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The Hybrid 4-3/3-4 Defense

Sy'56 : 1/12/2010 4:00 pm
I've been going over a bunch of notes for a piece I am working on and I've seen a lot of talk on here in regard to a potential scheme alteration, mainly to a 3-4. While it IS an option, I don't think the Giants can or should make that switch at this point in time. However if the right coach can be brought in, (I'll go into a couple guys that don't get enough talk later) the Giants have the tools in place to play a very solid hybrid scheme.

I don't want to get too complicated but the issue I had with the NY defense in 2009 was the lack of consistrncy when it came utlizing the strengths of such a talented defense. Sure there were a handful of guys that underachived, but I put most of the blame on not suiting the scheme to the strength of the players. I just want to get into the front seven and discuss what kind of scheme (again, without getting too complicated) could bring this team back to the top of the NFL defensive rankings.

If you look at the defensive line, you have 4 guys that are capable of playing the hybrid roles. Tuck-Kiwanuka-Canty-Cofield are all guys that are perfect fits for the hybrid front. Tuck and Kiwanuka are athletic enough to play in space, but also strong enough to control engagement at the point of attack. Canty and Cofield can play on the outside in a 3-4 (head up on tackle) or shift inside and control interior gaps. That is a nice place to start when it comes to building the hybrid scheme.

Now depending on what front you throw out there, you have wildcards such as Umenyiora, Sintim, and Alford. Sintim and Umenyiora are pure edge rushers, but Sintim has experience dropping back in to coverage and playing in space. Umenyiora is a mess when dropping back, so he is essentially the 3-4 OLB that constantly plays down hill or and end in the 4-3. Alford is a guy you can shoot the gaps with the 4 man front or close the outside gaps in the 3-4.

The personnel issues the Giants have if a hybrid scheme are able to be dealt with in one offseason (if the right guys are targeted). Here is what they would need:

1 - Another pure ILB.

Pierce might be done in NY (I think its time to cut him loose or severely cut his salary). The succssful hybrid schemes have the guys in the middle that can get off blocks and run well in coverage. Pierce can't do either. Sure the names like D'Qwell Jackson and Rolando McClain look nice, but those guys aren't realistic. Restricted Free Agent Antwan Barnes (BAL) is a guy that would thrive in this role, he is a younger Bart Scott that excels in the Baltimore scheme. Tons of athletcism. You can always look to the draft with guys like Sean Weatherspoon, Brandon Spikes. There will be guys available that can fill this role.

2 - Pure NT

This is the tough spot to fill. It is very difficult to find a nose tackle that can 2 gap consistently, every week. There are ways around a lack of pure edge rusher or not having quality linebackers, but a weak presence inside is tough to cover. The misconception here is that you need a 350 pound body that can control 2-3 blockers. Yes, guys like Jamal Williams and Vince Wilfork and Haloti Ngata are weapons, but that doesn't mean the Giants need to go after a huge body in there. Guys like Jay Ratliff and Darnell Dockett are just as effective playing inside because of quickness and technique. There is nobody on the Giants that can fulfill this role right now and with it being such a vital component to the scheme, it would have the be priority A for the offseason. The one free agent that I think will hit the market, won't be too expensive, and could thrive in this role would be Ryan Pickett from Green Bay. He thrived under Dom Capers this year. Eats up blocks but still plays with range in that tackle box. In a hybrid scheme he wouldn't be forced to be on the field too much (he is only good for 5-6 consecutive plays). There would need to be some depth added however via the draft, so that is where Reese and Ross would need to earn their money.

3 - In the box safety

One discouraging piece about the Giants defense as a lack of ability to tackle at the second and third levels. I love what Michael Johnson has brought to this team especially considering where he was taken in the draft, but he is an awful tackler. It is an element to the game that is so important but it appears to be losing overall quality in the NFL. In the hybrid scheme you have a safety that is constantly in or near the box (Adrian Wilson of Arizona). This is a guy that needs to tackle like a LB, but also man up on a tight end. Very hard to find this player but they're out there. This is actually a role that Aaron Rouse could do well in. I'm not a big fan of Taylor Mays but in this kind of role, he could do well right away.

If those three pieces can be added with whatever complimentary pieces via FA and the draft, the hybrid scheme can be put in place. Don't convince yourself that it is impossible to do in one offseason, as I will directly at the Denver Broncos as a prime example. They had arguably the worst defense in the NFL in 2008 but with one offseason they altered the scheme and completely overhauled the personnel. They didn't make any huge splashes, but they found guys that had the tool set, and suited the scheme to the strengths of their players. They were coached very well in 2009 and I expect them to be a top flight defense in 2010 with the evovlement of Ayers and a couple of tweaks that make personnel-wise.

