3-4 Defense: The Two-Sided Sword

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3-4 Defense: The Two-Sided Sword
(Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Over the past few years, a new trend has been growing in popularity around the NFL: the 3-4 defensive scheme.

The 3-4 defense was created in the late 1940's by Bud Wilkinson at the University of Oklahoma, but it did not reach the NFL until 1974, when Chuck Fairbanks brought it from Oklahoma to the Patriots. The 3-4 defense has been around for over 60 years, yet it was not popular until recently when the defenses of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots implemented the formation.

Since the 2001 season, these two defenses have continually dominated offenses around the league, totaling a combined 182 wins (not including playoffs). These two teams have also won five of the last eight Super Bowls, and as the old adage says, "Defense wins championships."

These two teams have shown that the defense can certainly be effective, but there is a dark side to the defense. 

Teams such as the Cleveland Browns and N.Y. Jets, however, have demonstrated how without quality players or coaching, the formation can backfire and be ineffective.

So why is it that some teams can put together amazing rosters while others can't? The answer is simple:  without knowing exactly what is needed to make a smooth-running core of players, it is nearly impossible to succeed.

The New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers both scout their players to the highest degree, while still raising lower picks and mid-level free agents to fit their teams' needs. Teams like the Browns and Jets, however, take the best athlete available in the draft, which does not make a defense that is as effective.

This is the doing of the 3-4 defense. The 3-4 can either make a team bring out the best in the available players or destroy them. Some winners aside from the Steelers and Patriots are the Baltimore Ravens (who run a combo of the 4-3 and 3-4), the San Diego Chargers, and the Dallas Cowboys.

The most obvious victims are the Browns and the Jets. There are many more teams that have tried and failed to successfully implement the scheme, but these teams have learned their lessons and since given up hope of using the 3-4.

This upcoming season has another team that will attempt to implement a 3-4, the Green Bay Packers, who will try to move veteran defensive ends to the outside linebacker position.  I will now present essential questions about your team's roster that will help you determine if your team will find success with the formation or fall flat on their faces.

1. Does your team have a nose tackle that can handle both a center and a guard?

2. Does your team have a pass rusher on both ends?

3. Does your team have corners who can cover in straight-up man-to-man defense?

4. Does your team have a solid rotation on the defensive line and linebacking core?

5. Does your team have an unselfish roster?

If you answered no to any of these questions, then odds are your team will not find defensive success next season. 

Sorry to break the news  to you Cowboys, Packers, Browns, and Jets fans. I really am, but for you Steelers, Patriots, Chargers, and Ravens fans, keep up the good work.

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