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The 3-4, Debunking the Myths
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Waldo


Joined: 29 Nov 2006
Posts: 22679
Location: The ATL
PostPosted: Thu Jun 04, 2009 5:16 pm    Post subject: The 3-4, Debunking the Myths Reply with quote

So.....an unbiased review of all the teams that I could come up with that have switched from pure 4-3 to either a hybrid or 3-4 base in the last 10 years. I compare their season prior to the switch to the season they made the switch, in an effort to study many of the truths, half truths, and myths about converting from one defense or the other. The raw data used is the performance stats of the defense. The first post goes team by team to examine each situation and look at the stats. The second post is a roll up analysis comparing all situations to each other, looking at the change, positive or negative, from one year to another. My thinking has been greatly altered by undertaking this exercise, I learned many things that I did not expect to discover.

Raw Data and Commentary of the individual situations:

There were 10 teams running 3-4 or hybrid defenses in the 2008 season. How they changed:

(Pittsburgh is excluded as they have been running the defense for decades, making data difficult to find, and it was done prior to the current era of free agency):

Abbreviations used: PPG = Points per game (scoring defense), YPC = Yards per carry (run defense), YPP = Yards per pass (pass defense), PRA = Passer rating against (Pass defense), 3D = 3rd down % (sub package defense), Sk = Sacks, Int = Interceptions, Pen = Penalties

(fumbles were ignored due to random nature of recoveries)

San Fransisco 49ers:
The 49ers began the change to a 3-4 defense in 2005 when Mike Nolan took over, primarily a 2 gap 3-4 base. The defense never really took and yearly the team would waiver between a 3-4, 4-3, and Big Nickel as the base defense, until Singletary took over full time in 2008 and fully committed to a 1 gap 3-4 front.

2004 performance (2-14): 28.2 PPG (32nd), 4.0 YPC (12th), 7.5 YPP (25th), 96.5 PRA (29th), 40% 3D (23rd), 29 sk (29th), 9 int (29th), 107 pen (10th)

2005 performance (4-12): 26.8 PPG (29th), 3.8 YPC (11th), 8.0 YPP (32nd), 94.2 PRA (29th), 38% 3D (18th), 28 sk (28th), 16 int (14th), 120 pen (20th)

San Francisco's defense showed slight improvement overall despite a very poor offensive showing. The biggest improvement came in turnovers, where the defense noticeably improved. There were slight improvements to the overall scoring defense, run defense, and 3rd down defense, however the defense yielded a lot of big plays and was penalized more. There was no improvement to the pressure applied by the defense.

San Diego Chargers:
Martyball came to San Diego in 2002. After two dreadful years running a 4-3 defense, he fired his DC and hired the head honcho of the 1 gap 3-4 in the NFL, Wade Phillips, to transition the defense to a 3-4. Unlike the situation in San Francisco, the team already had a young NT entering his prime that toiled in obscurity in the 4-3 alignment, and heavy draft resources were dedicated to the effort.

2003 Performance (4-12): 26.7 PPG (31st), 4.3 YPC (20th), 6.8 YPP (18th), 94.3 PRA (32nd), 42% 3D (29th), 30 sk (24th), 13 int (23rd), 110 pen (21st)

2004 Performance (12-4): 19.6 PPG (11th), 3.7 YPC (6th), 6.9 YPP (14th), 76.6 PRA (9th), 35% 3D (10th), 29 sk (29th), 23 int (3rd), 109 pen (12th)

The returns from the switch in San Diego was immediate drastic improvement, improving from one of the leagues worst squads to a solidly above average squad. The most notable areas of improvement were huge improvements to the run defense, interceptions, and 3rd down efficiency. The one area that notably did not improve was the defenses ability to apply pressure, however their star pass rusher was not added until the following season.

Dallas Cowboys:
The Big Tuna was brought to Dallas in 2003 by Jerry Jones to turn the sinking franchise around. Unlike the previous two examples, Parcells slow played the transition and didn't make the switch until he had acquired many of the pieces. The year the switch was made (2005), heavy resources were dedicated to the effort, including a FA NT, 2 DE's via the draft and 2 OLB's via the draft. Bill Parcells is the standard bearer in the NFL of the old style Fairbanks 2 gap 3-4 prevalent in the NFL in the 1980's.

2004 Performance (6-10): 25.3 PPG (27th), 4.2 YPC (17th), 7.4 YPP (23rd), 94.2 PRA (27th), 39% 3D (22nd), 33 sk (26th), 13 int (24th), 104 pen (7th)

2005 Performance (9-7): 19.2 PPG (12th), 4.2 YPC (22nd), 6.7 YPP (13th), 75.1 PRA (9th), 35% 3d (6th), 37 sk (14th), 15 int (19th), 142 pen (32nd)

The Cowboys defense overall saw marked improvement after making the switch, moving from an overall poor unit to an above average unit the first year. Unlike SD and SF, the biggest gains were to the pass defense, where the unit improved across the board, with a very good showing on 3rd downs. The run defense changed little in the first year. The squad did see an increase in pressure, somewhat bucking the trend. One thing that stands out is that the unit was heavily penalized in the first year.

