Fixing the Bears Defense (Part 2: Scheme)

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After a catastrophic 2013 season for the Bears defense, coach Trestman said that he will re-evaluate everything including the possibility of switching from the 4-3 base scheme the Bears have run forever to a 3-4 scheme. I covered the possibility of the Bears changing defensive coordinators yesterday and today I will go over the basics of a 3-4 scheme and how the Bears current personal would fit in that alignment.

3-4 basics:

I’d like to think I have a pretty good understanding of defensive schemes from years of watching football and thousands of Madden games, but I’m not a coach and won’t pretend to understand all the intricacies and variations of the 3-4. Just the basics here, folks.

3-4 Diagram

At the simplest level, the 3-4 uses 3 DL and 4 LBs instead of the 4 DL, 3 LB arrangement in the 4-3. With only 3 DL their responsibilties are different and require a different skill set then the DL in a 4-3. Here is a quick overview of the responsibilties and skill-set’s required for each position.

NT: Think Ted Washington (6’5. 375) who played with the Bears in 2000-2001. He’s basically the prototype for the NT position. You want a massive (320+) space eater at the NT position whose main job is to occupy both the center and one of the opposing guards. The NT isn’t expected to generate any pass rush, just hold the point of attack and clog up two gaps. This is probably the most important position in the 3-4 defense, but also the hardest to fill.

DE: While 4-3 DE are expected to rush the passer first and stop the run second, it is the opposite in a 3-4. Their main responsibility is to occupy the opposing tackles to leave the OLBs free to make plays. Depending on whether it’s a 1 or 2 gap scheme¹, the DEs might be expected to occupy an opposing guard as well. 4-3 DEs that can rush the passer consistently are one of the hardest (and most expensive) types of players to find in the NFL, so the switch to a 3-4 makes it considerably easier to find DEs that fit the scheme.

OLB: With the DEs expected to tie up the opposing tackles, the OLBs are expected to rush the passer. Occasionally they will have coverage responsibilities, but their primary job is to get sacks. With less coverage responsibilities than the 4-3 OLBs, that opens the door for “tweener” types who aren’t fast enough in coverage to play OLB in a 4-3 and two small for a 4-3 DE, but are skilled pass rushers.

ILB: These guys are expected to do a little bit of everything. They cover TEs & RBs out of the backfield, have inside gap responsibility against the run and also blitz the QB occasionally. One of the two ILBs is normally a run stuffer (TED) while the other a more athletic player who can make plays sideline-to-sideline (MIKE).

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