Switching Defenses

By Walt – @walterfootball
Jan. 26, 2013

When the Saints fired defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and announced that they were switching to a 3-4, they became the fourth team this offseason to make a defensive scheme change. The Eagles and Browns are also moving to a 3-4, while the Cowboys are going against the grain and flipping to a 4-3 in the wake of the Monte Kiffin hiring.

Let’s take a look at each team and how their personnel works in its new defense:

New Orleans Saints:

It’s weird to envision the Saints in a 3-4, but the new scheme can’t be any worse than what they already have. In fact, some of their personnel fit perfectly into this defense. Cameron Jordan already has experience in the system, having played in Cal’s 3-4. Junior Galette and Martez Wilson, meanwhile, make for natural edge rushers. Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma do not fit the 3-4, but they were likely cap casualties anyway.

Here’s how New Orleans’ new front seven will look:

Cameron Jordan – Brodrick Bunkley – Akiem Hicks
Junior Galette – David Hawthorne – Curtis Lofton – Martez Wilson

The Saints will have to find some depth on the defensive line and in the linebacking corps. Their most glaring front-seven need is rush linebacker. Perhaps they’ll consider Dion Jordan or Ezekiel Ansah with the No. 15 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft (see 2013 NFL Mock Draft here).

Philadelphia Eagles:

The Eagles have made no official announcement about switching to the 3-4, but reports indicate that they approached Illinois pass-rusher Michael Buchanan and asked him about playing in such a formation.

I’m not as optimistic about Philadelphia’s move to a new scheme. There’s no nose tackle, while DeMeco Ryans struggled in the 3-4 when he was with the Texans. Also, Brandon Graham and Trent Cole don’t seem like natural fits at outside linebacker because of their inability to cover.

Here’s how Philadelphia’s new front seven will look:

Cullen Jenkins – Antonio Dixon – Fletcher Cox
Brandon Graham – DeMeco Ryans – Mychal Kendricks – Trent Cole

Like any team moving to a 3-4, the Eagles will need linebacker depth, especially in the interior. The nose tackle position desperately needs to be addressed. Star Lotulelei is the no-brainer choice at No. 4 overall, but he’s unlikely to be available. If that’s the case, someone like Jesse Williams would make sense atop Round 2.

Cleveland Browns:

The Browns had a very good defense in 2012, so their scheme switch is pretty puzzling. I hate it when new coaches force their system upon existing personnel. Many have done this over the years, and most have failed.

The 3-4 is doable though. Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, Billy Winn, Jabaal Sheard and Chris Gocong figure to fit in naturally. D’Qwell Jackson has experience in the 3-4, so that would work as well.

Here’s how Cleveland’s new front seven will look:

Phil Taylor – Ahtyba Rubin – Billy Winn
Jabaal Sheard – Chris Gocong – D’Qwell Jackson – ???

The Browns are actually pretty deep at inside with James-Michael Johnson backing up the two starters. There is also some depth up front. The area Cleveland needs to address is rush linebacker – but the front office already had to find another pass-rusher across from Sheard.

Dallas Cowboys:

The Cowboys are the contrarian of the four, moving back to the 4-3. I don’t think there was anything fundamentally wrong with Dallas’ 3-4, but adding Monte Kiffin should help.

It’ll be interesting to see what’ll happen with Jay Ratliff. He was expected to play both the one- and three-technique in Kiffin’s system, but a DWI could cost him his job. Ratliff’s charge is inexcusable, as teammate Josh Brent was part of a drunk-driving incident that killed a teammate in December. If Ratliff goes, Dallas will have absolutely nothing at defensive tackle.

Here’s how Dallas’ new front seven will look:

Marcus Spears – Jay Ratliff – Jason Hatcher – DeMarcus Ware
Dan Connor – Sean Lee – Bruce Carter

Outside of the defensive tackle position, the Cowboys’ most glaring need is at end. Jerry Jones doesn’t have the cap space to re-sign Anthony Spencer, so he’ll have to find a complement for Ware. Dallas happens to be fine at linebacker, save for depth purposes.

Which team is making the worst decision this offseason?

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