Lovie Smith, 4-3 Defense Not Right for Packers

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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

Some people see the effectiveness of the Tampa 2 against Aaron Rodgers and automatically think it has to be the way to go. Lovie Smith had so much success with it in Chicago, why can’t we just bring him in to run the system?

Well, we’ve talked about the Tampa 2 before, and the one thing you need to remember is that, outside of getting pressure from just the four lineman, the key player is the middle linebacker. The Bears have had Brian Uhrlacher, who is the quintessential Tampa 2 MLB. His instincts, intelligence, and athletic ability to cover the middle of the field are what allowed Lovie Smith to do what he did.

Who on the Green Bay Packers could possible fill that role? A.J. Hawk? Desmond Bishop? Brad Jones? D.J. Smith? Good luck with any of those. Even if a player was drafted for that role, they would need a good amount of experience to really make it work, and there’s no guaranteeing that player could even be found.

3) Switching Too Soon

The Green Bay Packers just finished their fourth year in the 3-4 scheme. They’ve had some big problems the past couple years, but they’ve also had some great successes. Their run defense was one of the best in the league in 2009, and even with Aaron Rodgers on offense, the 2010 Super Bowl run wouldn’t have happened without the plays made by the defense.

Ted Thompson and his staff have been building this defense based 3-4 player types. Sure, there are a number of guys that could make the transition easily, but there are others who would struggle. It’s a little too soon to throw away four years of development because of some bad playoff coaching. Also, please think back to what the defense looked like before Dom Capers got here.

4) The 3-4 Still Works

On a basic level, I think some fans simply don’t consider the 3-4 scheme an effective one. Yes, the times are changing and offenses are evolving, but there are plenty of successful 3-4 defenses that give no indication the scheme itself is a problem. At the top are the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, who have almost become the grandfathers of the 3-4. Their effectiveness has certainly slowed down lately, but for both teams that has been primarily due to their aging superstars (Polamalu, Lewis, Harrison, Reed).

In fact, three of the four current playoff teams run a 3-4 system. The only team that doesn’t – the New England Patriots – just recently switched back to the 4-3 and are not really known for their outstanding defense. To take it further, 5 of the top 10 defenses (according to yards allowed per game) during the  regular season ran some type of 3-4 scheme.

While it’s perfectly understandable to demand change from the defense or its coach, let’s not take it overboard. It most likely won’t even happen, but in entertaining the idea of switching back to a 4-3 system, there’s just not a lot of solid reasoning behind it.

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Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski

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  • http://allgbp.com/category/authors/jason-perone/ Jason Perone

    Agree that a switch to 4-3 would be a mistake. I get the disappointment in how the season finished but overhauling the entire defensive system goes beyond knee-jerk. For the team to abandon their current system (and with it, several of their current players) just to make a statement would set the organization back. In 2009 when they switched over, they did so a bit gradually with a hybrid 3-4 as they washed out some of the old 4-3 roster. The following season, they were ready to go.

    Listen fans, the Packers got punched in the mouth in San Francisco. It sucks and it’s not fun seeing your team fall off. It’s easy to get roped into all the hype and analysis about what the Packers need to do.

    For those who think this team is in “disarray”, don’t forget that the current GM brought in several draft picks who played big roles in this year’s team’s success. A solid draft can help this team stay in the game and with a little luck in the health department, they can contend again in ’13.

    I keep hearing all of these comparisons to New England and why can’t the Packers be like the Patriots. New England, much like Green Bay, gets to the playoffs each season. Their offense always seems to be machine-like (sound familiar?). Sure they may win one or two playoff games each time and are playing for a shot at a Super Bowl but when was their last win? What’s so very different about these teams? To me, it’s about trophies. Since both teams became competitive again, NE has 3 SB wins, Green Bay has 2. Not that bad, wouldn’t you say?

    Let’s not reinvent a wheel that isn’t truly failing just yet, whaddya say?

  • JimR_in_DC

    If I was in charge of things…

    I think we should seriously consider if there is an assistant coach from one of the other 3-4 teams that would be an upgrade over our DC. Or from our own staff, although I am less confident that anyone would fit the bill.

    I would also look at upgrading the O-line and OC coaching positions.

    I just think we need to consider these changes, but only if we feel there’s a clear path to improve our staff.

  • White92

    I couldn’t agree more regarding Lovie and the Tampa 2.

