The Kansas City Chiefs switched to a 3-4 defense back in 2009 when Scott Pioli brought in Romeo Crennel as the defensive coordinator. Despite having just drafted Glenn Dorsey to play defensive tackle, the Chiefs switched to the two-gap version of the 3-4.
The switch to the 3-4 was not an immediate success, but the team stuck with it. By 2010, the Chiefs had a pretty good defense, and that carried over into 2011. Even though the defense took a step back in 2012, Andy Reid decided to stick with the 3-4 and hired Bob Sutton as his defensive coordinator.
Although Sutton spent the last several years teaching the two-gap 3-4 in New York, the Chiefs should consider playing more one-gap 3-4 defense in 2013 to maximize the talents of their personnel. The one-gap 3-4 allows the defensive line to be more aggressive and helps eliminate some of the problems the Chiefs had when teams forced them into sub packages in 2012.
The Two-Gap 3-4
The idea behind the traditional two-gap 3-4 is to have the defensive lineman responsible for playing the gap to his right and left. The nose tackle typically plays the 0-technique, which is right over the center, and the defensive ends play the 5-technique, which is right over the offensive tackles. The idea is for the defensive line to control all the A, B and C gaps so the linebackers can make plays.
One of the problems with the two-gap 3-4 is that it’s very hard to play it effectively against offensive sub packages. The 3-4 has a built-in weakness: It’s hard for the defensive line to pass rush, and that has to be accomplished by blitzing outside linebackers. The Chiefs have two good pass-rushers at outside linebacker, but to get a good pass rush, both of them must blitz.
Sending five rushers puts more pressure on the secondary if the pass rush doesn’t get the quarterback. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on Tamba Hali and Justin Houston to get to the quarterback, and they aren’t getting any help from the three down linemen. Pass protection is simplified because offenses key on Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. A smart quarterback will just find the soft spot in the zone over and over again.
The Chiefs certainly had their problems on defense in 2012 in sub packages. Dontari Poe developed in 2012, but he still wasn’t able to occupy two blockers and control two gaps. For the two-gap 3-4 defense to work correctly, the nose tackle must be able to occupy two blocks.
The One-Gap 3-4
The 4-3 defense is a one-gap scheme that enables the defensive line to be more aggressive. The problem is that the skills needed to be a good 4-3 defensive end are rare and costly. Many pass-rushers are also poor against the run, particularly when they are forced to shed the blocks of 325-pound offensive tackles.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get the aggressiveness of the 4-3 one-gap scheme out of 3-4 personnel? That’s the basic concept of the one-gap 3-4 defense. This is the 3-4 defense that Bum Phillips used and that his son, Wade Phillips, brought to Dallas and now Houston.
If you ever wondered how J.J. Watt can get 20.5 sacks in a season as a 3-4 defensive end, the secret is the one-gap 3-4. The Chiefs don’t currently have a player like Watt, but they could decide to draft Star Lotulelei, who would give them an impact player at the very same position.
Since Tyson Jackson is slated to make over $17 million in 2013 (via Spotrac) and Glenn Dorsey is a free agent, the Chiefs will be in desperate need of a couple 3-4 defensive ends. The question will be what kind of defensive ends to bring in.
The Chiefs' 3-4 Defense
The Chiefs might do well to sign a big defensive end like Matt Shaughnessy and draft Lotulelei. It wouldn’t necessarily be popular to draft another defensive lineman, but the assumption here would be the Chiefs would have addressed their need for a quarterback in free agency or via trade.
The new regime will stick to drafting the best player available, and that might be Lotulelei. For those wondering, Lotulelei wouldn’t be the same kind of player as Poe or Jackson or a bad scheme fit like Dorsey. The idea would be to have a disruptive and aggressive interior player to get in the face of Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers. It’s a passing league and a one-gap 3-4 defense with Lotulelei would help the Chiefs stop the pass.
Shaughnessy, Lotulelei and Poe would form a very strong front three that would be capable of helping generate the pass rush while maintaining a strong presence against the run. The Chiefs could switch to the one-gap scheme even without drafting Lotulelei, but the switch wouldn’t have the same impact.
One of the nice things is that the entire defense wouldn’t hinge on Poe because he would play the 1-technique and attack a single gap. One of the tricks is that the defensive line will use its strength to press the blocking into the other gap. Poe has the strength, but his technique is still a work in progress.
The pressure will shift to Derrick Johnson because he’ll have to sift through more traffic to make tackles in the running game. It’s probably a good idea to shift the responsibilities from a raw nose tackle to a Pro Bowl linebacker. Poe’s natural athleticism would instantly make him better in a one-gap 3-4 scheme.
Tamba Hali and Justin Houston would do essentially the same thing they do now and the Chiefs could maintain a strong pass rush even when opposing teams spread them out. The Chiefs wouldn’t rely on Hali and Houston as much and opposing teams probably wouldn’t be able to slide protections to them with the more aggressive defensive line.
Perhaps the best thing is that the Chiefs could still use the two-gap 3-4 base defense in running situations. It’s the best of both worlds and it fits Kansas City’s personnel perfectly. No defense is perfect, but the Chiefs would be a lot better on defense by switching to a one-gap 3-4 defense in 2013.