The accelerating infatuation with possibilities of the Bears going to a 3-4 defense, fueled by general manager Phil Emery suggesting that just about everyone and everything is on the evaluation table, seriously misses the point. The surprise will still be if Emery and Marc Trestman direct a total scheme makeover.
For one thing, not all 3-4 schemes are remotely the same. Philadelphia’s is an attacking front three; Green Bay’s is a de facto 4-3 with Clay Matthews a “linebacker” in name only; same with Aldon Smith in San Francisco.
For a more important thing, the top three yardage defenses in the NFL (Seattle, Carolina, Cincinnati) are all 4-3’s. The Seahawks are the most intriguing, moving rushman Bruce Irvin (the Bears’ target in the 2012 draft before Seattle grabbed him at No. 15) to listed as a weakside linebacker, from where he had two sacks but three quarterback hits and 15 hurries, according to ProFootballFocus.com analyses. If there is a template for re-deploying Shea McClellin, Seattle may be the best one of all, Irvin or perhaps Carolina’s Thomas Davis, who collected four sacks and 15 QB hits/hurries as a strong-side linebacker.
Or maybe in Denver, where John Fox is a career-4-3’er put out a defense ranked No. 7 vs. the run with Von Miller at an outside linebacker (when he wasn’t suspended or injured).
Not that it was tied to 3-4’ness, but Houston and Cleveland run Top-10 3-4’s and fired their coaches.
And as far as a 3-4 being the answer to problems in the run defense, how’d it work in Kansas City (22nd), Green Bay (25th), Indianapolis (26th) and New England (30th). Philadelphia’s 3-4 was 31st in sack percentage.
It is not the scheme; it’s not even the coach in the final analysis. It is the players. In the Bears’ case, can or does the organization want to completely change its filters going into a draft that Emery stated will be defense-heavy?
“I will just tell you we’re going to be a younger defense,” Emery said. “The draft will be focused in that area.”
The Bears have a hybrid in Corey Wootton – “one of the guys that would transcend scheme,” per Emery – but he is a designer left end in a 4-3, who can work at three-technique in nickel, but hardly at tackle in a 3-4. “Corey was most disruptive as a pass rusher, between the d-end and d-tackle, at d-tackle this year,” Emery said.
What the Bears do in free agency with respect to their defensive line will be the first clue. They do not have a true 3-4 nose tackle in place (Stephen Paea is not), and Landon Cohen, Henry Melton and Jeremiah Ratliff are all free agents.