    Living in suburban Chicago and being married to a Bears fan who’s father is a season ticket holder, I see many more Bears games than I would like. Trust me, the Bears defense isn’t “all that”. Their defense is a bend but don’t break, and is heavily dependant on turnovers. Without Peanut Tillman and his incredible ability to strip the football, I think the Bears defense is actually below average. They do a good job generally of not allowing a big play, but teams with a good QB and recieving corps (teams you see in the playoffs) are able to methodically move the ball downfield, score and chew up large chunks of time.

    Additionally, do you really want to waste precious years of Rodgers in his prime while the defense retools and learns a new scheme? They would be using those years to change something that might not be considerably better anyway.

  • Tarynfor12

    You building your dream house and you become aware the electrical system has a couple of flaws..do you dump the house or fix the wiring?

    Upgrading your electrician may be in order but make sure he isn’t being forced to work without the proper wire cutters first…or that new electrician and his system just might burn the whole house down.

    • Ron LC

      Keep the analogies flowing Taryn!

  • http://allgbp.com Charlie B

    As long as we’re using analogies, how about this being your dream house, the electrical works fine most of time, but at the most critical time in the most exciting game you’ve ever seen on TV, the power disappears, and you’ve lost your chance.?

    • Tarynfor12

      “the electrical works fine most of time”,
      I would wonder how many of the sub-contractors (players) were watching TV porn instead of game film on the couch.

      • Two Bears, One Cup

        I know I was

  • Lucas

    As with all teams, 53 make up the roster. I love how monday morning qbs look at the defense, offense, special teams and think one is the lone problem. They all work together.
    GB has several places to become a better team. Improving the pass protection and the running game will keep the defense off the field more. Improving the defense will allow A-Rod more opportunities to hold onto the ball to long (had to say it). Special teams can hold onto the ball and give the offense a chance.

    • Barutan Seijin

      I agree with this. I’d say the play calling needs to change a little, too. McCarthy wants the no-huddle so they can run more plays, but you can’t just run no-huddle. You have to pick up the first downs and/or you have to stop the other guys once in a while when they get the ball. Otherwise, you’re just minimising your own TOP. Packer TOP in the SF game was something like 21 minutes!

      • Lucas

        Even a no-huddle that “marches” down the field takes only a few minutes.
        Perhaps even more depth is needed on defense…specialty players. MM won’t abandon the no-huddle. So the defense will need to find a way to stay fresh. Conditioning or more bodies.

      • Anthony Coleman

        I agree you can’t run the no huddle all of the time like that if your not picking up the first downs to compliment it, or your defense ends up on the field most of the game and gets worn out way to early which is part of what went wrong in san fran last week. The packers still have a very good ball club capable of reaching the superbowl, but I think in order for them to do that Ted Thompson is going to have to change and spend a little money in free agency and build thru the draft to address the needs at RB
        (Yes I know D. Harris is a good back, but hes more of a complimentary back and not a feature back, they need a feature back also and its not starks or grant), the needs on OLine and DLine, and maybe pick up a couple young players to develop at WR, Linebacker and FB. As far as firing Dom Capers…at first I have to admit I had the same reaction right after the loss but now that ive had time to think about it and calm down a bit I don’t think that’s the right move and Lovie Smith isn’t the right fit for GB, Stick with the 3-4, address the trouble spots and patch the defense up it will come together but in order for that to happen Ted Thompson needs to be willing to work threw Free Agency and the Draft not just the Draft. Also does anyone think maybe bringing in someone like an assistant to help Dom with the fixing the defense, another set of eyes and a brain, like what they did in Tennessee this last season with the Offense. Just a thought. GO Pack!!!!

  • James david Marsh

    I would like TT to trade up three times in the 2013 draft. The three needs are ILB, RB, and OLB. Then just take the best player on the board and bring in a boat load of UFA to compete for jobs at every position.

    • Lucas

      Trade up for whom? TT doesn’t just randomly trade up. He specifically targets a player when trading up. Trading down, however, he does when the talent in the current draft position is relatively the same as the talent he trades down to.

      • JimR_in_DC

        I agree, Lucas. We also have more needs than what James suggested. We need a couple of more O and D linemen. Pickett’s getting old. Saturday is done.

