Skip to main content

3-4 Defense Meets Experienced Foe Sunday


Last week, it turned out, the Green Bay Packers' defense had the element of the unknown in its favor.

Unveiling their new 3-4 scheme for the first time in the regular season, the Packers were able to take advantage of an opponent - the Chicago Bears - that doesn't regularly face a 3-4 and certainly had never seen their archrivals to the north run it.

An aggressive approach combined with the confusion that ensued contributed to two sacks, five other tackles for loss and four interceptions, far offsetting any edge the Bears thought they might have with quarterback Jay Cutler at their offensive controls for the first time.

But this week it's a different story. The Cincinnati Bengals and their head coach, Marvin Lewis, have as much familiarity with the 3-4 as any team the Packers will face this season. All three of Cincinnati's AFC North foes play a version of the 3-4, most similarly Pittsburgh, where Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers helped initially install the Steelers' 3-4 back in the early 1990s.

So this Sunday's game won't be about catching anyone off-guard. Instead, overall execution of the new scheme is paramount, a formidable task for Week 2 in this complex defense.

"Certainly we won't fool them on anything," Capers said. "Marvin is very familiar with the 3-4. We were together for three years in Pittsburgh with the Steelers, then of course he went to Baltimore and ran a version of that defense there. He's been there at Cincinnati for a number of years now playing against Pittsburgh, playing against Cleveland, playing against Baltimore.

"This team probably has as much experience playing against the 3-4 as any team in the league."

Somewhat surprisingly, the Bengals didn't look very seasoned in their opener against another team transitioning to the 3-4 this season, the Denver Broncos.

Prior to an impressive 91-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter that should have won the game for Cincinnati if not for a fluke tipped pass in the closing moments, the Bengals mustered just 216 yards of total offense against the Broncos.

But there were some explanations. Quarterback Carson Palmer had missed much of the preseason with an ankle injury and had trouble getting into a rhythm. He also was victimized by a handful of dropped passes and three offensive penalties, two of which were on star receiver Chad Ochocinco and led to punts.

Palmer was a pedestrian 15-for-26 for 178 yards with an interception before things clicked on the long drive late. He went 6-for-6 for 69 yards on the 11-play drive that gave the Bengals a 7-6 lead with 38 seconds left.

That's a sign of how efficiently Palmer and Co. can move the ball against a 3-4 and is likely more indicative of the offense the Packers will see on Sunday.

"We play 11 3-4 defenses (this season), and I think our first eight weeks are like that," Lewis said. "So we're comfortable with it, our offensive players and so forth. It's something we have to do."

To counter, the Packers have plenty more in Capers' thick playbook to draw from that wasn't shown in the preseason or against Chicago. More importantly, the players are of the mindset that last Sunday's successful debut of the 3-4 does not make the defense a finished product, but one that needs continued work and refinement to perform well every week.

"It's a process, we understand that," linebacker Brady Poppinga said. "If we think that we have arrived and there's no need for growth and no need to improve, we're doing ourselves a great injustice. Some people say this is a cliché, but this is sincere -- we can be as good as we want to be, and it's up to us."

The success with the turnovers would seem to be the most difficult to maintain. The Packers had 13 takeaways in the preseason and got four more against the Bears, but it would stand to reason the more familiar opponents are with the 3-4, and Green Bay's 3-4 in particular as the season wears on, that offenses will be able to protect the ball better.

{sportsad300}The Packers see that as a legitimate challenge, but one the defenders are determined to meet week after week.

"People will start to get a feel for us, but we still have to be as motivated as we are every game as we were going into the Chicago game," defensive end Cullen Jenkins said. "All the turnovers and stuff, we still believe we can keep that up regardless of how teams have been studying for us and know what we can do. We just have to keep preparing to stay one step ahead of them."

If there was one negative from the defense's regular-season debut, it was surrendering too many explosive gains. The Bears had no running plays longer than 10 yards, but four different Chicago receivers caught a pass of at least 20 yards, with Devin Hester getting two, a 36-yard TD and a 21-yard catch-and-run to set up a field goal.

Johnny Jolly's acrobatic interception of a dump-off pass wiped out Chicago's biggest gain of the night, a 68-yard bomb to Johnny Knox. But relying on those turnovers rather than more sound, fundamental defense is a risky proposition.

"We can certainly improve in a lot of areas over our first game," Capers said. "I think most teams can. We have to be able to go out play physical, play fast and have great execution with what we do, because they'll certainly be ready for whatever we throw at them."

That goes for Green Bay's other three AFC North opponents this year as well - Cleveland on Oct. 25, Baltimore on Dec. 7 and Pittsburgh on Dec. 20. Playing the Bengals is just the first foray into the NFL's 3-4 lair, you might say.

"We know we aren't going to fool them, no matter what we do," Capers said. "We aren't going to show them anything they haven't seen before. It comes down to, we have to be very efficient in our execution, and that's what this game normally comes down to. Who executes the best on Sunday."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content