With Sean McDermott out as the defensive coordinator and a 3-4 trend hitting the NFL once again, everyone is wondering whether or not the Eagles could, and should, consider a switch in defensive philosophy.
First things first, Andy Reid and the new defensive coordinator (whomever that may turn out to be) would have to decide if they have the talent on the roster to make it work.
When transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4, a team must first make sure they have a reliable noseguard. The Buffalo Bills made the switch and found Kyle Williams, the Green Bay Packers made the switch and drafted B.J. Raji, the Washington Redskins made the switch and had absolutely no one.
Williams is a Pro Bowler, the Packers are in the NFC Championship game, and the Redskins are in complete disarray -- so clearly a noseguard is very important.
For the Eagles, they might have one in Antonio Dixon. From what I've seen, I would be cautiously optimistic that he could handle playing the middle and covering both A-gaps. He has a great first step and clearly understands leverage and how to stop an offensive lineman's momentum.
He's also 6'3 and 325 pounds, so that certainly doesn't hurt.
For defensive ends, the only one I'm certain could pull it off is Brodrick Bunkley. He's got a good mix of speed and power to play the end position. If he's asked to control C-gap and squeeze down to B-gap, I believe he could do that.
His pass-rushing ability could be an issue, but that is something that could be worked on and taught over the offseason.
The other end would have to either be Mike Patterson or Trevor Laws, and I find myself leaning toward Laws because of his ability to rush the passer. Of the defensive tackles, he has the best feet but might lack in the running game.
There's a good chance that Laws could get washed out and create a huge hole up the B-gap or lose contain if he tries to take an inside step and gets caught. At 6'1 and 305 pounds, he has a low center of gravity but hasn't shown an ability to play the run consistently.
Patterson could be a guy used in a 4-3 set or as a backup to Dixon. He isn't even as big as Laws at only 300 pounds but has shown an ability to stand his ground and play the run. It would be a real shot in the dark as to whether he could hold up for an entire game, but should Dixon go down having Patterson would be a good safety net.
The linebackers are much easier to choose. In a 3-4, the outside linebackers obviously have to be able to rush the passer and have enough athleticism to drop back into coverage. The two clear-cut favorites on the roster are Trent Cole and Brandon Graham.
Cole spent a lot of the season dropping back into coverage because apparently McDermott thought it would be a good idea to send his best pass-rusher backwards. Even though it was a ridiculous thought to put him in coverage, he did a pretty decent job of it.
Cole would be asked to rush the passer more often than not, and we've seen him do that in a stand-up position before when he played the Joker role for both Jim Johnson and McDermott.
Coming out of college, Graham was considered a 'tweener. In fact, a lot of scouts and draftniks thought he would be better suited as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 and had him going to the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots -- two teams in need of 3-4 outside linebackers.
And the draftniks aren't the only ones who think Graham would be good in a 3-4.
"Woo, man, I would love that," Graham said Sunday in a conference call with reporters. "Being a stand-up [linebacker] with Trent [Cole] on the other side? That would be nasty. That would be nice. I would be excited about it, I can tell you that much."
I'm also of the thinking that Graham is probably more suited as a stand-up linebacker. That doesn't mean he can't play defensive end in the 4-3 or even that he won't be a very good 4-3 defensive end, but he reminds me a lot of Elvis Dumervil and could probably play just as well.
So far, we have Laws, Dixon, and Bunkley on the line with Cole and Graham playing outside linebacker. All that's left is finding two inside linebackers.
The obvious two choices for that would be Jamar Chaney and Stewart Bradley.
Chaney is tough enough to play MIKE in the 4-3, so he shouldn't have any issue being given half the responsibility as a 3-4 inside linebacker. Then Bradley, who is a natural SAM in the 4-3, should be more than capable of handling the calls and playing half the field in coverage when the outside linebacker next to him blitzes.
The secondary is obviously unchanged by the move and would remain the same.
If the team chose to switch to the 3-4, they would have an entire offseason to pick from free agency and the draft in order to fill their needs. However, should they decide to make the 3-4 nothing more than a variation from their normal 4-3 set a handful of times during a game, they could probably run it with some success given the talent currently on the roster.
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