  • NYPACKER

    My problem with us & the 3-4 is that the defense is designed for the 3 interior dlineman to “occupy” blockers, so the ILBers can roam free to make tackles. The weakest part of our roster right now appears to be the ILBers. In addition, Raji appears more suited for the 4-3, given his potential to penetrate & disrupt. Could Matthews play Middle LBer in a 4-3? Takes away our best pass rusher, but puts our best defensive playmaker in the middle of the action. At Outside Lber, he can be run away from and / or double teamed, which essentially takes him out of the play. At MLber I guess he could be taken out of the play via pass schemes….however guys like Urlacher & Lewis made plays from that position no matter what the offense did. I think I heard an announcer quote Capers as saying “CM could play any defensive position on the field”…

    • Chad Toporski

      While I think CM3 could succeed at any linebacker position, he’s best as a 3-4 OLB.

      The other point I actually left out of this article concerns the defensive line. While there are guys on the defense who could play the 4-3 techniques, would they really be good enough to make it work? Do we have those type of linemen, or would they simply end up being “average”?

      It would take time to build a line like Detroit, New York, and some other teams have.

  • Ron LC

    Against the majority of teams in the NFL, DC’s defense was more than adequate. Going from a dead last, record breaking (not good) performance in 2011 to # 11 in 2012 was an improvement of impressive proportion. One thing that was identified was the GB defense cannot play against a big aggressive Oline and quality running backs/option Qb’s. To go all the way to the SB requires a change in order to win in the playoffs. Losing in the regular season allows for recovery, losing in the playoffs and SEASON OVER.

    Two things bother me about the defense and for that matter the offense too. The first is talent at the “non-skill” positions, the lines. They are not big enough, not fast enough and not aggressive enough to play the nasties in the play off. Some way they need to address this issue and soon. Look for more read/option next year for the D and deep cover combined with brutal attack on AR for the O.

    The second is, the unending whinnning about injuries. Yes we have injuries, but why do we have so many so often. It’s time for MM to investigate the inuries in detail and try to do something about it. They will never sin in the post-season until they can put their play makers on the field. See LB’s and Oline for emphasis. I suggest the hire a top ranked sports medical organization to study the last 4 or 5 years and try to determine if there is something that keeps the Packers at the top of the IR list for the so long. Maybe they can’t find anything but it seems to me it’s worth a try.

    They can’t expect a bunch of low round or undrafted FA’s to be play makers. They are what they are.

  • Scott Petersen

    I’m not a big fan of Capers, but unless someone convinces me that there’s a better option out there, I’m not in favor of firing him just because we’re all pissed off about the last game. Let’s remember that in 2011, we were the 27th ranked defense and this year we were the 11th. The D has improved, but there’s no question but that we need to find an ILB and DL in the draft. The more critical needs are OL and RB. Green Bay’s weaknesses in the running game expose Rodgers to more hits, make the offense one-dimensional and keep the defense of the field for long periods of time, which tires them out and exposes them at the end of games. I still trust in MM and TT, as disappointed as I am with how the Packers finished this year.

  • JR

    I would like the packers to become a 4-3 defense and use clay matthews the same way broncos use von miller. While von does play olb in 4-3 he is asked to get after the qb almost every down.

  • Cal Bob

    JR is onto something. Denver went back to a 4-3 and move Von into a DE position in passing situations. Something that could work with Clay. However, I do not think just saying changing from a 3-4 cures any ills that presented themselves on Saturday. The team needs to play with more violence and discipline.

  • DaveB

    Perhaps when they play the teams who are running option offenses they could switch to a 52 or 53 Miami Monster defense. Those two defenses were specifically designed to stop option offenses / option quarterbacks way back in the 60’s and 70’s. Nothing new – History repeats itself. Forever!

  • FITZCORE1252

    I have no doubt Clay could excel in the MLB/ Earlicker position. Absolutely none.

    That said, I don’t think a switch to the 4-3 is the right move after some thought.

  • mark gast

    Here’s something I don’t understand about coaches who get stuck only using one style: aren’t they being paid to coach the talent have and put them in a position to win? As a teacher, I have to adjust my teaching style and lesson plans based on the students I have before me and their abilities. College and professional coaches get paid a lot of money. Shouldn’t they be able to adjust their systems? If Lovie undstands football defense should he be able to set up a scheme that will allow the players he has available to be successful?

    • Lucas

      That’s a little of what New England used to do a lot more…get great players and develop plays/schemes around their talent. Now all a drafter needs to do is get a player with a remarkable trait. The coach needs to then maximize the use of their strengths and avoid the use of their weaknesses.
      West Coast used to have the philosophy of getting players that can do it all. RB/FB/TE that can block, run, and catch. WR that could go inside, outside, catch, and run. QBs that can throw and scramble. Etc. This seems to have changed.