Miami Dolphins:
I'm actually going to consider a 3 year period for the Dolphins, due in part to the relevance to the Packers of today. Prior to 2005, the Dolphins had been running a Jim Bates 4-3, which he brought to Green Bay and installed after the hiring of Nick Saban. When Saban was hired, he began to transition the defense towards a 3-4 defense, and for a few years the team ran a complex 4-3/3-4 hybrid, at first primarily coached by Saban, but after the firing of Dom Capers from Houston he was brought on board to coordinate the defense full time in 2006.

2004 Performance (9-7): 22.1 PPG (20th), 4.3 YPC (18th), 6.5 YPP (5th), 76.9 PRA (10th), 32% 3D (5th), 36 sk (21st), 15 int (19th), 107 pen (10th)

2005 Performance (9-7): 19.8 PPG (15th), 3.7 YPC (7th), 6.7 YPP (13th), 82.4 PRA (22nd), 40% 3D (23rd), 49 sk (2nd), 14 int (23rd), 105 pen (7th)

2006 Performance (6-10): 17.7 PPG (5th), 3.5 YPC (3rd), 6.6 YPP (9th), 84.4 PRA (21st), 38% 3D (17th), 47 sk (3rd), 8 int (31st), 91 pen (13th)

Over the course of the hybrid period, the defense improved from a below average unit to an elite unit over the course of two seasons, being an average unit in the first hybrid year. During this period the run defense continually improved, whereas the pass defense slightly declined. Notable, the 3rd down performance drastically declined after Bates' departure, and the interception totals slumped, however the pressure drastically improved. There were no effects on the penalties called against the team.

New York Jets:
The New York Jets is one example of a 4-3 to 3-4 switch done while doing little to alter the personnel immediately, especially odd considering the previous defense, a 4-3 Tampa-2 incarnation led by Herm Edwards, had personnel fairly poorly suited to running a 3-4. But that didn't stop Eric Mangini from making the change, opting to quickly make the switch in lieu of slow playing it or a hybrid period. Mangini's version is straight from the Parcells/Bellicheck tree and is a modern incarnation of an old style Fairbanks 2 gap 3-4.

2005 Performance (4-12): 22.2 PPG (23rd), 3.9 YPC (12th), 6.5 YPP (7th), 73.1 PRA (6th), 42% 3D (28th), 30 sk (25th), 21 int (5th), 115 pen (16th)

2006 Performance (10-6): 18.4 PPG (6th), 4.6 YPC (26th), 6.5 YPP (6th), 78.0 PRA (12th), 36% 3D (10th), 35 sk (15th), 16 int (17th), 105 pen (29th)

Though the defense struggled with run defense in the first year, slumping from an above average unit to a bottom dweller, overall the defense improved from a well below average unit to a borderline elite unit in the first season. The really notable area of improvement is the 3rd down performance of the squad, which drastically improved. The pass defense declined a little, especially in the turnovers, but he was able to create more pressure in the first year in the defense. The defense however was highly penalized, slumping from an average unit to a bottom dweller. There are similarities in how this switch went and how the switch went in Dallas, notable due to the similarities of the scheme (fairly dissimilar from Dom's concepts).

New England Patriots:
Bill Belichick was hired in 2000 to return the Pats to glory. He followed the Parcells model to transition to the 3-4, acquiring the pieces over a few years (and playing the occasional 3-4 look) before fully making the switch in 2003 (though they waiver between 3-4 looks and 4-3 looks even today). The year of the switch they dedicated draft resources to the change, and acquired several pieces in FA, including experienced NT Ted Washington. Notably they won the super bowl the year they made the switch.

2002 Performance (9-7): 21.6 PPG (17th), 4.7 YPC (29th), 6.4 YPP (8th), 78.2 PRA (15th), 43% 3D (26th), 34 sk (20th), 18 int (12th), 99 pen (7th)

2003 Performance (14-2*): 14.9 PPG (1st), 3.6 YPC (6th), 5.6 YPP (1st), 56.2 PRA (1st), 34% 3D (7th), 41 sk (6th), 29 int (1st), 107 pen (19th)

This was another soft change, time was taken to build the pieces, and the team had occasionally run 3-4 concepts even predating Bill, but they changed to a 3-4 base in 2003 in a dramatic fashion. The unit shot from average to elite overnight, placing first in many categories. It has the hallmarks of the Fairbanks 2 gap 3-4 switch however, drastic improvement in 3rd down performance, increased pressure, and an increase in flags. However unlike Mangini and Parcells, Belichick's change was accompanied by drastic run defense improvement, which propelled the unit to the very top and won a Lombardi trophy.

