If it waddles like a 3-4 duck, and quacks like a 3-4 duck, there’s a strong possibility that it is, in fact, a 3-4 duck.
But Falcons coach Mike Smith insisted his team wasn’t undergoing a dramatic makeover this offseason, sounding more afraid of the label than the change.
Smith busted out his best football coach jargon when discussing the shift, saying defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s system wouldn’t be drastically different either way.
“I think we’re going to be what we’ve been much like in the last couple of years: very multiple,” Smith said, via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. “When you start talking about 3-4, 4-3, they’re very similar in principles. You line up on a 4-3 in a base down, you slide your tackle in and under and over defense. You line up in a 3-4 and slide your tackle over you’re in an over defense. You slide him under, you’re in an under defense.
“We’re going to play with 11 players on the field and we’re going to be very multiple. Mike Nolan has got a background — probably half and half — 50 percent of the time he’s been based out of a 3-4 and based out of a 4-3. The thing that I think people don’t realize is that the game has become substitutional defense. About 65 to 75 percent of large snaps have been in sub defense where you’re playing with five defensive backs. There are more snaps with five defensive backs than four. That nickelback is more of a starter than your fourth linebacker or your third linebacker. The multiplicity and the complexity of the game have changed. You very rarely see the same formations offensively.”
All those things are true. But this offseason, the Falcons went out and spent aggressively on a 3-4 nose tackle (Paul Soliai) and a 3-4 defensive end (Tyson Jackson) in the opening hours of free agency.
And if they manage to draft South Carolina Jadeveon Clowney, the issue of whether he stands up or is on the line of scrimmage will matter less than the fact they have a pass-rusher.
So while the base defense might still have three standing up and four in a stance, the Falcons are inarguably making some changes.
They needed to, to change the numbers that were going on the scoreboard against them.