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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  • Johnathan Wood

    Not that you base your defensive scheme around a 6th round pick who rarely played as a rookie, but the reason Cornelius Washington fell to the 6th round is that Georgia switched to a 3-4 his final year of college and he didn’t fit anywhere. He was much more productive in college as a 4-3 DE than 3-4 OLB, and is too small to be a 3-4 DE. So if they do decide to switch to a full-time 3-4, then Washington is likely an odd man out.

    What seems to be a more realistic option for the Bears is to switch to a hybrid D like what SF and SEA (among others) do. Sometimes they line up in a 4-3, sometimes a 3-4. McClellin would be pegged for the Bruce Irvin role, a situational pass rushing linebacker.

    • Mike Flannery

      I’m not recommending the 3-4 as the only defense the Bears play. Whatever they choose as a base scheme ins’t going to be the only formation they line up in. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bears played some wide-9 or a hybrid like you mentioned next year. What they need to do is disguise their coverage and blitzes better. The 3-4 gives them a little more flexibility on who is blitzing and who is in coverage then the 4-3 does.

    • Dr. Johnny Nacho

      Washington athletically was off the charts, which is likely why Emery drafted him and the face like you said he fell so far down the draft. Mclovin will be on the move or simply a situational pass rusher but I’m more looking at Wootton. His play deserves a contract from the Bears but just not sure if he’ll stick around or look for more money. If he leaves then look for Washington to get some reps opposite Peppers and make the most of it. He’s got a year under his belt so he should make plays if given the opportunity.

      • Greg Jones Snowden

        The bears should switch to a 3-4 defense or the hybrid d it was fun for them and benefit alot of the guys on the team…Shea, boston, Wooten, etc