The Green Bay Packers will face a defensive challenge this Sunday as the Cleveland Browns employ a 3-4 defensive scheme used by only nine teams in the NFL.
"That's a huge deal as far our protection calls," quarterback Craig Nall said.
A 3-4 scheme lines up three down linemen and four linebackers. The system asks for defensive ends to emphasize stopping the run rather than rushing the passer.
Offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher will match up against pass rushing outside linebackers instead of defensive ends.
An active linebacking corps is the staple of the 3-4 defense. The Browns can blitz all four of them, send them all in pass coverage or mix and match on each play.
"There's more versatility out of a 3-4," Tauscher said.
Browns head coach Romeo Crennel brought that scheme with him from the New England Patriots where he served as defensive coordinator under head coach Bill Belichick from 2001 to 2004.
The Packers began preparations for this Sunday's game by studying the Patriots' defense in the spring.
"Everything was based on New England," Packers head coach Mike Sherman said.
On Tuesday Sherman watched film of the Patriots' Super Bowl XXXIX win, the Packers' preseason game versus the Patriots, the Browns' four preseason games and the Browns' 27-13 opening day loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
"You kind of push it all together and try to figure where [Crennel's] at," Sherman said.
Because they installed the defense during the offseason, the Browns are obviously not as sound in the scheme as the Patriots. Crennel admits the scheme is a work in progress.
"It's going slow. I think the guys are beginning to understand it a bit better," Crennel said. "The first preseason game -- it didn't look good. The second one improved. I thought we improved throughout the preseason. Then when you get to the regular season, it's a different deal. The real bullets start flying. ... It showed we're not quite there."
The uniqueness of the 3-4 defense represents part of the challenge. Only the Browns, Patriots, Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers, Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers use the scheme extensively in NFL.
"Every team doesn't do it," Nall said. "You get used to blocking against a 4-3 defense and making protection calls. All the sudden you have to do something completely different."
The Packers, however, can rely on some experience against the scheme. They played against the Chargers on Aug. 11 and Patriots on Aug. 26.
"We faced enough 3-4 defenses in the preseason," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
On Sunday the Packers will face a fledgling but improving version of the scheme.
"Obviously this team is not as knowledgeable in this scheme as New England was," Sherman said. "There are things in New England that they can't do here just yet, but they're pretty advanced. They're a good 3-4 front."
Whatever defense the Packers face, their performance will come down to their fundamentals and desire.
"If you play with good technique and you finish, you'll be successful," Tauscher said. "If you don't, it doesn't matter if you're playing against a 7-5."
Quick Hits: Na'il Diggs practiced with the starters at SAM linebacker during Friday's practice, but the coaching staff has not decided if he will play on Sunday. Sherman said Diggs is in good health but could have too much rust. Diggs sprained a knee ligament on Aug. 8 and has not played in any of the preseason or regular season games. He is listed as questionable on the injury report. "It's a matter of him getting used to what we're doing," Sherman said. "He hasn't been out there a whole lot." ... No. 2 wide receiver Robert Ferguson will continue to have a role on special teams, but Sherman announced he will minimize that role. ... Sherman praised the speed and work ethic of a wide receiver Jamal Jones, who the Packers cut at the end of training camp and then re-signed this week. "Jones has done a really nice job for us in the preseason," Sherman said.