  • tj4gb

    The packers don’t have to jump ship yet.stay with capers and the 3-4.I think there is one big piece our D lacks.A dissruptive DE.Houston has Watt,9ers have J. Smith ,Ravens have Ngata.We were awesome at getting to the Qb with Jenkins.(didnt need to send alot of blitzes either).With starter CJ Wilson..not soo much.Packers need to do what they have to to get a beast DE in the draft , upgrade on hawk and backups in the middle and rolb.Goodbye hawk zombo jones walden.Not sure what they should do with neal daniels worthy.they need to develop

    • Barutan Seijin

      Yeah, upgrades at all those positions would be nice, but after going all defense until Round 7 last year, i don’t know if they can afford to use so many picks on defense again this year.

    • http://none david the realist

      it’s about time, you hit it on the head, if we can ever get a cullen jenkins clone. CM will be a force again. our beloved reggie white was so more effective with jones on the opposite side.—- now another thing TT must have something against wisconsin D and O lineman. i think they would more popular than him. — and another thing (keep) DD in a coaching capacity at least — one more thing i think MM has been out coached a couple times. especcially run a tiny RB up the middle a cut back against the grain runner is better —- i think hawk needs to loose 20 pounds— thanks folks( go pack)

  • Dave

    I don’t think a switch in defense would be good either. Personally I like the 3-4 better anyways. But in my opinion I think Capers is on the tail end of his career. What I think could be intrigueing would be to look at MIKE SINGLETARY currently the Vikings linebacker coach. He was the one who began the building the 49ers defense before being fired as a head coach. On the other hand we have Winston Moss inside linebacker/assistant coach. With the losses he encountered with Bishop and Smith I thought he adjusted well with what he had left. But is he ready for the d coordinator job there was talk of him going to Oakland as a head coach along with Reggie McKenzie…

  • Brad

    The Packers are still missing the guy opposite Clay. When the Steelers had a lot of success they had Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene. This defense was manhandled by the 49ers (kudos for using most of their high draft picks on a physical o-line). The main problem with the Packers defense is that they are neither physical or fast. If your physical you can get away without being fast, and if you have speed all over the field you can get away wihtout being physical, but you can not ultimately be successful if you have neither. The return of Bishop will help the linebackers become more physical, but Raji, Pickett and insert any 3rd lineman here have not gotten any kind of push all season, except for Saturday when they were consistently pushed backwards.

  • frozentundra91

    I feel like we’re gonna be hearing about 4-3 vs. 3-4 for a while….

    The 3-4 is a perfect defense for this team, especially with Claymaker. For everybody that wants to switch to a 4-3, do you wanna replace an athletic linebacker with a slow-moving lineman? Yeah that would have stopped the 49ers and the read-option. As Chad pointed out, some of the best defenses play the 3-4. The scheme is not the problem.

    Wake up people. The Packers got stomped on by a good team. You don’t go from worst in the nfl in defense in 2011 to beating a team like the 49ers the next year in the playoffs. The fact is that the Packers had a third-string middle linebacker in Brad Jones, AJ Hawk..enough said, Erik Walden, MD Jennings, and a poor defensive line. The Packers just need to stay healthy and get better players, simple as that. All of those guys are really just not that good. Put the 49ers players in Dom’s system and I bet they do alright, lol.
    Get over it people. The 4-3 defense is not the answer, more physical, athletic players are.
    Go Pack

  • Barutan Seijin

    Assuming the Packers would be interested in Lovie and Lovie would want the job — not sure either of those assumptions are valid — you’d have to ask him a few questions before handing him a contract. Nothing tricky, just the obvious stuff like what he’d do with the Packer defense. If he answered Tampa 2, you’d have to ask him the Matthews question. You’d think he’d have to have a satisfactory answer for that to win the job.

    You could say asking Smith those questions would be a waste of time; after all, he is a known quantity. On the other hand, you could also say that Smith has earned the right to have his opinion heard.

  • http://Jkevinturner@comcast.net Kevin

    Mathews would be a terrific middle linebacker. He plays football and would excel regardless of the scheme.

    • Brad

      I agree with this. Matthews, like Woodson, is a football player. He will make plays regardless of the system. Here is an interesting thing though….Urlacher has said he only wants to play with Lovie. If Lovie were hired as DC, Urlacher could come on the cheap for his last couple of years. Now you have a middle line backer and the claymaker.

  • http://none david the realist

    hi this is fun .—-53 year packers fan—we need another gilbert brown typ to compliment bJ— also a big slashing RB— jenkins clone and a blind side protector for A-rod and we go deep in playoffs, or more thanks folks