the 3-4 over the 4-3 defense. It has something to do with schemes, more so it has everything to do with getting quality players and not requiring them to have multiple skill sets. In a 3-4 defense the players do not need as many skill sets and that is the simple truth. In college too many players who should be pure linebackers are used as rush defensive ends or rush linebackers, they never learn to cover, they never learn to play in space. When they get into the NFL they have to learn so many new skills not only from a mental aspect of learning the different coverages, they also must learn to see the field differently. It’s a whole new way of looking at the game. You not only have to change your way of playing but the way you look at the field, it’s about vision, it’s also about the fluidity of the players hips. That is a huge transition for a player to make and many do not overcome these issues, some are never given the chance, for some it takes a few years.


It makes it so much harder to draft linebackers for a 4-3 defense. Players take longer to learn their positions and tweeners cannot find a home in a 4-3 as easily as a 3-4. Tweeners are players who do not fit the square peg physical dimensions needed in a 4-3. There have been exceptions to that and the Tampa 2 is one of them. In the Tampa 2 your middle linebacker can be smaller as long as he is quicker and can cover. Many times you will see the MLB just run backward into a zone at the snap of the ball on passing downs. Although effective it does open a lane for draw type plays and your other players must keep gap integrity, I digress.


The more you scout the college players on film for the draft the more you see this problem, it’s just so hard to find quality linebackers for a 4-3 defense. There are just not enough players who can cover yet their physical size is OVER 6’2” and 235lbs., big enough and strong enough to stack and shed 320 pound guards. My contention is that by switching to a 3-4 defense it gives you the ability to find quality players and have them more quickly contribute to the team. The 3-4 defense is so much more flexible to have the schemes better fit the players you have. It can hide some player’s deficiencies and can elevate others. For instance the pure rush linebacker can do that in a 3-4 until he masters the art of pass coverage, in a 4-3 he would be either sitting on the bench or playing only situationally limiting his participation. Maybe Sintim becomes a force if we played a 3-4. This happens to be a good draft for linebackers in 2012 and some pretty good middle linebackers can be had if the Giants move down into the lower part of the first round. Yet they are all a huge crap shoot, I felt the only sure thing at MLB/ILB was Manti Te’o after watching film of the top middle men, but he’s staying in college. Of course the line plays differently too and that’s another issue I will blog at a later date.


Right now as the Giants defense is constructed it is not working. Any way you look at it the defense needs a huge infusion of talent and youth. I think the trio of JPP, Joseph and Marvin Austin will be the anchors for a long time on the defensive line whether it’s a 3-4 or 4-3. Kiwi would be the perfect OLB in a 3-4, he has disappointed me playing the SAM, I thought he would be a lot better. Boley unless he’s in jail next season can play the WILB in a 3-4. We just don’t know what else we have at linebacker. The free agent class is thin in talent, the draft is pretty good, for a 3-4 you would have to include some smaller defensive ends in the linebacker draft pool. If we do stay with the 4-3 we must make a move in the draft and try to obtain Vontaze Burfict who is a huge gamble. He has everything you would want but he’s very immature and cannot control his emotions on the field, that won’t cut it as Ndamukong Suh is finding out. I don’t think Goff is the answer and won’t be back 100% next season. Will Sintim ever be back? If he does will he ever be 100% after those knee surgeries?


If Perry Fewell is back as defensive coordinator we know what type of defense we will have, a bad one. Seriously I hope he is replaced, it in my opinion he has not done that well during his two seasons here. Maybe Spags will be back, probably not. We will just have to wait and see. But if we do have a new coordinator I hope he goes 3-4. With a 3-4 defense you can do so many different things to confuse a quarterback and the offensive line’s blocking schemes. Blitz packages are easier to cover up. I believe in what is called a spy, you put one of your best defenses players on their best offensive player and he follows them, the idea is to disrupt that players ability to make plays. It is easier to do in a 3-4 then in a 4-3, you don’t show your hand. It could be a QB, RB or even a WR, it’s a basic fundamental football concept, it does work well if done correctly. Also a 3-4 defense allows you to mix and match players much more easily, having tweeners play more snaps and having more success with them.