Just to give you a look in to what they unit would look like with some realistic options personnel wise:


DE: Tuck - Cofield - Rookie/FA
NT: Pickett - Rookie/FA
DE: Canty - Alford

OLB: Umenyiora - Kiwanuka
ILB: Boley - Kehl
ILB: Barnes - Blackburn - Goff
OLB: Sintim - Rookie/FA


DE: Tuck - Rookie/FA
DT: Cofield - Alford
DT: Canty - Pickett - Rookie
DE: Umenyiora - Kiwanuka

SLB: Sintim - Rookie
MLB: Barnes - Goff - Blackburn
WLB: Boley - Kehl

This is a scheme that has worked well for the Cardinals. They had pieces that fit both schemes and they also made two successful/essential draft picks up front with Alan Branch and Gabe Watson. Both guys that got off to rough starts but once the scheme fit their strengths, they became important pieces.

Ron Aiken is the defensive line coach in Arizona. He is a guy that has been a vital component to the emergence of the Arizona front seven (I know, not the week to talk about their defense). He has been an important piece to the puzzle when it comes to the emergence of Dockett, Branch, Watson, and Campbell. Creative defensive mind, gets the most out of his players.

Wayne Nunnely is the defensive line coach in Denver. He is just as responsbile for that unit's turnaround as Mike Nolan is. He had outstanding success in San Diego for a decade. He has experience working with both fronts and he has evolved players into strong performers in the 3-4 coming from a 4-3.

Those two guys don't make headlines like Crennel and Pepper Johnson, but both are fits for what I am talking about. I think the hybrid scheme is a great idea in theory but it only works if you have diverse personnel filled with guys that can play multiple roles. We have that right now and using this offseason to shore up the vulnerable spots could make this a legit concept that is put in to practice.
i got bored about 1/2 way through  
I Love Clams Casino : 1/12/2010 4:03 pm : link
could not finish
Sy's posts are always worth a read...  
Russel in VA : 1/12/2010 4:09 pm : link
even where you disagree. He gives draft info on par with anyone on this site, put up the "prospects to watch" for all the bowl games, etc etc.
Wonderfully concise  
Big Blue '56 : 1/12/2010 4:10 pm : link
Thanks Sy..Ryan Pickett will be 31 early into next season, so you might be correct about the 5-6 consecutive play limit
Nice job, Sy  
Kevin_in_Pgh : 1/12/2010 4:15 pm : link
I love the idea of a hybrid, if for no other reason than to stop all the stupid 3/4 vs 4/3 debates on BBI.

Making yourself look bad, Clams.
Big Blue '56 : 1/12/2010 4:16 pm : link
imo, this should be stickied to invite good discussion, especially given how much this topic has been talked about since the season ended
You got bored because like most trolls  
jcn56 : 1/12/2010 4:18 pm : link
you're not here for the football.

Thanks Sy!
good post, thanks  
dangerousrappingfrog : 1/12/2010 4:20 pm : link
for taking the time to post and even providing some names of guys that may make it possible.

I will get slammed on this but this is BBI...

A bit of a stretch but maybe Osi and 'Nuke play the outside on the 3-4 in a hybrid and have Sintim become one of the ILB. Moving these guys around presnap and crossing their blitz paths could be potentially disruptive if done correctly. I have no idea if Sintim could learn the position but it would be nice to have some physical play from the ILB's and Boley and Sintim may be able to provide that.
Tuck at 3/4 end is a waste of his talents  
Sneakers O'toole : 1/12/2010 4:20 pm : link
I think Alford will get destroyed trying to two gap. A 3/4 look here and there is one thing, but I still think that the Giants need to build on what they already have, not retool and blow the whole thing up.
Sy'56 : 1/12/2010 4:26 pm : link
Thats the thing about the hybrid. Because Tuck has a diverse skill set, he can play end in both schemes. An every down end in a strict 3-4? That likely would not work so I agree there.

But in a scheme where you have guys with so many different skill sets, you can create a specific role for Tuck to play. He doesn't have to 2 gap every down, but he is capable of doing so when necessary.

