Arizona Cardinals: Should They Run a 3-4 or 4-3 Defense?


Nov. 25, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA: Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett against the St. Louis Rams at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Most coaches, whether it be the NFL, college or high school, have the idea that teams need to have one base defense.  Why?

Perhaps it is easier to assign players to positions and have them work on that one specific position.  Perhaps it makes scheming for other team easier. But what if you have the talent to run multiple fronts?  When I think of a defense I think of a boxer.  It is great to have a good jab, but what good is a jab if you do not have a straight to go behind it?

Most boxing fans know that the jab is not a huge punch, but it is a great punch to gain rhythm. Having a straight power punch allows you to effectively use the jab. Then again perhaps you have a great jab and a good straight hand, and no hook or uppercut?  I am sure you see where I am going with this.  All great boxers are able to throw the jab, straight hand, hook and or the uppercut effectively.  It allows different types of combinations of punches to be thrown always keeping your opponent off-balance.

The Arizona Cardinals’ defense is entering a year with a new defensive coordinator in Todd Bowles, who is used to running a 4-3 alignment.  The problem is, he is taking over a defense built to run a 3-4 alignment. Both are very effective when ran correctly and from a personnel standpoint makes sense to run both.  Most players coming out of college were groomed on the defensive side of the ball to run a four-man front.

But you are seeing more and more that they are being taken from what they have known since youth football and thrown into a new alignment with expectations not only from the fans but from the owners and coaches as well. Now a paycheck is involved.

For example, take O’Brien Schofield. He was a dominant force as a defensive end at Wisconsin in a four-man front.  And since he has been in the NFL, he has struggled to pick up the concept and positioning of a OLB in a 3-4 alignment. He is a below average defender in a 3-4 but may be a force in a 4-3.

When looking at the guys up front the Cardinals have Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams as the front three. Bringing down Schofield or Sam Acho from the OLB spot to the DE spot allows them to put their hand on the ground and play how they used to.

Thinking is not a part of what comes naturally, so they would be able to do what the Cardinals expected them to do coming out of college; play strong and play fast. Dockett would serve better to play in a multiple-front alignment as well.  He was known as a beast in the middle prior to Horton coming in and moving him to the outside.

With Bowles in place, the word is that Dockett will be played more on the inside, allowing him to beat guys off the line of scrimmage. Using a four-man front would allow the Cardinals to tinker with Dockett, Williams and Campbell.

The secondary could benefit from a multiple-front as well, especially in third-down situations.  With Patrick Peterson coming off a Pro Bowl year and the addition of Antoine Cason and Jerraud Powers not to mention the addition of Tyrann Mathieu, guys should be able to make plays due to pressure up front being provided by guys who are now in a more natural position.

Eliminating the space the 3-4 can create by using a four-man front (a 4-3) will help reduce lanes for the opposing running back to choose from.  The Arizona Cardinals had one of the worse rush defense in the NFL last year so mixing up the fronts could provide an extra piece of confusion the opposing offensive coordinator would have to contend with.

The Arizona Cardinals by using multiple fronts would provide the arsenal needed to improve on their already good defense. So, using different formations along with the scheming should help turn the defense from a fighter fighting on ESPN on Friday nights to fighting on Pay Per View.