There's been a lot of hubbub about the "new" 3-4 defensive scheme that the Broncos will be using this year. At the end of the day, is the 3-4 really that different from the 4-3?
The major difference between the two defensive schemes is the number of down lineman used. In the 4-3 defense, there are four lineman. In the 3-4 defense, there are three down lineman. You are basically just exchanging a down lineman for a linebacker.
Here's the rub; in a lot of cases, and in Denver's case, the down lineman is exchanged for a "hybrid" linebacker, guys like Robert Ayers, Elvis Dumervil, or Jarvis Moss.
These players are essentially 4-3 rush ends, but since they will be adding pass defending duties to their run stop and pass rushing duties, they do the job of both linebackers and defensive ends in a 3-4 defense.
In the 3-4, the down lineman are in charge of plugging the A, B, and C gaps, while the linebackers read the offense and attack the remaining gaps.
In a 4-3 defense, the down lineman are asked to rush the passer as well as stop the run, instead of worrying about gap assignments as much.
Mike Nolan, the Broncos' current defensive coordinator, is said to like to play an "attacking" type of 3-4.
"It's not really the usual 3-4," Ronnie Fields explained on the Denver Broncos' official Web site. "It's an attack 3-4, it's like an offensive mindset. Some people play the 3-4 different, they're more like sit back and wait. But as far as us, we attack. It's kind of mixed-up with a 4-3. There are a lot of good things in there for linemen instead of just sitting there and catching the blocker and being passive and waiting."
So tell me this, if you are basically putting out the same personnel, four defensive lineman and three linebackers, and all of the guys are attacking the quarterback, isn't this really the same as a 4-3 scheme?
I mean the down lineman are bigger, but if if the team runs out of an over/under defensive set, the hybrid linebackers, who used to be defensive ends, are now defensive ends again.
What the 3-4 will do is give the defense more options on the field. With Dumervil and Moss at the 3-4 outside linebacker spots, the Broncos could even run a 5-2 scheme and either drop the OLBs into a zone or send them straight at the quarterback.
Likewise, the Broncos could drop everyone into a zone and stop the short pass, or rush the two inside linebackers; there are a ton of packages that they can put together.
With all of this upside and the new looks the 3-4 defense will give the Broncos defense, is this going to change their success?
If the players can't perform in the 4-3, what makes them more suited for the 3-4?
Mike Nolan and the Broncos' defense have a lot of work to do this off season to make themselves a competitive squad.
I for one believe that they will be able to succeed. However, at this point there are so many questions that I wouldn't be surprised if they were only marginally better than last season.
Let's hope this isn't the case.