Cleveland Browns:
When Romeo Crennel was hired in Cleveland off of New England's staff, the first thing he set out to do was sweep away Butch Davis' 4-3 defense and install his own brand of a Fairbanks 2 gap 3-4. Again like Mangini in NY, little effort was paid to actually acquire new players prior to making the switch or running a hybrid period.

2004 Performance (4-12): 24.4 PPG (24th), 4.3 YPC (18th), 6.7 YPP (9th), 79.0 PRA (16th), 36% 3D (15th), 32 sk (27th), 15 int (19th), 109 pen (12th)

2005 Performance (6-10): 18.8 PPG (11th), 4.2 YPC (22nd), 6.7 YPP (7th), 78.2 PRA (16th), 40% 3D (20th), 23 sk (32nd), 15 in (19th), 97 pen (3rd)

Romeo's defense didn't follow the typical Fairbanks 3-4 transition, the 3rd down performance declined and the penalties declined. In fact very little improved aside from the defense's ability to prevent scoring. But that most important aspect did improve, again following the trend of improvement shown by teams switching to a 3-4 or hybrid.

Baltimore Ravens:

The Ravens have been a hybrid defense for some time, switching back and forth between the defenses almost at will for many years. The start of that defensive style began when coordinator Marvin Lewis was hired to coach the Bengals and Mike Nolan took over as defensive coordinator, prior to the 2002 season. The Ravens are a little different case, there was a large exodus of retirements and players leaving after the 2001 season, the switch was based as much on necessity (an excess of linebackers and lack of bodies on the DL) as it was a purposeful change to go in a new direction.

2001 Performance (10-6): 16.6 PPG (4th), 3.4 YPC (2nd), 6.0 YPP (1st), 72.8 PRA (12th), 31% 3D (3rd), 45 sk (7th), 16 int (17th), 105 pen (30th)

2002 Performance (7-9): 22.1 PPG (19th), 3.7 YPC (1st), 6.7 YPP (16th), 73.4 PRA (5th), 40% 3D (21st), 33 sk (22nd), 25 int (2nd), 104 pen (20th)

The Ravens are an interesting case, simply because the initial motivation was a little different than most. Following the 2001 season they lost several players, notably Tony Siragusa; Mike Nolan took the defense in a different direction and fielded what worked well for his personnel. Also notable is they are the only elite squad to switch away from a pure 4-3. They did struggle a good deal preventing scoring (relative to the previous season), the main problems stemmed from a decrease in pressure and poor 3rd down performance. However the run defense did not significantly decline, nor did the pass defense, and penalties were largely unchanged.

Arizona Cardinals:
When Ken Wisenhunt was hired to coach the Cardinals in 2007, one of his goals was to move the team away from the pure 4-3 defense they had been running, eventually reaching a 3-4 defense. They have largely been using the Miami model, taking their time running a hybrid scheme and acquiring personnel prior to fully transitioning to a 3-4 scheme, which has not yet occurred.

2006 Performance (5-11): 24.3 PPG (29th), 4.1 YPC (14th), 7.5 YPP (31st), 85.4 PRA (24th), 41% 3D (21st), 38 sk (12th), 16 int (17th), 95 pen (17th)

2007 Performance (8-8): 24.9 PPG (27th), 3.9 YPC (10th), 6.9 YPP (14th), 85.8 PRA (22nd), 40% 3D (17th), 36 sk (13th), 18 int (10th), 118 pen (30th)

The Cardinals are almost the exact opposite of the Browns. When looking at the Browns individual stats for the parts of the defense, there was little to suggest large improvements in the scoring defense; the Cardinals however did improve slightly in a number of categories without any improvement to the bottom line.

Some now defunct attempts at a switch to a 3-4:

Minnesota Vikings:
In the final year of the Mike Tice era, Minnesota flirted with the idea of running a 3-4 defense, though they never really committed to it 100%. The biggest positive still remaining from the attempt is NT Pat Williams, who was brought in via FA to hold down the nose. When Brad Childress was hired, that idea was all but abandoned. But, they did occasionally use a 3-4 alignment in 2005.

2004 Performance (8-8): 24.7 PPG (26th), 4.6 YPC (26th), 7.6 YPP (27th), 95.5 PRA (28th), 46% 3D (30th), 39 sk (12th), 11 int (28th), 110 pen (15th)

2005 Performance (9-7): 21.5 PPG (19th), 4.0 YPC (15th), 6.6 YPP (10th), 75.2 PRA (10th), 43% 3D (31st), 34 sk (22nd), 24 int (2nd), 137 pen (30th)

The pressure went down a bit, and the flags were flying, but overall there was improvement across the board, with a drastic increase in the number of interceptions (no doubt TT letting Sharper go played a big role). 1 or 2 more wins that season and a playoff appearance, there is a decent chance Tice wouldn't have been fired and that the 3-4 would have stuck in Mn, at least for a little bit.