I think the issue here is that a lot of people don't understand the concepts of a 3-4 and/or a hybrid. You can alter roles depending on the personnel...and Arizona is a prime example.
I don't know that I  
dangerousrappingfrog : 1/12/2010 4:27 pm : link
agree that Tuck would "get destroyed" as a DE in the 3-4. He may not get to the QB as much but he may make up for it with TFL in the run game. Also, think about this, Tuck has shown in the past that he can consistently get free on the inside and come off of blocks to make tackles. That seems like a good skill set for a 3-4 DE to me. He is strong, athletic and is a hard enough worker that I would not put it past him to learn the technique required. One more thing on Tuck, it is concievable that a he could help the edge rush with what he brings inside.

As for Alford, he played some 3-4 DE in college as PSU would use that look on occasion when he was there and that is where they would put him.
The Cowboy's NT  
PeterS : 1/12/2010 4:28 pm : link
is the same size as Cofield. I'm wondering why he couldn't play NT. We moved Tuck and Kiwanuka inside in the 4-aces package so is it far-fetched to think they could be full-time 3-4 DE's?
Totally agree with the hybrid theory  
#10* : 1/12/2010 4:32 pm : link
would begin collecting the necessary pieces for this in the off-season and see where we stand at training camp.

We need 2 offensive lineman, and a RB for offense. Everything else can go toward defense.
It is less about size  
Sy'56 : 1/12/2010 4:33 pm : link
and more about technique. Ratliff and Dockett both play a good amount of snaps as a NT, neither are big but both play outstanding football in there.
I think the Hybrid concept is certainly intriguing.  
dangerousrappingfrog : 1/12/2010 4:33 pm : link
Like Sy says, these guys would not have to play full-time, being that it is a Hybrid D.

forgot to mention earlier, but great point about the in-the-box safety's roll in the 3-4. Having a safety up may help the LB's with coverage by adding more speed to help out behind the line (or even just taking some responsibility away from the LB's), perhaps helping with our dreadful coverage on the intermediate middle of the field.
Jay on the Island : 1/12/2010 4:37 pm : link
Good work Sy
Sy'56 : 1/12/2010 4:38 pm : link
Agreed. I would have no issues if Reese spent the entire offseason building up the defense with maybe a transaction or two surrounding the offense. He could get a starter or two via FA and spend 5 of the 7 picks on defense and I would have no quarrel about it. If you want to have an unbalanced team, make sure the defense is the stronger unit because it is easier to make up for a weak offense than a weak defense. With that said, the young talent is already there for Eli to work with, just a couple of moves along the O-line and that side of the ball is set.
Whatever happened to the 5-2?  
Gman11 : 1/12/2010 4:39 pm : link
I don't remember seeing it much in the regular season even though they toyed with it in the preseason.
good post  
alligatorpie : 1/12/2010 4:39 pm : link
i would keep things simpler:

Agree that we need bigger and better DTs regardless.

Would tend to say that rather than go out and get personel to [exactly mimic] 2 separate and different classic defensive formations,

we take two huge DTs and build around what we have, incorporating -aspects of- the 3/4 at times...but not the whole soup.

Disagree about another 'in the box' safety, I and others feel that we need a real ball hawk, and that the existance of a huge DT will only make this hawk more productive.

ditto existing linebackers.
It is an interesting theory  
Jay on the Island : 1/12/2010 4:41 pm : link
my main concern as well as many fans is that switching to a fulltime 3-4 would limit the effectiveness of Justin Tuck who is our best defender. Now if they ran a hybrid defense and ran the 3-4 15-20% of the time then that wouldn't be terrible. Ryan Pickett played very well for GB this season and i am sure he will sign a nice sized contract with a team looking for help along the DL. Whether it be a 4-3 team like Carolina or the 3-4 teams looking for a solid nose tackle he will be a hot commodity.
by trying to exactly copy two systems  
alligatorpie : 1/12/2010 4:43 pm : link
there may be too many needs, thus orcing ftoo many shortcuts,

thus someone above says 'cofield at NT',

haha...or skipping the FS pick since a new MLB is needed.

lets get a better coach on D, two huge DTs and a great freesafety and see if we can use aspects of spags'philly, aspects of 3/4...within the 4/3...which will improve alot with the additions, given what we have now.
Sy'56 : 1/12/2010 4:46 pm : link
Understood concerning Tuck. I don't believe a full time move to the 3-4 is a good idea. But in a scheme where the offense has no idea what to expect, Tuck would not have to fill the role of a 3-4 DE that we are used to seeing.

