|ESPN.com: NFL||[Print without images]|
|Origin of 3-4 defense|
Originated in the 1940s by legendary Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson, in part to compensate for a lack of depth on the defensive line, the 3-4 scheme was slow to make its way to the NFL, and actually might not have gained popularity were it not for the 1970 merger with the AFL.
Many of the AFL teams deployed the 3-4 front and brought it with them in the merger and, by the early 1980s, approximately two-thirds of NFL franchises were deploying it as their primary defense. Even former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll, who had won four Super Bowl titles with the conventional four-man front as his base defense, moved to the 3-4 late in his career.
The preponderance of 3-4 fronts was, in part, attributable to the difficulty in locating defensive linemen. But just as much, it was because coaches believed the 3-4 scheme lent them more flexibility and could be better camouflaged. Because it permitted coaches to employ hybrid-type defenders on the edge -- often undersized college defensive ends who could make the transition to linebacker and play in a two-point stance -- the 3-4 offered the chance to place attacking rushers closer to the line of scrimmage. Most of the great 3-4 linebackers, in fact, have been up-field players capable of attacking the pocket.
But the defense, which requires bigger defensive ends and a nose tackle who can anchor the interior, has also been effective against the run. It is a confusing scheme, difficult to play against because not as many teams use it now, and because it demands that blocking schemes be altered.
In the 1980s and '90s, NFL teams seemed to move away from the 3-4 and back to the more traditional four-linemen scheme. But the success of long-time 3-4 teams (such as Pittsburgh), and coaches (like Bill Belichick of New England), has promulgated a kind of revisiting of the defense. Coaches like the versatility of the front and, as always, it seems easier to locate 240-pound defenders who can chase the ball than it is to unearth a lot of 300-pound linemen.
Two of the three 12-1 teams in the league, New England and Pittsburgh, use the 3-4 look. Three of the four division leaders in the AFC employ it. In all, six teams use the 3-4 as their primary defense now and another four or five teams this year incorporated it into their defensive packages.
|Dom Capers has watched his Texans have another tough year defensively.|