Atlanta Falcons:
The Falcons had a short lived flirtation with a 3-4 defense in the earlier part of this decade while Wade was defensive coordinator, prior to his transition of the Chargers defense. Unlike the Vikings, Atlanta fully committed to a switch and ran a 3-4 for 2 years, prior to the hiring of Jim Mora and his subsequent transition back to a 4-3. Notable is that it was the Falcons first year running a 3-4 defense under Phillips that handed Green Bay their first ever playoff loss at Lambeau Field. :cry:

2001 Performance (7-9): 23.6 PPG (24th), 4.8 YPC (30th), 8.0 YPP (30th), 93.3 PRA (30th), 46% 3D (31st), 37 sk (19th), 18 int (13th), 97 pen (20th)

2002 Performance (9-6-1): 19.6 PPG (8th), 4.6 YPC (27th), 7.0 YPP (25th), 72.8 PRA (4th), 40% 3D (20th), 47 sk (4th), 24 int (3rd), 112 pen (25th)

The 2002 Falcons were playmakers, sacks and ints galore. The fundamental defense, run, pass, and 3rd down, all improved, however the flags flew. The improvement towards the bottom line, preventing scoring, was dramatic.

Jacksonville Jaguars:
Jacksonville was one of two new expansion teams in the mid 1990's. Both teams found almost immediate success, being playoff powerhouses by their second year. After many of the initial wave of players moved on due to roster turnover, Jacksonville saw a decline in the performance of their defense in the late 1990's, Dom Capers was brought in to revive the unit by Tom Coughlin. He immediately set about to transform the defense to his preferred 3-4 base from the 4-3 that they had been running under Jaron. This is perhaps the most relevant case study as it relates to the Packers 0f 2009. In Miami the team had already begun transforming into a hybrid prior to his arrival, and Head Coach Nick Saban was a defensive minded coach that surely had a hand in the defense along with Dom, Saban also being a 3-4 proponent. Coughlin on the other hand ceded near complete control of the defense to Dom. This team also dedicated heavy draft resources to the defense, spending all but 2 picks on on the defense. They also added a defensive end and safety via free agency. Notable is that there was no prototypical giant NT on the roster, nor was one acquired, they used a rotation of starter Seth Payne (6'4", 300 lb) and rookie Larry Smith (6'5", 295 lb).

1998 Performance (11-5): 21.1 PPG (17th), 4.4 YPC (26th), 6.5 YPP (8th), 80.1 PRA (19th), 36% 3D (11th), 30 sk (27th), 13 int (21st), 109 pen (13th)

1999 Performance (14-2): 13.6 PPG (1st), 3.9 YPC (13th), 6.3 YPP (4th), 71.0 PRA (11th), 34% 3D (9th), 57 sk (1st), 19 int (12th), 93 pen (8th)

Another instance of dramatic improvement. Dom turned a slightly below average unit into an elite unit overnight. The only primary indicator where the team was elite was in pass defense, which improved, but the team saw a dramatic improvement in pressure, with almost every starting defender notching at least 1, both OLB's and a DE managed more than 10. Just like in Miami, the squad had a better pass defense than run defense, though the run defense moderately improved, the pressure went way up and the penalties went down, and just like Miami the 3rd down performance was not commensurate with the overall quality of the defense, lagging behind the scoring performance.

....these are all the pure 4-3 to 3-4 or hybrid transformations that I am aware of in the last 10 years. If anybody is aware of any more, let me know and I'll post the results.

There is only 1 example that I am aware of where where a previously hybrid team finished the deal and became a full blown 3-4, however the San Francisco 49ers will probably be added to that category this season.

Miami Dolphins:
It seems that Miami lost their way after Saban's departure. Saban initially set out to transform into a 3-4 over time, however the defense found success as a hybrid and never really finished the transformation until Bill Parcells was brought in to complete what was begun 3 years prior.

2007 Performance (1-15): 27.3 PPG (30th), 4.5 YPC (29th), 7.8 YPP (31st), 92.4 PRA (29th), 47% 3D (32nd), 30 sk (24th), 14 int (23rd), 73 pen (1st)

2008 Performance (11-5): 19.8 PPG (9th), 4.2 YPC (16th), 7.0 YPP (17th), 77.0 PRA (9th), 38% 3D (10th), 40 sk (8th), 18 int (8th), 86 pen (14th)

Bill drafted and brought in via FA a number of players for the defense, including NT Jason Ferguson. The defense dramatically improved across the board, in all areas but penalties, sticking with a typical Parcells tree switch. The run defense improved a little. The biggest gains were on 3rd down performance (another Parcells hallmark) and in pass defense.
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Waldo


Joined: 29 Nov 2006
Posts: 22679
Location: The ATL
PostPosted: Thu Jun 04, 2009 5:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Now, some analysis.

