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Does a 34 or 43 defense matter? How could it change things?

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A look at the positves and negatives of each defense for the Arizona Cardinals.

New York Giants v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The hiring of Steve Wilks has brought along a lot of questions, none more pertinent than that of the defense he will be bringing in. Does Steve Wilks want to play a 3-4 alignment or 4-3 alignment. So, I’m going to diagnose what I perceive as the benefits and negatives of each system, and I will tell you which one would fit the Cardinals as of the end of January.

Benefits of the 3-4:

  1. Many Cardinal fans don’t want to see Deone Bucannon at linebacker next year, but that’s not going to change either way. The benefit of having Bucannon as a linebacker is that it increases team speed. That’s how the Cardinals succeeded last year, by being able to run sideline-to-sideline.

2. The blitz packages are more unique in this system. Being able to blitz from the safety or slot is very beneficial and can cause confusion at the line of scrimmage. The ability to have eight guys up on the line of scrimmage can throw off a blocking scheme and would allow guys like Chandler Jones and Markus Golden on one-on-one blocking.

3.When I think about the defensive backfield, the thought that Patrick Peterson would not allow the opposing team’s top wideout any easy routes. The 3-4 allows Peterson to match up frequently in man-to-man concepts, and that’s Pat’s best scheme fit.

Negatives of the 3-4:

  1. It relies more on team speed, and if you don’t have the speed off the edges, you will struggle in this scheme. The linebackers need to be fast and cover ground. Deone (lesser degree, Haason) need to be able to flow from left to right, and not get consumed by blockers. They are certainly fast enough, but they don’t have the strength to disengage.

2. Three defensive linemen, this is the reason I have such a hard time incorporating this scheme, because if those down linemen can’t consume all five blockers, that forces the Cardinals to not be able to free up blitzers. Blitzing is the primary gain from the 3-4 but can force your defense to get bullied around by run-first teams.

Positives of the 4-3:

  1. The switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 doesn’t impact Haason Reddick or Deone Bucannon, as either can play inside linebacker, and the other can play outside. Having the most athletic linebacker corps is what will be good for the Cardinals if they switch.

2. It’s more tradition in its position breakdown, which is good for guys like Corey Peters and Olsen Pierre, who could see more rushing lanes and straight lines to the quarterback. It’s like comparing Dontari Poe versus Kawann Short, both are good, but the 4-3 system would benefit both players. No more being blocked consistently by 2 or 3 offensive linemen, just single blocks for the guys.

3. Penetration for defensive ends are important, and that’s typically how you’re going to get to the quarterback. I want there to be no confusion, I don’t care about misdirection, I want Markus Golden and Chandler Jones going after the quarterback on every damn play, no ifs ands or buts. This 4-3 system allows me not to have to disguise those guys, instead allows me to bring a linebacker on their side to attack certain schemes.

Negatives of the 4-3:

  1. Although this may be my favorite system for the Cardinals, I think that the negatives can be apparent. The 4-3 can allow your safeties to be vulnerable, as they are the last line of defense on run plays. Steve Wilks was successful in the 4-3 because of the free-flowing linebacker play of Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson, and Luke Kuechly. But without those guys, you can’t expect Kurt Coleman to be up on the line of scrimmage to assist in the run.

2. If you aren’t athletic at defensive end, you will struggle in this scheme. The defensive end in this position must account for outside rush lanes, the flow of a screen pass, and has to contain most mobile quarterbacks. Even with all of those responsibilities, they must be able to rush the passer. Without good ends, you tend to leave your linebackers on an island.

What the Cardinals should play:

There is no right or wrong answer here, in my opinion. Yes, you already have the proper personnel to play the 3-4, but that totally hinges on the play of Patrick Peterson. Although, with how well the pass-rush is doing, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t keep disguising certain coverages to mask the wear and tear for Peterson. If you do the 4-3, then you must develop the players you have on the current team and continue to implement a free agency plan to grab another linebacker familiar with this scheme.

When it comes to the 4-3, there are benefits that are hard to ignore, and the appealing options force me to side with the change. I don’t think that the personnel we have will necessitate a change for this year, but looking forward, it could help the team in the long run. This could extend the dominance of Chandler Jones through the years. It could take off the wear and tear of Patrick Peterson. This action could destroy the progress of Tyrann Mathieu. But for right now, I vote for the change.