As we pointed out on Friday night, the latest issue of Sporting News contains an apology from former Dolphins coach Nick Saban regarding the “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach” fiasco.
The latest Sporting News also takes an equally interesting look at the ongoing proliferation of the 3-4 defense.
As Dennis Dillon points out, the numbers of teams using the 3-4 has quintupled in a decade, expanding from three to 15. In 2000, no NFC teams used the 3-4 as their base defense. Now, five do.
The full-page multi-faceted analysis includes a one-paragraph debate between Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Frazier prefers the 4-3 because he thinks it’s easier to find the interior defensive linemen who power a four-man line than All-Pro-type linebackers that the 3-4 needs. LeBeau thinks it’s easier to find a “gifted” 245- to 265-pounder who can line up in a two-point stance on passing downs and confuse the offense as to whether he’ll be rushing or dropping into coverage.
In our view, the prior success of the 3-4 came in part from the fact that only a handful of teams used it. Quarterbacks simply didn’t have the familiarity with the alternative to the 4-3, making it harder for them to deal with it when they faced it. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, for example, struggled for years with the Patriots, and many believe that he simply didn’t have enough exposure to the 3-4. In 2010, Manning will see the 3-4 six times during the regular season.
For that reasons, coaches committed to the 4-3 likely hope that the 3-4 will continue to spread. As offenses see the 3-4 more and more, eventually the 4-3 will become more effective because quarterbacks will become less familiar with the more traditional attack.