(Hybrids are noted with a (H). Elite squads (top 5) are noted with a *, very good squads (top 10) are noted with a ^. Only the initial year when the team moved away from a pure 4-3 is considered in this list.)

Overall Defense:
In nearly every case you can point to improvement in the defense's bottom line, though it seems the various systems and coaches each seem to improve in different ways. All extremes of switching are represented, from a hard switch with little personnel effort on a ill suited team, to a soft
switch done over the course of a few years. One thing however has stood out, hybrid defenses don't seem to improve as much as the full blown switch, and Baltimore is the only team to sustain any success using a hybrid. It seems that a team should move on quickly to finishing the
switch instead of lingering long term as a hybrid, spending no more than a season as a hybrid.

Drastic Improvement (>6 PPG)
1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (7.5 PPG)*
2004 San Diego Chargers (7.1 PPG)
2003 New England Patriots (6.7 PPG)*
2005 Dallas Cowboys (6.1 PPG)

Good Improvement (5.99 - 3 PPG)
2005 Cleveland Browns (5.6 PPG)
2006 New York Jets (3.8 PPG)^
2002 Atlanta Falcons (3.7 PPG)^
2005 Minnesota Vikings (3.2 PPG)(H)

Slight Improvement (2.99 - 1 PPG)
2005 Miami Dolphins (2.3 PPG) (H)
2005 San Francisco 49ers (1.4 PPG)(H)

No Improvement (.99 - -.99 PPG)
2007 Arizona Cardinals (-0.6 PPG)(H)

Decline (<-1 PPG)
2002 Baltimore Ravens (-5.5 PPG)(H)

Dissecting this further. Just do it. Unless the personnel is totally ill suited to using a 3-4, there is little reason to use a hybrid period, as the transition tends to bog down, chances are the coordinator won't have the time to see through the change, Miami being the only team to actually complete the transition.

Of the 7 teams that skipped the hybrid period, 2 turned in 1st place performances, 2 more turned in top 10 performances, the 3 remaining were knocking on the door of the top 10, 2 of them were bottom 5 performers the previous year. Truthfully I was not expecting these results, at all.

One thing though is that many of these teams were not able to sustain their first year success. Though the team may "struggle" to adapt to the new defense, there is a flipside that I think isn't talked about enough, that opponents struggle to counter the stuff thrown at them. After all, immediately after a switch, opponents have virtually no game tape on performances, and have no idea of any play calling tendencies of the coordinator. By the time the tape book begins to be written and opponents get a bead on the defense, the defense has already come through the initial error filled period (~3-6 games). I think this also explains how teams like the Pats and Steelers that will run a lot of 4-3 stuff and frequently vary what they do, can sustain success over the long haul. Opponents simply have no idea of what they are in for each week.

Run Defense:
One of the things that I expected to see as I went into this was an improvement in the run defense of a team, as I believe that the 3-4 formation is a schematically superior run defense than a typical 4-3 defense (46 variations excluded). While the results were not as dramatic as I thought I would find, they were telling nonetheless.

Drastic Improvement (>0.61 YPC)
2003 New England Patriots (1.1 YPC)^

Good Improvement (0.60-0.31 YPC)
2005 Miami Dolphins (0.6 YPC)(H)^
2005 San Diego Chargers (0.6 YPC)^
2005 Minnesota Vikings (0.6 YPC)(H)
1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (0.5 YPC)

Slight Improvement (0.30 - 0.11 YPC)
2007 Arizona Cardinals (0.2 YPC)(H)^
2005 San Francisco 49ers (0.2 YPC)(H)
2002 Atlanta Falcons (0.2 YPC)

No Change (0.10 - -0.10 YPC)
2005 Cleveland Browns (0.1 YPC)
2006 Dallas Cowboys (0.0 YPC)

Decline (<-0.11 YPC)
2002 Baltimore Ravens (-0.3 YPC)(H)*
2006 New York Jets (-0.7 YPC)

Of the 12 teams under consideration, only two saw their run defense decline, and one of those two has a caveat, the Ravens run defense did decline, but they were still the best run defense in the NFL the season they switched. The only team to significantly decline were the Jets, and they are notable as a cold turkey switch on a ill suited team with little personnel turnover. They didn't have even a serviceable NT when the switch was made. There is no pattern to the hybrid defenses here.

It is also notable that though some of the teams were very good defenses overall, only the Ravens fielded an elite run defense the first year, though more than a third of the others were able to muster a top 10 performance the first year. The bulk of the defenses saw slight to good improvement in their run defense the first year. 8 of the 12 teams under consideration were in the top half of the league in run defense the first year.

Struggling against the run the first year is frequently cited as a drawback to switching to a 3-4, but I think this data shows quite the opposite, that some improvement to the run defense should be expected, especially if the team has at least a serviceable NT. But with the caveat that it is doubtful that the team will field an elite run defense during the first year, even if the overall defense is elite.

