Philosophical Differences: The 3-4 Defense Comes to Green Bay

Peter BukowskiSenior Analyst IMay 14, 2009

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 08:  (R) Aaron Kampman#74 of the Green Bay Packers reacts with teammates after sacking quarterback Tarvaris Jackson #7 of the Minnesota Vikings in the first quarter on September 8, 2008 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Bill Clinton once said "people the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power."

My guess is he wasn't talking about copy-catting in the NFL, but with Slick Willy, you never know.

When one of the proudest franchises in the league undertakes a massive schematic overhaul, there has to be a reason. More and more teams are changing defensive principles following the success of teams like the Steelers, Patriots, and Chargers.

Not even nearly 100 years of history could stop the Green Bay Packers from being the latest team to make the switch.

Though Cheeseheads may have been shocked when Ted Thompson announced 3-4 coach Dom Capers would take over the defense in 2009, they should not be concerned that the Packers are simply reacting to a fad.

Six of the last nine Super Bowl Champions have run the 3-4 defense, with three out of the four teams in the Conference Championship games last year all playing some version of the 3-4.

In fact, the Steelers have been running the 3-4 for decades and are considered the torch bearers for the 3-4 in the NFL.

Moving from the 4-3 to the 3-4 is not like adding the screen pass to your offense, or deciding to play more man defense. The 3-4 is an overhaul in philosophy, personnel, and player attitude. If done correctly though, it can be wildly successful.

Just ask Peyton Manning why he doesn't have a few more rings.

The Packers had previosly (and for most of their history) been a 4-3 team, meaning four down linemen and three linebackers behind them. The 3-4 means three down linemen with four linebackers behind.

The reason for such a change could be any number of things. The 3-4 allows the defense to have more athletes on the field at a given time, which means added flexibility to the kinds of looks they can give an opposing offense.

Any Cheesehead clamoring for a change from the vanilla defense being run in Green Bay ever since the late Fritz Shurmur left should like what he sees in 2009.

On the defensive line, the Packers appear to have the necessary pieces to succeed with the 3-4. Cullen Jenkins was not the kind of edge rusher 4-3 defenses need. With his size and strength, Jenkins looks to be an ideal fit to play end in the 3-4.

Instead of lining up outside shoulder of the opposing tackle, most often Jenkins will line up either straight up, or inside shoulder depending on the linebacker formations. The end on the other side, a spot still up for grabs, will do the same.

The key to this defense is the nose tackle, and the Packers have a good one in Ryan Pickett (Not to mention a future star in rookie B.J. Raji). Instead of lining two defensive lineman on the guards like in the 4-3, the 3-4 uses one tackle to play what is called a 0 or 1 technique.

Pickett will be responsible for two caps on the interior and essentially must eat up two blockers on every play to free up the linebackers.

The linebackers have the glamour position in the 3-4 because the d-line does all the dirty work. A.J. Hawk played well at "Mike" linebacker in place of the injured Nick Barnett last season.

Playing him alongside Barnett inside gives the Packers two outstanding athletes on the interior. Expect their quickness to cause problems as Barnett and Hawk will be able to patrol the middle of the field with their outstanding speed and range.

In this case, two is definitely better than one.

The last big difference in this defense is at the outside linebacker position. Aaron Kampman moves from a down lineman to a stand-up rush-linebacker.

He will rush the quarterback nearly every play, but in Capers' zone-blitz scheme, he will also have to drop in coverage at times to confuse the opposition.

His counter-part remains TBA. The Packers traded back into the first round to nab USC's versatile linebacker Clay Matthews to play that position.

With his athletic ability and experience in the system, it is easy to see why. Matthews looks like he could be a Mike Vrabel-type player with his versatility to rush the passer as well as make plays in coverage.

Fans in Green Bay may not be used the 3-4 defense, and to be fair it will take some time.

But think about Eli Manning picking apart the Packers in the NFC Championship game two years ago, then of the way teams like the Chargers and Steelers own Eli's (much better) brother Peyton.

This is a big change for a little town, but the way Ted Thompson loves to draft athletes, it looks like a match made in frozen tundra heaven.