And Pickett struggled mightily in the 4-3 out in St. Louis. I think teams looking for a NT in the 3-4 will be hot after him but he isn't going to get a monster deal from anybody. If he doesn't work out, Franklin from San Fran is a FA I believe. Very good player that doesn't get enough pub.
Deception is part of all defenses  
RussFLA : 1/12/2010 4:50 pm : link
almost all DC's employ hybrids, some more so than others, usually because talent is lacking.

While sometimes it gives you the element of surprise - it also opens up weaknesses to exploit. At some point there is a danger in having players doing things outside of their strengths too much.

Either be a 4-3 and put a premium on excellent lineman, or be a 3-4 with great LBers. For either, you can OCCASSIONALLY tweak a surprise here and there, but to thine own self be true more frequently.
struggling to find players to reflect two systems in whole, in totum  
alligatorpie : 1/12/2010 4:52 pm : link
vs keeping what we had, ressurecting spags playbook and incorporating some mcoys, codys etc high picks what have you and incorporating aspects of 3/4 and etc.

too much, too comlex, too many shortcuts.
the bit about Nunnely and Aiken is worth the  
alligatorpie : 1/12/2010 4:53 pm : link
price of admission in any case.
i will go with Russfla  
alligatorpie : 1/12/2010 4:58 pm : link
since we alreadt have very good DE's (3 of them) the addition of two pro-bowl type DTs would be worthwile before we go nuts.

Also it is long overdue for the ballhawking safety...but that is helpful in either system.

this year there appear to be many lets have at it.

trust me, with them on board the Tucks, Osis and Kiwis, and Sintims of the world within the nominal 4/3 will give you at times the thrill you seek with that 3/4.
Sy'56 : 1/12/2010 5:05 pm : link
Finding a "ballhawk" safety is a lot harder to do than say. There aren't Ed Reed type guys in every draft class or in FA. And a lot of "ballhawk" safeties are a result of a scheme. Aaron Ross was arguably THE ballhawk coming out, and he has hardly been such in the NFL. Reggie Nelson was THE ballhawk safety coming out, and he has been a deadbeat in the league.

Phillips, and this is coming from a guy who didn't like him coming out, is a guy that could play the centerfield role very well if he can bounce back 100%, which he should. But if you don't have a strong front seven that can consistently get to the QB, a ballhawk safety will never exist.

Obtaining two pro-bowl DTs in one offseason? That won't happen this year. Suh and McCoy have the potential to be those guys, but both will be out of range for the Giants in all likelihood.
my take is that we have to try  
alligatorpie : 1/12/2010 5:41 pm : link
for the DTs and that it is a spot that will enhance all the rest of the d play this year if it becomes the strong part of the D.

if the player has a very good reputation vs both the run and pass coming out of college and is on the strong and large side, thats a start.

Regarding safety, if we get one that had lots on INTs in college that would be a start, especially if those came while playing in space.

It looked like Ross could not decide to take the inside or outside angle...that may be the coaching staff.
My two cents from a post earlier this week  
JerseyJoe : 1/12/2010 5:44 pm : link

Alright, If we try to run the 3-4 with a good set of defensive coaches/teachers could we pull it off? When looking at our personell as unbiasedly as possible, I think we may not be that suprisingly far off.

Let's briefly review the front seven:

Potential 3-4 LBs. Goff, Kiwi,Sintim,Boley not necessarily a horrible set of LBs for the 3-4. All have some size but aside from Boley we may need better coverage ability here. Add a McClain or Kindle here and that could be a pretty good set to rotate especially if we utilize alot of pressure packages by our LBs.

Potential 3-4 DEs? Canty,Tuck. Tuck is a stout 4-3 DE/DT and has quite a bit of versatility. I think he could pull it off, Canty has already played this position and quite well. Both actually would be pretty darn good 3-4 DEs, I think.

Potential 3-4 NT? Not on the roster. FA?, Draft?

We already know we have a pretty good roster of 4-3 personell.

So the biggest remaining issues for playing both:

1. A staff that has the know how to do this and more importantly to teach this. We are already in process of disassembling the entire defensive staff. Another reason Waufle could have been dismissed as he is strictly a 4-3 guy? Now we have to hope we can assemble a competent staff from DC on down to do this. Crennell could be a good start.

2. Osi. He is strictly a 4-3 DE. He has been on the outs with the coaching staff for a while now and is coming off a major injury. Some think you have to use him in very specific ways for him to be at his best. Would he be amenable to be a part time starter? Would his current pay warrant that? I truly could see us trade him for a 1st rd pick and stock up on 4-3 personell.

