Thursday, May 12, 2022

What a 3-4 Defense Means for the Vikings


With the 2022 NFL season kicking off in just under four months, there are a litany of question marks surrounding a Vikings team that looks to put 2021 far in the rearview mirror. The Wilfs committed to significant changes in leadership by hiring a new GM. With that move came a new head coach and a mostly overhauled staff from top to bottom.

As we prepare our hearts and minds, Vikings Faithful, look to fortify a new sense of positivity on why THIS YEAR WILL BE DIFFERENT! Well, look no further. You’ve found your wellspring of purple positivity right here. Sit down and pour yourself a nice cup of grape Kool-Aid while we dive in on one of the major changes that will be featured by your Minnesota Vikings.

As we look to forecast the upcoming season, the mind seems to always fall squarely on personnel changes. Is team makeup significant? Sure! But one major change I’d like to dive into – that I think many are overlooking – is the change to the defensive scheme. It is hard to blame Vikings fans for this, as we have not been privy to defensive schematic change, so it’s easy to look past and focus solely on roster makeup. To put it simply, when you’re used to the same or almost-same schemes year-over-year (albeit with wrinkles and adjustments), roster makeup does provide the most major impact. But let me remind you that the shift from a 4-3 to a 3-4 is not a common one in our weathered history. In fact, Minnesota has deployed a 4-3 scheme since 1986. It’s been 36 years. 36 YEARS.

First I’d like to provide a high-level overview of what a 3-4 defense looks like in comparison to our prior 4-3. After which I’ll preview what the impact is, and why this is a fantastic move for the Vikings as a harrowed one for opposing offenses. Let’s get into it.

Quick Breakdown of Base 3-4 Defense

Defensive Line: As dictated by the name, a 3-4 defense calls for a shift from four down lineman to three. The Defensive Ends are retained, but in the middle lives only one Nose Tackle. In yesterday’s defense the role of DEs was first to not break contain, and second to sack the QB/take down the RB in the gap. In a 3-4 scheme, the DEs responsibility now becomes play run first. Those three lineman are attempting to plug the gaps as best they can. Differing from a 4-3, Ends in a 3-4 are ideally much larger. This is preferred because they need to eat up more real estate, plug the gaps, and garner additional blockers.

Linebackers: Shifting from three to four total, this lineup now includes two ILB: MIKE (strongside) & WILL (weakside) along with two OLBs: SAM (rushing LB) & Rover (rush/coverage). Outside linebackers in a 3-4 must be athletic and rangy, with the ability to blitz, cover, and take on the run.

Secondary: Two Cornerbacks and two Safeties allowing for man-to-man coverage or zone depending on the call. Corners play virtually the same role as a 4-3 defense. Safeties vary based on package, they may play more run or pass heavy depending on personnel and the defensive coordinator.

Why does a 3-4 defense make a difference?

The short answer – it prevents big plays.

The Vikings defense struggled immensely the last couple of years, both in run and pass defense, but with the big plays especially. A depleted secondary has been reloaded through free agency and the draft, however with a mix of journeymen and rookie corners in the CB room that remains unproven. Switching to a 3-4 scheme brings sorely-needed support to the secondary. Featuring three beefy lineman in the trenches assists in run stuffing and hopefully putting pressure on opposing QBs. This could allow a mixture of eight linebackers, corners and safeties to drop into coverage. Let’s just say this struggling secondary has a safety net to not get beat by a home-run type play. Looking at you, A-Rodge.

How will this look for the Vikings?

We are likely to see some new personnel groupings we aren’t used to. The first of these new adjustments taking place in the trenches. While we’re used to quick, overpowering, athletic defensive ends like Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffin, we’re trading in lean muscle for some chunky beef. The goal with three down lineman is to fill gaps and stop the run. Smearing the QB becomes a secondary goal. We are likely to see guys that typically played DT/NT shift outside into the End position. It could be any combination of James Lynch, Dalvin Tomlinson, Armon Watts, etc. This will depend on what Donatell sees in camp.

Moving along to linebackers. Here’s where we get to have some fun. Shifting to two middle linebackers and two outside backers, we now are looking for a mix of guys that can drop into coverage and pop up to the line to rush the edge. In this system, guys like Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith get to flex their wide skill set. While this is nothing new for Smith, given prior roles in Green Bay and Baltimore, we haven’t seen as much of this from Danielle.

The largest impact to corners and safeties is the added support from the middle of the field. Whether dropping into zone or man-to-man, the added bodies in the middle take some pressure off coverage and add some insurance if they get beat.

A 3-4 defense is known to disrupt offense, give the o-line looks it’s not used to, and provide confusing blitz patterns. We’ll learn more specifics on how Donatell & Pettine plan to implement this scheme and what weapons they want to deploy, but there’s massive upside to this shift. There’s quite a bit of talent on the defensive side of the ball. We should all be drooling thinking about how this new scheme can further unlock the potential of guys like Kendricks, Smith, and Hunter. Might I remind you that players have a huge impact on a team, but all players have weaknesses and scheme is what helps hide those weaknesses. Let’s get excited about the Vikings defense again. SKOL.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Top 5 Underrated Players in Vikings Franchise History

Ever since the inception of the Minnesota Vikings, we have had hundreds of phenomenal players and a multitude of Pro-Bowl, All-Pro, and Hall...