Pass Defense:
Pass defense is a little more difficult to quantify, as there are different indicators that mean different things. The relationship of yards per pass (YPP), passer rating (PRA), and ints give us an idea of what is happening. If all show good improvement, obviously the pass defense overall improved. However you also see a declining performance in the YPP stat, an increased (or roughly even) performance in the PRA stat, and an increase in interceptions, it suggests that the defense is making more big plays in the passing game, but likewise is getting burned more as well (suggesting a lot of blitzing and gambling). On the flipside is an increasing performance in the YPP stat and declining or even performance in the PRA stat, and little change to the ints, suggesting that the defense is giving up more underneath stuff but getting burned less (a la the linebackers struggling with zone drops).

As the pass defense is a little more independent and varies widely in implementation from defense to defense, I didn't expect to really see any notable trends.

Overall Improvement
2005 Minnesota Vikings (1.0 YPP, 20.3 PRA, 13 int)(H)^
2002 New England Patriots (0.8 YPP, 22.0 PRA, 11 int)*
2002 Atlanta Falcons (1.0 YPP, 20.5 PRA, 6 int)
2005 Dallas Cowboys (0.7 YPP, 19.1 PRA, 2 int)
1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (0.2 YPP, 9.1 PRA, 6 int)^

Playmaking Improvement, Average Effectiveness Decline
2004 San Diego Chargers (-0.1 YPP, 17.7 PRA, 10 int)^
2005 49ers (-0.5 YPP, 2.3 PRA, 7 int)(H)
2002 Baltimore Ravens (-0.7 YPP, -0.6 PRA, 9 int)(H)^

Give Up More Short Stuff
2007 Arizona Cardinals (0.6 YPP, -0.4 PRA, 2 int)(H)

Very Little Change
2005 Cleveland Browns (0.0 YPP, 0.8 PRA, 0 int)
2006 New York Jets (0.0 YPP, -4.9 PRA, -5 int)^

Declined
2005 Miami Dolphins (-0.2 YPP, -5.5 PRA, -1 int)(H)

Again here I was surprised by the results. Almost every hybrid improved their playmaking at least somewhat, and overall there is very little decline in anything.

I expected more in the "Give up more short stuff" category, with the results that I found, I am inclined to say, that whole "struggling in coverage" thing attached to some OLB's really doesn't matter much at all in the grand scheme of things, after all, you'd expect to at least see some signs of that, which really don't exist. Perhaps the white elephant aspect of it is a much bigger overall help than commonly thought. It isn't really discussed much at all, but every short play given up is a long play not given up, if the defense can consistently swarm (to be expected with zone coverage) and prevent the short pass from turning into much (especially first downs), why not give the QB and easy outlet underneath that in reality gains him very little, but helps to cut down on potential big plays.

What really surprises is that all but 1 full change either improved or had no change, only the Chargers fell into a sub category, and overall they sharply improved even though their YPP slightly dipped. I think one thing that can be read into this is perhaps that most of the DC's that are doing the switch, have extensive secondary experience and view it as more of the starting point than the front line.

Also surprising is that 10 of the 12 teams increased their number of interceptions, only the Jets saw significant decline, and they were coming off of a very good year the prior year, decline was almost expected.

Sacks:
Pressure is a frequently cited positive of the 3-4 alignment, the common thought is that it is better to "bring the heat". Lets see if that is true, after all, if it is the defense and not the talent, you would expect positive results right away out of most defenses making the switch.

Drastic Improvement (>9.9 sk)
1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (27 sk)*
2005 Miami Dolphins (13 sk)(H)*
2002 Atlanta Falcons (10 sk)*

Good Improvement (>4.9 sk)
2002 New England Patriots (7 sk)^
2006 New York Jets (5 sk)

Slight Improvement (>1.1 sk)
2005 Dallas Cowboys (4 sk)

No Change (1.1 > sk > -1.1)
2004 San Diego Chargers (-1 sk)
2005 San Francisco 49ers (-1 sk)(H)

Decline (<-1.1 sk)
2007 Arizona Cardinals (-2 sk)(H)
2005 Minnesota Vikings (-5 sk)(H)
2005 Cleveland Browns (-9 sk)
2002 Baltimore Ravens (-12 sk)(H)

Here again we have strong delineation between the hybrid teams, and the teams that fully switched. 4 of the 6 teams that showed no change or decline were hybrid teams, whereas 5 of the 6 teams that showed at least some improvement were teams that fully switched. There was an overall fairly even spread to the data, though the teams that improved tended to improve more than the teams that declined.

I don't really think that there is a really strong trend here with a superiority of scheme for pressure. However it is true that many of the best pass rushing teams in the league are 3-4 defenses. I think that the best explanation for this is that a good % of the athlete types that make the best pass rushers in the NFL aren't much more than situational players in a 4-3 defense, and few 4-3 teams carry many, if any, of them. The 3-4 scheme allows the elite pass rushers to have a place on the field every play without "wearing down" trying to hold the point against the run. However most 4-3 teams do not have these guys, and the good ones aren't typically available as free agents; it is a position that a 3-4 team usually must draft and develop, hence the lack of much first year impact.

