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Thursday, November 21, 2013

3-4 An Option?

So with Charles Johnson potentially out, or at the minimum limited by
his MCL injury, I have a creative solution to the problem. Skip past
the next couple paragraphs if you're not into reading how the sausage is
made.





It was funny last year, with Ron Rivera and Sean McDermott playing to
the press a little, hearing that Carolina might use more 3-4.

Carolina's always used some 3-4 under Ron Rivera. Never much a 3-4 guy
until the coaching carousel passed Rivera by in Chicago, after Lovie
Smith chose to not renew the contract of a coach that had brought him
two consecutive top 5 defenses, Rivera found himself in San Diego.
Marty Schottenheimer found himself losing both coordinators after 14-2;
a power struggle saw him fired when there wasn't agreement on new
coordinators. So they went with a reasonable facsimile in Norv Turner,
who would install Ted Cottrell - who the league and SD ownership both
wanted to succeed Wade Phillips (Shottenheimer wanted his brother in the
role).

Cottrell was awful, so Rivera got his shot. Rivera probably doesn't
get his 9th interview as successful in Carolina unless he had a good
idea of who he'd be able to bring; he doesn't have the contacts that
brings in Norv Turner guys on offense without being under Norv,
obviously. But in the transition of having to replace the guy who
replaced Wade (and Cottrell himself was a Wade guy), Rivera had to
adapt.

He couldn't use the base 4-3, Cover 2 of Lovie Smith with that
personnel. He could borrow from the Jim Johnson Philly stuff for
nickel, and did, quietly running a lot of 4-man lines with nickel. But
he had to be right with the 3-4. The upside, as I've said so many
times on this blog already, is that since so many 3-4s are one-gap
anyway, it doesn't matter. It's just where you line up. You're just
rushing guys in a different gap sometimes.

Sorry for the history lesson - I think that the mechanations behind San
Diego's screwups being the catalyst for what might be a strong Carolina
resurgence is fascinating.

At any rate, you check in on any pro playbook and the 3-4 is likely in
there. Chances are, two-gap concepts are in there, too, both schemes.
They don't get drilled often, and you might see plays installed
mid-season as needed, but they're there.

But Carolina ran some 3-4 from the drop. Cardinals, 2011. They didn't
'decide' to start running some 3-4 in the middle of '12, and honestly
they didn't add much 3-4 after saying so. It was always there, a
change-up to the 4-man front. I'm sure somewhere there's a
profootballfocus stat on which front they use and I'd say it's about
10%, with the 4-3 being about 40% and nickel closer to 50.

But it makes for a nice changeup. It's not a foreign concept.

For those of you that wanted to get right to the point, here goes:



I think the new look would provide a coping mechanism for the loss of
Charles Johnson. With all three DTs healthy, it'd add more size to the
field overall; sure, you have to rotate, but you can get more out of
Colin Cole in this lineup anyway. Greg Hardy can take some snaps
inside. And there's no doubting the ability of Thomas Davis and Luke
Kuechly. The concepts of them playing inside in the 3-4 are no
different in one-gap - they have gaps, and they have pursuit. Nothing
changes.

There's no Chase Blackburn, and AJ Klein has done a fine job so it's
hard to criticize how that's gone. The 250 lb Klein physically could
play standing up on the outside - I don't have a great feel for how he
fights off linemen, and that becomes critical outside in the 3-4
obviously - but his draft profile suggests he's good at fighting blocks
and uses his hands well. So you never know. He's not Kevin Greene but
he's not shown to be a liability and he's quite versatile.

The remaining ends behind Johnson don't have his size. Mario Addison
holds his own, but you don't often see Wes Horton unless it's rush time.
Frank Alexander can go either way, and might do for a little change
given his struggles this year. In truth it's best tailored to give
Horton, a pretty good rusher in preseason, more opportunity; Addison and
Alexander can effectively play end, give or take.

But it might be a way of weathering the storm for a week or two, and
given the way the defense played without Johnson in the second half last
week, I'll take a little change.
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