3. No true 3-4 NT. Can we bring one in via FA? Can we get one in the draft, especially if we trade Osi?

So if we can adequately address those 3 key issues, I think this is a pretty novel idea that could have huge success. OTOH, I also see it as one that could hugely bust too if not executed well.
dorgan : 1/12/2010 5:53 pm : link
that concrete prediction you've all been looking for.

Jersey Joey says,

"it could work or it could fail".


I'm just gonna stick with calling him a tool  
GMenLTS : 1/12/2010 5:55 pm : link
after each subsequent recycled post of his
YAJ2112 : 1/12/2010 5:58 pm : link
how else do you think he can come back 10 months from now and tell us that he predicted it all along?
RussFLA : 1/12/2010 5:59 pm : link
I like that - we still do need to get LBs up to an acceptable level of athleticism, but that said, another terror at DT would really help the entire defense.

Why re-invent the wheel when just make one or two key additions can free up your all pro ends to make more QB sandwiches?

Anwtan Barnes  
Will in NJ : 1/12/2010 6:08 pm : link
is not similar to Bart Scott. Barnes is a reserve OLB in their 3-4 scheme; he was college DE at Florida International. Maybe you're confusing him Dannell Elerbe, who's supplanted Tavares Gooden as the JACK LB next Ray Lewis?

In any event, as a downhill pass rush specialist, Barnes is not the answer at ILB and he'd cost a 4th rd pick in compensation (unless he's tendered higher). Michael Boley is not especially well-suited for that role either...he stuggles enough shedding blockers on the perimeter.

The hybrid idea is an intriguing thought (just as it was under Tim Lewis). But even the most optimistic person would have to concede that we're several personnel moves away from making it work. And the free agent/offseason climate in 2010 does not lend itself to significant personnel overhaul. Even with the right coach -- a presumptive leap in and of itself -- it's very unlikely that a turnaroud would be instantaneous.
This seems to be what is lost on many in this discussion  
GMenLTS : 1/12/2010 6:12 pm : link
"But even the most optimistic person would have to concede that we're several personnel moves away from making it work. And the free agent/offseason climate in 2010 does not lend itself to significant personnel overhaul."

Sy certainly laid out his suggestions with reality but most of those who have been pining for the shiny 3-4 switch have regarded these concerns as minimal when that couldn't be farther from the truth

I forgot to mention it on my first post but thanks as always for the contributions Sy
the two coaches mentioned above are interesting anyway  
alligatorpie : 1/12/2010 6:16 pm : link
what is the deal?
Sy'56 : 1/12/2010 6:43 pm : link
Barnes plays outside and inside in the Baltimore scheme. Ellerbe surprised many with his strong play this year but Barnes was a candidate to move inside and out this year. He is very versatile and can play inside if given the opportuniy in my opinion.

I saw some preseason action with him the past 2 years and I am surprised he hasn't been more of a focal point within that complex scheme. He is a guy that can be moved around and thrive if given the opportunity.
Will in NJ : 1/12/2010 6:44 pm : link
The sentiment behind the 3-4 defense resonates from two schools of thought:

(1) The 3-4 is inherently superior to the 4-3.

(2) The 3-4 is inherently different than the 4-3, and change is good.

Both premises are, in one way or another, flawed. The truth is that the alignment of the defense is something that should be decided by the coordinator. The scheming, assignments, personnel deployment, etc. will subsequently work itself out.

It's a simple equation: Good coach + good players = good results. Everything else is just details.
Giving Barnes the opportunity to play inside  
Will in NJ : 1/12/2010 6:49 pm : link
is ultimately a scouting decision that's based on a lot of faith. He had 13 tackles in 11 games this year. Just 37 in his three-year career. His pedigree and professional progress realistically do not profile him as a starting ILB...presently (sorry had to complete the alliteration.)
great post  
shabu : 1/12/2010 7:05 pm : link
thanks for great post.
Agreed Will  
Sy'56 : 1/12/2010 7:05 pm : link
That is where my idea/theory stems from. I am always looking for the under the radar players that have the skill set and the mental stability to make a move that most would look down upon. Thats what scouts do and while I will not put myself on the same planet as guys that do this professionally, its just something I do. I guess thats what I look for the most when I'm watching 30-40 preseason games a year...all the way to the end.
My favorite defense of all time:  
PeterS : 1/13/2010 10:18 am : link
The Bear 46. Buddy Ryan made that group one of the most dominating defenses of all time.
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