With the 3-4 coming up again in the media, it's time to pull out a bit about our defense and why it's not going to be a base 3-4.
I'd worked on this premise in the past, but it seems no less relevant now: there is no such thing as a base defense anymore. The ideal of stopping the varied attacks in the pros - which still come from 4 offensive lineage, and no more - and certainly the much more wide variety in college means there just is no such thing as a base defense. Defenses have become more specialized, and it's only going to grow.
For one, let's get rid of misconceptions - most pro playbooks have 3-man and 4-man fronts. It's not new. That most teams use a section that has fit into one front or another, with a hundred plus calls coming from it, isn't a revelation, either. But even a Tampa 2, with its theoretical use of one coverage (Cover 2, with a deeper MLB) and front (4-3 under) has it all in there. It's all there, ready for use.
More to the point, follow these links for what some innovators have been doing:
Belichick, always a multiple front guy, switched fronts and even line techniques mid-line last year,
The Ravens are considered a 3-4, but they run a ton of 4-3 and act like it, and
The Packers are considered as much a 2-4-5 nickel team as they are a 3-4.
Some of that is bending to personnel, and some of it's a natural move toward a nickel defense, not unlike many college teams have used to counter the spread. Which, along with the athletic TE, is making its way into the pro game more and more. Teams are varying approaches so much more than they have in the past.
Ron Rivera is a different story, and I published as such as early as March 2011. Carolina wouldn't put anything to the field for five more months, but it was clear Rivera was going to play around. I don't think we've seen half of it yet, and it's tough to know for certain what will be new. Will some of it look like a 3-4? Sure. Will some of it look like a 4-3? Naturally. As a 3-4 guy in San Diego, he was anything but - and a lot of times ran 2 DL like the Packers did. It's just two LB standing, but clearly a 4-man type line.
But in the end, what matters is that Rivera will make a call based on these principles:
It's one gap, regardless of front (so no complaining that we don't have huge linemen). It's going to pick its edge rushers, how many it's bringing, and where the other players are dropping. The way it looks is just window dressing. There is no base defense, may as well get used to that.