A 3-4 defense allows the line to change depending on the team they play, more flexibility from the defensive line in terms of who covers what gap. You can mix and match different type lineman much easier. The offense will never know what you are up to. Having 4 down linemen limits what a defense can do and gives a lot away to the quarterback who can call audibles as the defense shifts into a new alignment or replace players for new packages. For instance the zone blitz in a 4-3 can be effective if done just right, otherwise it is a waste. I have seen it work and I have seen it not work at all, I would say it’s not going to work many times. Dropping a 300+ pound defensive lineman into coverage rarely works and is not necessary in a 3-4. A no huddle offensive matches up better against a 4-3, a 3-4 has more natural flow to it as the play progresses. All this is done in milliseconds and a well-coordinated group can shut down an offense more easily without having too many personnel packages on and off the field during a no huddle in crucial times during a game. That can save an all-important time out. I have seen many teams try to change personnel packages and get confused on coverages or even have 12 men on the field and use a time out that is needed for their offense. The 3-4 allows for less personnel changes for different packages depending on your roster during these no huddle or two minute drill type offensives. The idea is to limit defensive changes when the opposing offense is trying to score quickly. I have seen the Giants blow coverages on these situations too many times over the years. Too many coordinators trying to get a M2M group to play zone.


The bottom line is you need better players no matter what schemes you run if you want to get to the next level. Players have to step up their commitment to the game and others have to be replaced, this is true with any team if they want to improve. The merits of a 3-4 as compared to a 4-3 are marginal depending on personnel, but that margin might be the difference of having a more consistently good defense every season by having less personnel issues. Depth is a problem for all teams and I see 3-4 teams having less personnel problems during times of injury. Although the Jets 3-4 defense like the Giants 4-3 have had just too many injuries to overcome this season so there is a point when it does not become an issue, like when half your defense is on IR.


NFL defenses are much more complex these days. The great defensive coordinators disguise what they are doing, a 3-4 maybe running a 4-3 alignment as the Patriots have been doing for various reasons, mostly because of injury. I see many 4-3 teams dropping lineman into coverage which mimics a 3-4. I just think the balance tips toward the 3-4 defense to get the most out of the players available in the draft and as free agents, it can cover up some weakness’s and allows for more flexibility. As for the Giants, they need better players period, especially linebackers and more depth overall, especially at safety no matter what defense they run.

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12 Responses to “A case for the 3-4 defense”

  1. Robby Teffer says:

    I could not agree more. Wade phillips said himself 3-4 lbers are more plentiful and cheaper.

    The Giants need to seriously consider this for 2012.

    PS- Jpp would be a 3-4 OLB not D lineman. Mario Williams is the example JPP most resembles.
    The D line would be Austin Joseph Canty

    • Big Daddy says:

      JPP is still filling out and might be around the 300 pound range by next season. He’s listed at about 270 but is probably more right now, his frame is huge and so is his wing span. I think he’s just a little too big for an OLB. Williams was about as big as you can get for that position, I didn’t think it was a great idea anyway.

  2. Chris says:

    Giants will never run a 3-4. That simple.

    • Big Daddy says:

      Why? We won 2 super bowls using it. We used the 3-4 for many years and a lot of perennially great defensive teams do. It has so much more flexibility to it. Honestly the 4-3 brings me back and looks more like what football should look like to an old school guy but the reality is that for the reasons I spoke of the 3-4 can be superior.

  3. PC says:


  4. Jason C. says:

    They can show some 3-4 looks, but they cannot commit to a full time 3-4 unless you’re willing to trade JPP PERIOD. He is wasted as a 3-4 end, he’ll be double teamed inside just to make way for a one on one block on a less talented linebacker, resulting in more players rushing the passer, and getting there at the same rate we do now anyway. All this team needs is a dominant run stopping DT to take up blockers and free up the ends. Maybe he’s on the roster, maybe not, that’s Reese’s job to figure out.
    Also we’ve seen how smart these guys look on defense, do you really want to see how it looks while they’re trying to learn a completely new defensive scheme?
    Get healthy, get on the field, this team will improve starting there.

    • Big Daddy says:

      If you asked Bill Belichick if he would want JPP as his starting DE what do you think he would say? It’s all about being either a 1 gap or 2 gap lineman. You do not need 2 gap lineman in a 3-4 to be that all the time. JPP is already being double teamed and even chipped at the same time, he seems to always have at least two players hitting him because he is so disruptive. How does that change if he was the RDE in a 3-4?

      Right now Tuck has not produced because of injury. Canty is so inconsistent and Joesph is also having a bad stretch. Since JPP is getting all the attention you would think these guys would be tearing it up, I wonder if their aggressiveness is being limited because of poor linebacker play and Fewell’s passive schemes.