I think that the data shows that it is the players that get the pressure, not the scheme, though the scheme allows certain players to explode in sacks, however typically teams in transition don't have those types of players (at their peak) yet.

3rd Down Defense:
While it is nice to have a great base defense that shuts down offenses on first and second down, games are won and lost on 3rd down; the ability to convert, and the defenses ability to prevent the opponent from converting. One would expect little difference in the pass coverage between the 3rd down pass defense of a 4-3 team and the 3rd down pass defense of a 4-3 team, however differences in the number of and type of bodies that the defense keeps may have a profound impact on the front line performance of the primary 3rd down sub packages (pin the ears back rush pass D (3rd and long) and a big line of heavies for short yardage). Honestly I had no idea of what to expect.

One key point to remember is that 3rd down performance and it's relationship to overall defensive scoring performance is a good identifier for under and over performing units on the scoreboard, speaking as much to the overall talent level of the defense as the points allowed does. A defense bleeding points that is good on 3rd down are a bunch of underachievers (also suggesting an inordinate amount of negative flukes), likewise a team shutting opponents down on the scoreboard that is struggling on 3rd down are a bunch of overachievers and that success may be fleeting for the group (suggesting an inordinate amount of positive flukes).

Significant Improvement (>6.9% 3D)
2002 New England Patriots (9% 3D)^
2004 San Diego Chargers (7% 3D)^

Good Improvement (>3.9% 3D)
2006 New York Jets (6% 3D)^
2002 Atlanta Falcons (6% 3D)
2005 Dallas Cowboys (4% 3D)^

Slight Improvement (>1.9% 3D)
2005 Minnesota Vikings (3% 3D)(H)
1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (2% 3D)^
2005 San Francisco 49ers (2% 3D)(H)

No Change (1.9% > 3D > -1.9%)
2007 Arizona Cardinals (1% 3D)(H)

Decline (<-1.9% 3D)
2005 Cleveland Browns (-4% 3D)
2005 Miami Dolphins (-8% 3D)(H)
2002 Baltimore Ravens (-9% 3D)(H)

Here is another place where the full switch teams drastically outperformed their hybrid counterparts. No hybrid team showed any more than a 3% improvement, and only 2 of the 7 full switch teams failed to at least improve by 4%, one of them (1999 Jaguars) was a borderline top 10 team on 3rd downs prior to the change, and they did improve. The Browns were the only team that fully switched year 1 that showed any decline in year 1.

I think that this shows that running a 3-4 defense does leave the team with a better assortment of body types for the 3rd down sub packages, whereas hybrid teams are still generally keeping the same numbers of player types as 4-3 teams on the roster, making their 3rd down performance at best slightly better than the previous year.

There are benefits to having several OLB's (4-3 situational pass rushers), several big huge ends (4-3 pass rushing UT's), and a backup big man (2 giant NT's) on the roster, which come in handy on 3rd and long and 3rd and short. The player types of front line players that typically aren't the best for 3rd downs, run stopping UT's (a la Cole) and run stopping left ends (a la Montgomery), aren't generally kept by 3-4 teams. I think this data clearly shows the benefits of the player types and numbers that a 3-4 team keeps vs a 4-3 team on the performance of the 3rd down defense.

Also noticeable is that no team making the switch, either full blown or hybrid, produced an elite performer on 3rd down, despite an overall elite defense on the scoreboard. This suggests at least enough mental errors on any team associated with a switch to prevent the team from becoming an elite 3rd down performer in the first season, though 5 of the 12 teams, all 5 being teams that fully switched year 1, produced top 10 performers on 3r down. Something that is very telling IMO.
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ShimSham


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 04, 2009 5:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just finished it all, quality stuff as always Waldo. Applause

I'd like to add to the conversation a bit, but not even sure where to start an argument in this case.
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jordyzzz


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 04, 2009 5:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ShimSham wrote:
Just finished it all, quality stuff as always Waldo. Applause

I'd like to add to the conversation a bit, but not even sure where to start an argument in this case.


Ya ya yah, good stuff Waldo, again, but here's what I want now: predictions, for this year and going forward. But this year. Crunch the numbers and our personnel. What have we got?
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I Am Rodgers


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 04, 2009 6:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great post waldo. I like how scoring went down in each and every case. Very good sign for us. I don't care how we get it done, but we have to drop Opp PPG. Our offense is high powered enough to put the points up. The D just has to hold em.
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jordyzzz


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 04, 2009 6:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The things about our defense last year that I remember killing us were the occasional breakdowns where we'd be hit with a long run. Felix Jones and LenWhale White come to mind. For the most part, our defense did a good job in those 2 games against the run. But somehow they allowed White to break the long one, at the wrong time too.

