Lovie Smith, 4-3 Defense Not Right for Packers

Lovie Smith

Lovie Smith and the 4-3 defense for the Packers? I don’t think so.

There has been a lot of talk among Green Bay Packers fans regarding Dom Capers and his future as the team’s defensive coordinator. Saturday’s postseason loss to the San Francisco 49ers was the anvil that broke the camel’s back after a 2011 season of defensive agony, despite their overall improvement in 2012.

Tangential to this discussion is the consideration of who would take Dom Capers’ place. Some people brought up Rob Ryan’s name, though apparently the St. Louis Rams have already snatched him up. There are other gurus of the 3-4 defense, though, that could still be candidates, as well as the option of “promoting from within,” which the Packers are fond of doing.

Meanwhile, some fans are calling for a complete overhaul of the defense. They’d rather see a return to the 4-3 scheme that Green Bay ran before hiring Capers. Names like Lovie Smith have been tossed around as options, and some have even offered up way to reposition the current players to fit the scheme.

And I just can’t help but be dumbfounded by these opinions.

I understand the desire for a change. (Really, I do.) But there are a number of reasons why switching back to the 4-3 or hiring a coach like Lovie Smith just won’t work for this Packers team. Here are a few major ones:

1) No More Clay Matthews

Despite drafting some players in 2012 that appeared to be better suited for a 4-3 scheme (Worthy, Perry), the best player on the defense would lose his effectiveness. Clay Matthews is a 3-4 outside linebacker, and he has been training his entire professional career to become a damn good one. He makes his money on the speed edge rush, which wouldn’t be nearly as effective coming from a defensive end position with his hand in the dirt. Likewise, though Matthews is good in pass coverage, moving him to a 4-3 OLB position would remove him from the pass rush (excepting blitzes). And why would we take him away from his greatest asset?

As Zach Heilprin said on Green and Gold Today during Monday’s show, Matthews would essentially become the Aaron Kampman of a scheme switch – a great player whose best qualities wouldn’t fit the new scheme.

2) Missing a Tampa 2 Middle Linebacker



Packers Defense: Why Tricky Does Not Mean Complex

Mike Tanier has written a follow-up to his previous article on MSNBC, focusing on the defense this time. As I wrote a response to the previous article, it only seems fitting to write a follow-up on the follow-up.

In summary, Tanier’s previous article suggested that “tricky” offenses might suffer this year since there won’t be the same amount of time to prepare due to the lockout. My argument was that teams have spent years building an offensive philosophy (which they should not abandon for just one year) and that complexity has more to do with offensive philosophy and personnel rather than the learning capacity of players.

In this article, Tanier suggests that defenses will also be affected by the lockout, but to a lesser extent since “confusion favors the defense.”  On one hand, defenses require less overall communication; each defensive player typically only works in conjunction with a couple other players (cornerbacks work with safeties but not really with defensive linemen for example).

Offensive players are more inherently required to communicate between the whole squad (wide receivers need to know who to block on running plays and running backs need to know who to block or where to go for passing plays).  On the other hand, as I have previously mentioned, a lot can go wrong on a offensive play and still net positive yards, but it only takes one confused defensive player for a play to end in a big gain or a touchdown.

Tanier goes on the premise that one metric of defensive “trickiness” is the number of blitzers and the standard deviation in the number of blitzers.  Again to me this seems a little simplistic:

  1. Personnel factors heavily into the play selection: One of the basic defensive premises of teams such as the Detroit Lions or the Chicago Bears is that a dominant front 4 should be able to generate all the pass rush needed to get to the quarterback.  When a team invests big money into the likes of Ndamukong Suh or Julius Peppers basically they are saying that they don’t need fancy “pew pew” blitzes, the defensive line should be able to beat any offensive line straight on; and it works, the Bears and Lions generate lots of pass rush without having to rely on blitzing a lot of players.  So really it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Lions and Bears show up as some of the “simplest” defenses based on this metric since it’s not in their defensive philosophies to blitz more than 4 the majority of the time.