      Massive run stopping defensive lineman are not necessary to run a 3-4. It’s all about personnel(quality and depth) and schemes. Players like Canty and Joesph have enough size to be a NT. In fact the way 4-3 lines are used today they are more similar to 3-4 lines, with the weakside or LDE playing a 7 technique or even wider which for some reason is a 6 technique. Many times Spags had Strahan in a 7 or 6 technique, I have even saw him in a 9 tech.

      The over/under type 4-3 lines is different, with the over having the RDT playing the nose but with a shade. So there in essence is your 3-4 line and the rush linebacker in a 3 point stance making it a 4-3. Over/under alignments looking even more like a 5-2.

      I was going to go into the line play a little more in depth at a later date in one of my blogs. Many things that are available to read are a bit outdated but the fundamentals are the same. It is so hard to see what each team runs especially in terms of coverages because of the way TV covers the games. The Camera angles are horrible and are geared for the casual fan.

      • Big Daddy says:

        I meant the under having the RDT playing the 1 technique which is almost like a 0 technique with a shade. The 0 tech is the OLD nose tackle position not really used much anymore except maybe on goal line defenses. A shade is a slight shift over, that’s all, but it is important in retaining gap integrity.

        It gets very confusing when you do not talk in depth football that much. I don’t have people to discuss this with, just my TV….LOL.

  5. Dan says:

    The problem isn’t 4-3 vs 3-4, it’s injuries and Fewell refusing to design his scheme to the players strengths. We need to stop rushing 3, using DE’s to cover TE’s, and playing soft no-contact zone coverage that allows for a 10 yard gain before someone attempts a tackle. Get rid of PF and there’s your answer. And PLEASE find a new conditioning staff. Injuries are part of the game but this is just ridiculous.

    • Big Daddy says:

      I AGREE 100%……..this was just a think piece. If you read the beginning statement I basically say that. Who cares about a 4-3 as opposed to 3-4 if the defense is playing top 5 in the NFL. I’m just bringing out some points, which one might be easier to obtain more quickly a top 5 defense and I think it is the 3-4.

      I also think we are maybe one starter short to being a top 5 defense and it’s the middle linebacker position that we need. But how many 4-3 MLBs of quality are out there? Depth is also a concern as it is with ALL teams.

  6. Jason C. says:

    Big Daddy, I know you’re a fan of the 3-4, but say the Giants DO keep Coughlin, and agree with what everyone here seems to, and decide to shake things up a bit. What is your opinion on Jack Del Rio as a DC? He has some success at that position, is the respectable type that the Giants organization seems to desire. He’d most likely stick with a 4-3, but I think he’d bring enough changes and an intensity that wasn’t here since Spags. Would you be open to a guy like him coming in? IMO he’d be a great option.

    • Big Daddy says:

      Yes, but I think any ex-head coach would make Coughlin nervous, especially Del Rio or the return of Spags. I think Coughlin has some issues with control and job security. He comes off like the warrior/ex-military type but I think underneath that facade there is more going on.

      The defense played well today, because Fewell finally realized, I guess, it’s all about pressuring the QB. Something Spags lived on, I think no matter what type of defense you have pressure on the QB can only lead to good things more times then not.

      I will be honest with you, I prefer the 4-3…LOL…my only reason and it’s a huge one, a major one is how difficult it is to get good 4-3 linebackers. It’s just easier to run a 3-4 in the NFL these days.

      If you have or can get the right linebackers I feel a 4-3 is superior. But to get 3 linebackers like that is almost impossible these days and would tie up too much cap space. Running a 3-4 is cheaper and easier to do, you will also be able to have more depth. That’s just the reality of the NFL right now, in part like I said because of the college game.

      Del Rio, sure and a few other guys. The real issue with me is having soft zone defenses and not attacking the QB. I cannot stand a defense like that, I want an aggressive one, balls to the walls all out on every play(you need depth for that too) and a ground control offense even if it’s predicated on short passes rather then a running game.

      I want to see fear in the QB’s eyes because he knows he is going to get hit every play even if it means a penalty here and there, but not too much. There also has to be coordination and not have players screw up their gap integrity which so many do when they play the more aggressive style. So it’s about great coaching to be able to have a defense play like that.

      I would rather give up a big play, even lose a game because the team was aggressive rather then lose because of passivity.

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