And Felix took advantage of pourous tackling (Chuck Peprah) for his long one.

I also remember Roddy White beating us deep on a key play that can't happen (Tramon I think).

And Miles Austin's only 2 big catches of his career came against us as well (Tramon again I think).

We have to cut out the killer big plays.
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CactusPackFan


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2009 12:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Waldo--Nice job--I can appreciate the amount of time you must have put into this to pull all the information together. When I think of the teams that run the 3-4, regardless of the type of 3-4, I see no nonsense, no BS, no compromises. That seems to be the common thread. And while the improvements in the first year of moving to the 3-4 are evident in most cases in your post, it's also fair to say they are not huge in most cases. So I began to think about what makes the 3-4 roll--I think it's a strong 2-gap Nose-Tackle. The teams that had that did the best.

The second observation I have is the degree to which coaches were able to adapt their scheme to the personnel. This is where I think we have a clear advantage over any "new" 3-4 team in the past 7 years. Capers will put guys in the best position to be the most productive. He's been successful in doing so everywhere he has gone. This cannot be understated, but it is often overlooked. We have a real gem in Dom Capers. Kudos to MM for bringing him on.
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packerbacker87


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2009 3:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am cracking a beer for this thread right now even though its 2 in the morning. Part of me thinks this will be a magical transition, and part of me thinks this will take some time like the ZB's did. Nice research to say the least.
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seanjoneslocker


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2009 5:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

i would attempt to carry waldo's child if it were possible. if arnold can do it in junior, then im damn well gonna try. excellent post, you can't argue with cold hard facts
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BartStarving


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2009 8:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wonderful thread, Waldo.

What popped out at me is that only the Ravens and Browns had an appreciable decrease in sacks. That also tends to defy conventional wisdom.
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packfan4


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2009 10:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great read Waldo, good work. Our 3-4 transition struggles is similar to our apparent "QB transition" struggles from last offseason, nothing but a myth and if you actually took the time to stop and think about it, it was easy to see how our transition to Rodgers would be successful, just like it's easy to see how our Defense will be much improved this year.
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mr. soprano


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2009 2:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

this is an excellent thread.

you should work for some sports website man. Im impressed.
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incognito_man


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2009 2:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

and this is the guy you all voted MVP???

pshhhhh

One trend I was trying to identify - but did not - was keying in on early success. That is, did teams that switched longer ago obtain more success since fewer teams employed the scheme and offenses had little prep against them. Versus the teams that switched more recently now play against offenses that might have seen more 3-4 thrown at them.
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Waldo


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2009 3:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

All right. Done.

I'm finished with raw data collection, individual team analysis, and overall analysis.

I thought I noticed some trends when going through collecting data and writing it out, but going through each of indicators and charting them individually was at times shocking IMO, and led to a number of conclusions that I think are overlooked.

Namely:
1) There is very little point to fielding a hybrid team. Teams that fully switch, with or without the necessary pieces, tend to outperform the hybrids.

2) Teams switching to a full 3-4 will almost surely at least improve a little, some drastically. The myth of "struggling" the first year has been debunked.

3) It is entirely possible to field an elite team the first year of the switch. 12 teams have switched to a 3-4 or hybrid in the last 10 years, 2 of them fielded the best defense in the NFL that season on their first try (both fully switched). More than half the teams that fully switched (4 of 7) fielded a top 10 unit on the first try.

4) The struggles of the scheme change for the team making the change seem to be lesser struggles than the struggles of their opponents trying to game plan against them (with almost zero game tape and no idea of what the DC is going to call). An oft overlooked aspect of the scheme change but apparently very important.

5) The run defense does not struggle and should in fact improve, possibly significantly, for teams making the switch that at least have a serviceable nose tackle. In conflict with popular opinion.

6) The fact that the OLB's suck in pass coverage may in fact have the opposite effect than thought, that the plays they give up are more than offset by the fact that the QB isn't trying to throw one deeper and is taking the easy underneath play, one that a good swarming defense can prevent form doing much damage.

7) Almost every team that made the switch saw their ballhawking improve.

8) Apparently it isn't the scheme that creates the sacks. It seems that it is the fact that the scheme allows an elite pass rusher body type to be on the field every play as opposed to the situational use that they receive on a 4-3 team, however the team still needs the elite players to get the pressure, which often are not in place (or are rookies) at the time the switch is made.

9) The body types and numbers that a 3-4 team keeps on the roster apparently are better 3rd down situational performers (3rd and long / 3rd and short) than their 4-3 or hybrid counterparts, and often games are won and lost on 3rd down.
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hawk050


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2009 3:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow.... Youre flat out crazy man.

Now is when you go into the NFL General and make everybody saying "the 3-4 transition is not a 1 year fix. Your defense will not show improvements year 1. blah blah blah" look foolish Laughing
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