As the Cardinals get a little closer to the preseason, and the defensive system comes a little more into focus, a strange thing has happened in my mind: I want to see the Cardinals in a 4-3 defense.
The reason is simple, and while I spelled out why it may not be the best defense for the defensive line, the group of linebackers the Cardinals currently employ, would certainly benefit from the switch.
The idea of moving to a one gap 3-4 also makes what Daryl Washington did in 2012 less likely to be repeated in 2013...well, when he gets back from his suspension that is.
With the Cardinals still lacking any type of pass rushing outside linebacker on the roster, the move to a 4-3 would make sense, at least in my opinion, when Daryl Washington comes off suspension.
Note: The concepts of all the linebacker in the 4-3 will be discussed more at length when we find out if this is a real option.
Strong side linebacker: I think playing Karlos Dansby in the 4-3 would compensate for some of the athleticism he's lost over his career.
Playing in the SAM role allows Dansby to play more assignment football, as he would line up near the line of scrimmage in a 7 or 9 technique when in the under defense.
Dansby's job on run downs is simple, he would have outside gap contain, but the hardest part of his job is recognizing pass reads.
Does Dansby have enough left to run with tight ends in passing situations?
In a "normal" 4-3 defense, we'll see Dansby lined up inline or outside shade, about four yards in depth behind the strong side defensive end.
He'll have more read and react two gap responsibilities, having to flow to where the ball is, instead of just maintaining outside leverage.
Middle linebacker: With the addition of Kevin Minter to the Cardinals defense, the question of who mans the middle, whether it is next to Daryl Washington or by himself in a 4-3, is answered.
Why putting Minter in a 4-3 makes sense is because it puts him in a position he's familiar with.
Minter was the man in the middle in LSU's dominant 4-3 attack, and he was very successful in that role, because of his ability to read, react and make tackles.
The MLB in the 4-3 will be responsible for the gap between the nose tackle and the strong side defensive end, giving the Minter two gaps to maintain, but if the nose tackle and defensive do their jobs and take on double teams, it should give the middle backer gap control on the inside.
Minter isn't overly quick laterally, but he takes excellent angles to the ball carrier, and when he gets there he makes good solid tackles.
Minter is shorter, and as I said before, lacks the burst to play in coverage consistently early, but he has a nose for the football, reads his keys well, and knows how to make plays.
Minter's fit inside, when being surrounded by more athletically gifted outside linebackers like Dansby and Washington, could be ideal.
Weak side linebacker: If the Cardinals run the under defense, this gives Washington similar seek and destroy responsibilities as he was allowed in the Cardinals previous 3-4 defense.
In the 4-3 under the weak side linebacker is responsible for whatever gap the 3 technique tackle doesn't take, but he also gets the ability to free-lance more often.
Washington's ability to play free, run downhill and attack is what excites me about this possible defense, because it gives him less responsibility, and allows him to do what he does best.
The real reason I like the idea of the Cardinals running the 4-3 is easy to understand... It gets the three best linebackers on the field consistently, and puts all three in positions to make plays on defense.
Running with Dansby, Minter, and Washington on the second level of the defense is better, in my opinion, than any combination of outside linebackers the Cardinals can put with Washington and Dansby/Minter.
It keeps only one of Acho, Okafor or Schofield on the field at a time, until they can figure out who the best fit on the defense at the weak side defensive end position is, and most of all, it keeps Washington in a position to play with little responsibility, and just lets him play football.