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Will the Packers Switch to a 4-3 Defense?

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Arizona Cardinals quarterback John Skelton (19) avoids Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (52). Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

There has been some talk lately about the Packers making a move to a 4-3 defense from the 3-4. We take detailed look at what the Packers defense would look like if they switched to a 4-3 alignment.

Yes, we all know the Green Bay Packers defense has struggled as of late. Last season, the unit finished 25th in league, did OK in 2012 as the 11th-ranked unit until they fell apart in the playoffs, and was last in the league in 2011.

The Packers haven’t had anything close to a dominant defense since their 2010 Super Bowl run. In fact, they haven’t finished better than 17th (2012) against the run since their Super Bowl title three seasons ago.

Many have suggested a change to a 4-3 defense would solve many of the Packers struggles against the run. A suggestion I’ll admit I’ve rolled my eyes about because I believe simply switching scheme doesn’t improve a defense.

Personally, I’ve always been partial to the 3-4 defense. I like it’s ability to put a team’s linebackers in position to make plays and it is a lot easier to find athletic playmaking linebackers to build around than pass rushing defensive ends.

However, this offseason may be the first one in awhile I’m willing to change my mind on this topic.

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Topics: B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers, Mike Daniels, Nick Perry

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  • Zack

    Matthews could definitely play in a 4-3 scheme, but will his production be the same and would he be worth the amount of money he is making to playing that position. Matthews could do it, but $66 million is alot of money for a 4-3 linbacker. Currently, I think they are more suited for the 4-3 defense with a question mark for Matthews. Will be interesting.

    • Dan

      Great points, Zack. I completely agree with you. It seems a majority of their players on defense are better suited for a 4-3, but like you said, Matthews’ price tag would be way too much as a 4-3 LB even though he could play the position well. That’s the biggest problem I see with the switch.

    • Taryn Miller

      Would not the loss in production,(which would seem more dramatic to some than myself), from Matthews be recouped elsewhere due to higher level of play of those now cast in correct positions and likely to a higher amount.The money that is already vested for Matthews should be of no consequence if the changing of scheme creates a more formidable defense,hence increasing the odds of SB appearances.
      Though I feel Matthews contract was too large,his willingness to play either scheme would help ease the sting of it since we’d be getting two for one in essence.

      • Dan

        Great points, Taryn.

  • NJPackFan

    I don’t think switching to a 4-3 is the answer, I think we just have to go back to the style of 3-4 we ran in ’09 and ’10. When Capers came in in 2009, we were transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and because of the personnel, didn’t run Capers’ current 2-gap system. Raji played nose and was allowed to do what he does best, generate pressure up the middle- which is something they haven’t let him do in the last few years. Cullen Jenkins was a great 2-way DE and could not only generate great pressure, but was solid against the run. I think it all went downhill in 2011 when we got rid of Jenkins, and moved Raji to more of a DE role with a slew of guys filling in the other DE spot, we transitioned to a true 2-gap system where Raji, Pickett, and whoever played next to them would just occupy the O-line to free up gaps for the linebackers. The problem with that was that Pickett seems to be the only lineman capable of doing that. I think Capers is forcing players to adjust to his system as opposed to playing to their strengths which is what he did in 2009 and 2010 when we were transitioning. There’s also a lack of 2-way defensive lineman; Raji is great at generating pressure(when they actually allow him to) but is subpar against the run, Pickett along with Jolly and C.J Wilson are great against the run but can’t generate pressure. And now there are young bucks in Daniels and Datone Jones who also seem to be inside rushers but can’t stop the run. It limits you so much as to what you can do defensively when you don’t have any 2-way DL. I feel we were far more creative in ’09 & ’10. With Raji up the middle, Jenkins next to him, and CMIII coming off the edge, the O-line had to pick their poison- someone was gonna get free or have a one-on-one and beat their man. We simply haven’t had that since 2010.

    • Coz

      NJPACKFAN Yes in 2010 we had the players to run a 3-4 successfully. But we don’t have any player thats even close to a player like Jenkins at DE. Raji has not been remotely close to his ’10 self, he’s been a half hearted player the past 3 years. The fact that Jolly tallied more tackles and pressures after being away from the game for so long proves Raji is a bum.

      The packers no longer have the personnel to play 3-4 which means we should consider a hybrid or a switch to 4-3. 3-4 lineman are rare to come by and sometimes it just doesn’t work to bring in college players and force them to play new positions to make a scheme work. As last year showed, when Daniels was in the game he made plays. Why are we wasting his talent when we could play inside for a 4-3 a majority of the time. Yes, having Matthews out of a 3-4 is awkward, but he is a great football player and a playmaker everywhere on the field. I think he would hold up fine as a strong side LB. Plus, if he isn’t banging into 300+ lineman every play, maybe he’ll stay healthier over the season who knows.

      The thought of switching to a 4-3 is interesting and I’m not totally against it because it seems we have the players to do it. The thoughts of drafting Timmy Jernigan or Aaron Donald is way sexier than Loius Nix III and having him “occupy blocks” for our sub-par middle linebackers. Simply put, I don’t think we have the personnel on the d-line and linebackers to continue the 3-4 anymore.

      • Dan

        I agree. There seems to be more holes on this defense to fill even the Packers stay in the 3-4. Most of the players currently under contract (Mike Daniels, Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, etc.) seem better suited for the 4-3, whereas in a 3-4 they’re reserved in more specialist type roles.

    • thetruth

      I agree running the 3/4 single gap is the best thing for this D.

  • thetruth

    The real question is wether the Packers should play a 2 gap or 1 gap style defense. Doesn’t matter really if its 3/4 or 4/3. A singe gap 3/4 would be perfect for our team.

    • Dan

      McCarthy just announced he’ll stick with the 3-4, but they’ll go back to some of things they used to do as a defense. Good call.

  • Kyle Fellows

    Great article, here. I don’t think 4-3 is THE “answer”, but I do agree that our team looks more suited to run a 4-3 at this time. The lone exception is Clay. Maybe a hybrid would work well. I have thought that this could boost the production of D. Jones and Perry. Could strengthen our D line without any additions. Another thought… Any chance we change to a 4-3 and Raji STAYS??? I’ve heard he wants to play in the 4-3. Just a thought.

    • Dan

      Great point, Kyle, and one I haven’t thought about until now. It’s also possible the Packers stay in the 3-4 but use more 4- man fronts in base.

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  • Mike Brand

    why dont we adopt the same defense as the seahawks they play a hybrid 4-3 3-4 defense taking the best plays out of both and using them. it worked for them they won it all and had one of the top defenses of the season .