As promised, today we're going to take a look at a 3-4 alignment that we could see the Panthers running next season. As I began to read more and more about Buddy Ryan's 46 Defense, I became interested in the fact that only a handful of teams ran a similar formation. Buddy's legacy has definitely been passed down to his children as both Rex and Rob have learned the concepts of his famous defense from him. This is the same defense that Ron Rivera played as a Chicago Bear.
But where the Bears ran a 4-3 defense, the 46 has evolved into a hybrid 3-4 defense and we might just see some of it when the Panthers decide to go with a different look.
But we do have another weakness, which was much discussed during the draft process, and that is at DT. Using a 3-4 might help mitigate some of those weaknesses as well, allowing us to bring in another linebacker in place of a DT. This won't be our base package, and if it ever does, it won't be for at least not for several years to come, but I believe it makes a certain amount of sense. So let's take a look at what Rex Ryan has done with the 46.
The Hybrid 3-4 Rex Ryan 46 Scheme
Now, first of all let me begin by saying that Rex's defense is perhaps one of the most complex in the NFL. There are as of right now 3 teams that use a system similar to the one he runs: the Jets, Ravens, and Cowboys. Fitting isn't it? Rex was the DC for the Ravens, now HC for the Jets, and his brother Rob is now the DC for the Cowboys. Buddy's legacy is alive and well indeed.
Now, here we have the actual alignment. Does it look familiar? If you read my article on the Buddy 46, it should, because it actually is the same formation. The only difference is in how it's executed (and that they played it in a 4-3 instead of a 3-4). As in the Buddy 46, the CBs are left in man coverage and there is one FS over the top. The SS is brought down to and basically lines up like another linebacker. There are two OLBs, one on the weak side and one on the strong, and two MLBs who lines up behind the NT in charge of the A-gap playing the 0-technique . The DEs are in charge of controlling the B and C-gaps. The line play is pretty similar to most other 3-4s such as the one ran in Pittsburgh. The biggest difference though is in the blitzing and the coverage assignments. And that really starts with the SS.
In this alignment, the SS starts off in the box, but is expected to drop into coverage from time to time (a key difference from Dick LeBeau's 3-4). The SS has 3 main responsibilities. First, he is expected to clean up the strong-side in the run game. Secondly, there will be times where he is going to drop back into coverage, as mentioned before. And finally, blitzing, perhaps one of the biggest factors in Rex's scheme. In fact, almost all players are expected to blitz and they can come literally from anywhere.
Before we move on, there is a theme that i think we can touch on here that I brought up before: confusion. First of all, ask yourself... Who could fill this role at SS? Obviously, Sherrod Martin, our current starting SS, is a given. But just like with the 46, Thomas Davis could slide in and play SS. But wait... if Davis plays SS, who is going to be our other OLB? Remember, this is a 3-4 alignment and that OLBs tend to be similar to DEs in the 4-3. We could throw in Applewhite at DE with Hardy and move Charles Johnson outside as the responsibilities aren't going to be much different from what he would have as a DE.
Or... we could not. We could keep SS Sherrod Martin in, put Davis (or a DE) out at the OLB spot. James Anderson would stay in his traditional strongside OLB position and his main responsibility will be man-coverage against the TE, blitzing only about 20% of the time or playing zone in the middle. Kuechly and Beason would likely line up in the middle. Whoever takes on the strongside will be in control of the A and B during the run game and playing zone the rest of the time, rarely blitzing. The weakside ILB is going to be the heavy blitzer, coming in for nearly 75% of the plays and playing a zone out in the flat the rest of the time on the weakside. Kuechly, to me, is the key here. He could line up in any of these 3 LB positions and be successful, whether it's blitzing, covering the TE, or cleaning up the run game. Johnson (if not playing at the OLB position) would stay as the LDE with Hardy at RDE and one of the DTs (most likely Ron Edwards) playing as the NT. And those are only two possibilities! Think back to the SS responsibilities for a moment now: coverage, run-game clean up, and blitzing. Do we have another player who can fill that role? Well, why not Kuechly? That breeds yet another formation look.
So why do all this? What's the point? It's two fold. First of all, the idea is just to keep the offense guessing. We have such diverse and talented personnel that we can line up in the exact same formation, even in our base 4-3, but with different personnel to try and confuse the offense into making a mistake. And secondly, it's about getting the best players in the best position to win. Immediately when we drafted Kuechly, I began to imagine how the complexity of our defense could really take the leap to another level. All the promise of McDermot's fancy blitzing packages were tantalizing to me. No, Kuechly was not asked to be a blitzer at his days in BC, but if he's going to be a complete LB at this level it's a role he's going to have to pick up. And I don't know about you... but I'm excited.
Who knows... Maybe next season we can talk about the Carolina blitz package.