clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

New Orleans Saints Switching from 4-3 to 3-4: Much Ado About Nothing?

It's the question on every Saints fans mind. But does it even matter?


There are two primary schools of thought when it comes to base defensive formations: the 4-3 and the 3-4. The former uses four defensive lineman and three linebackers while the latter uses three defensive lineman and four linebackers.

It is also the prevailing wisdom that the 4-3 is more geared to stopping the run with more personnel being lined up along the line of scrimmage, while the 3-4 is better suited to defending against the pass with a greater emphasis on disguising where the rushers will be attacking.

I realize most of you are probably saying now, "Okay John Madden, tell us something we didn't know."

Well, maybe my next article I will be able to share with you how Kenny Vaccaro likes his steaks cooked, but I'm still waiting for my inside source to get back to on that. Instead, I would like to pose the question to the Canal Street Chronicles readership, "Does the type of defensive formation really make a difference?"

In 2012 the Saints defense failed miserably against both the run and pass under former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's 4-3 defense, and seemed to be on a downward slide under Gregg Williams in the two previous years following the Super Bowl win.

The Saints defense is not only undergoing a leadership change in new coordinator Rob Ryan, but also a system change as Ryan has been busy installing his 3-4 during OTA's. That's not necessarily as big a deal as it sounds, however.

Defensive line coach Bill Johnson later insisted that the switch from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 scheme is overblown, since the Saints are doing a lot of the same things they did under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams from 2009-2011, when their nickel and dime packages included a lot of three-man fronts.

Early indications of how the players are responding sound positive. The players seem to be enjoying the freedom it offers as opposed to the rigidity of Spagnuolo's 4-3. That freedom goes beyond just scheme.

Johnson also said scheme isn't nearly as important as "energy."

"We lost our energy last year," Johnson said. "It's more than Xs and Os. It's making plays, forcing turnovers. Being aggressive."

I think for many Saints fans it is also brings back memories of the Dome Patrol when Rickey Jackson and Pat Swilling terrorized quarterbacks rushing from the outside while Vaughan Johnson and Sam Mills stuffed runners coming up the middle. After the Saints pitiful 2012 defensive performance, fantasizing about the Dome Patrol I would say is a natural coping mechanism.

But does the Saints defense have the personnel to make the new system a success? Or is it just the OTA's, when hope springs eternal?