Are the Cleveland Browns Switching Back to the 3-4 Defense Again?

With the hiring of head coach Rob Chudzinski, rumors are already swirling that the Cleveland Browns are going to make the switch back to the 3-4 defensive alignment for their upcoming season. None of this is in the bag just yet, but it’s understandably worrisome to the fans.

The Browns are just two years into building their team around the 4-3 defense. People will argue they finally have depth along the defensive line and progress is evident. To change now will set the team back again (again), and force us to wait and watch as they trade away young players who don’t fit in the scheme.

I would prefer they stick to the 4-3 scheme as well. Drafting for and building the 4-3 seems to be less risky. It is simpler.

All you need are athletic defensive linemen who create their own pressure on the opposing quarterback. Once you have that, the rest of the team can just sit back and play. It’s how the New York Giants always seem to stymie offensive juggernauts like the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots.

Projecting college players to the 4-3 in the NFL seems easier as well. It’s all about athleticism, not nuance, and the majority of prospects play in 4-3 college schemes.

That being said, here are a couple reasons why changing back to the 3-4 wouldn’t bother me:

  • The 2013 draft. There are thousands of mock drafts on the Internet right now. Find one. The only disparity among the lot (currently) seems to be where this crop of average quarterback prospects will fall. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are not in this draft. There don’t appear to be any game-changing running backs or wide receivers worthy of a top 10 pick in there, either. This draft is going to be all about linemen and projecting outside linebackers to the 3-4. If you must switch the defense, perhaps this is the year to do it.
  • The public seems to have identified Jabaal Sheard as the big loser if the Browns swap back to the 3-4. He’s one of the promising young players we’d hate to see traded, as he seems to only fit as a 4-3 defensive end. I don’t have a problem with this, either. The Browns don’t have a second-round pick in this year’s draft, and if anything, Sheard has value and could help the Browns rebuild without necessarily putting them behind. He’s young, but he’s not a star yet. If the guy is truly useless in a 3-4, it is not stupid to make the move and fill a hole in your draft.
  • Browns fans really shouldn’t be playing the who doesn’t fit/who does game anyway. When Phil Taylor was drafted, everyone scratched their heads because he was projected to be an ideal 3-4 nose guard. Ahtyba Rubin, D’Qwell Jackson, T.J. Ward and Joe Haden (to name a few) have played well in both formats. Here’s an NFL draft video suggestting Sheard is more suited to be a 3-4 linebacker!
  • Does building a 3-4 defense really take an eternity? It might seem that way to Browns fans because Romeo Crennel, Phil Savage and Eric Mangini failed to build good units over the course of six years. The Seattle Seahawks have built one of the league’s most terrifying defenses in two years. Pete Carroll’s unit ranked 25th in the NFL in points allowed his first year with the team, and then ascended to 7th overall in his second season. This year, they’re in the playoffs and rank first. The Internet will tell you they play in a base 4-3 defense, but they actually run a scheme which features combinations of 3-4 alignments. Couldn’t the Browns do that too? Aren’t we calling for them to innovate?
  • Most importantly, to complain about a scheme change and the time needed to implement it successfully is to fall victim to the short view.

Schemes will always evolve in the NFL and, thus, will always come and go. The Browns have a new owner and that is the long view we should be focusing on. As soon as Jimmy Haslam purchased the team, the front office, Pat Shurmur and any and all schemes were subject to change.

Long-term success does not lie with the odds of Jabaal Sheard and John Hughes becoming irreplaceable players. It lies with an owner who is personally involved, holds his team accountable, actually attends his own team’s games, and is the one interviewing candidates to become the head coach.

The hard part is over. Cleveland Browns stability begins now.

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