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Old 12-08-2004   #1
LB Love
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One concept that is worth discussing is the type of defense played in the AFC. Not one team in the NFC is committed to the 3-4 defense, while in the AFC six teams are built on the 3-4 package. Before I break down the results of the 3-4 defense so far this season, the one fact that caught my attention was that the AFC's 3-4 teams have totally dominated NFC teams when they went head-to-head. New England, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Diego, Oakland and Houston have a combined 12-5 record when they play NFC teams. That win-loss ratio is close to the entire gap between the two conferences of 14 games. If you throw out the Houston Texans, who are 0-3 vs. the NFC, then the 3-4 teams are 12-2 when they meet their NFC rivals. The 3-4 isn't the only defense that works in the NFL by any means, but it sure looks effective, and the league rankings in a number of critical defensive areas sure support its use.

These 3-4 teams dominate many categories in the NFL, as we can see in the above chart. Take sacks, for example. New England, Pittsburgh and Baltimore have generated 111 sacks, or an average of 37 sacks per team. Twenty-six teams play some form of the 4-3 defense, and only the Eagles can match that kind of production. After digging a little deeper in the probe of these sacks, it becomes a reality that the outside linebackers have 45 of the 111 sacks for the 3-4 teams. Quick, agile athletes like Joey Porter and Terrell Suggs flourish in the 3-4 defense. According to one college scouting director, "I wish our coaches would switch to a 3-4 because it is easier to find outside linebackers than it is to find defensive linemen."

The run defense is just as impressive with these four teams giving up an average run of no more than 3.6 yards per carry and just 90.5 rushing yards per game. As one coach said, "With one less player with his hand on the ground at the snap, the ability to flow to the ball appears to be better." An NFC offensive lineman told me, "We don't see much 3-4, and when we do, it causes problems."

It is very impressive to look at the ranking of these AFC 3-4 teams when you look at how few runs they give up over 20 yards. These 3-4 teams are the best in the NFL at keeping the running game contained. A starting safety on one of these teams said the two-gap front of the 3-4 and the fast flow of the four linebackers gets to the ball quickly and provides few cracks to gash the defense with. You can argue that point all you want, but the numbers don't lie.

Finally, the AFC has won the interconference battle every year since 1995, and I'm sure there are many reasons it happens. I'm not prepared to say the AFC's love of the 3-4 is the main reason for the winning record of 32-18 against the NFC. But I do believe the 3-4 package is experiencing success, and when the first-place teams in the AFC East, AFC North and AFC West are using the 3-4, it may be time to look at it with a different attitude.

Whole Article: http://nfl.com/news/story/7977055
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