Though the Kansas City Chiefs made the switch to a 3-4 defense two seasons ago, I still can’t look at the current roster without wondering if they might be better off running a 4-3.
I don’t have anything against the 3-4 defense. Obviously, the 3-4 is what defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel runs and is comfortable with. The Chiefs have been drafting for a 3-4 defense for three years now. There is no chance that they team will suddenly decide to change course and start running a 4-3. Certainly not after they saw so much defensive improvement in 2010.
Still, I can’t help wondering what would happen if they did.
Take a look at some of KC’s personnel and you will see plenty of holdovers from the team’s 4-3 era are still on the roster. Players like Andy Studebaker, Tamba Hali, Derrick Jonson and Wallace Gilberry were all on the team during the Herm Edwards era. Interestingly enough, all of those players are very important to KC’s defensive future.
For me, it all starts with Wallace Gilberry. Gilberry is one of the best pass rushers no one in the NFL has heard of yet. The reason has more to do with his lack of snaps than it does his talent. Gilberry is a man without a position in KC’s 3-4 defense. He is not fast enough to play OLB but not big enough to eat up blockers playing DE. Because of this, Gilberry was not an every-down player for the Chiefs in 2010. He came in mostly in passing situations and despite the fact that he saw limited snaps, he still finished second on the team in sacks with 7. He had 4.5 in 2009. He would be a natural fit as a DE in a 4-3. Gilberry is only 26 and is just about to hit his prime. If he was playing every down in a 4-3, he’d likely be recording double digit sacks.
Next we have Tamba Hali, who is quickly becoming the most dangerous pass rusher in the NFL. Hali finished second in the NFL in sacks in 2010 and first in the AFC. He was a former 4-3 DE for the Chiefs before he moved to OLB to fit the 3-4. At the time folks worried that Hali wouldn’t be able to make the transition but he has flourished in his new role after a poor 2008 season that had many questioning if he had a future in Kansas City. Some might argue that Hali’s recent success is a result of his move to OLB but I disagree. The reason Hali is so good at rushing the passer is because of his high motor, balance and in particular, his work with his hands. I believe Hali simply matured as an NFL player and fine tuned the talents he already processed. I don’t think returning to putting his hand on the ground in a 4-3 would somehow turn Hali back into a disappointment. Quite the opposite actually. Hali gets a lot of sacks at OLB but he also gets a ridiculous amount of pressures. In fact, Pro Football Focus credited Hali with 64 QB hurries in 2010. That was tops in the league among 3-4 OLBs. I think all putting Hali back on the line of scrimmage would do is put him closer to the QB and up his sack numbers. Tamba is also a bit of a one trick pony as a LB. He can’t really cover and he is below average against the run. Hali is not a guy you want trying to tackle a RB in space. He would like be more effective stopping the run closer to the line, especially when he could use his pass rush moves to beat his man and get into the backfield to blow up plays.
Since the switch to the 3-4, poor “Sweet” Ron Edwards has been stuck playing nose tackle. Edwards, a career DT in 4-3 defenses, was absolutely dreadful in his first season in the 3-4. Woefully undersized to play the position, the veteran actually improved his play in 2010. Edwards still has something left in the tank but he would much more effective in his natural position as a 4-3 DT.
As would DE and former first round draft pick Glenn Dorsey. Dorsey had GM’s salivating at his potential prior to draft day. He was seen as an excellent 4-3 DT that would stuff the run and reek havoc in the backfield. Dorsey struggled in his first season on a terrible 2008 team. Herm Edwards was then fired and the Chiefs switched to a 3-4. Dorsey trade talk swirled as most experts agreed that he was a terrible fit for KC’s new defensive scheme. As predicted, Dorsey struggled again in 2009 as he learned his new position. Then, in 2010, Dorsey began to show flashes of the player he was originally predicted to be. Dorsey was suddenly above average while playing the run (Pro Football Focus backs this up with numbers) but struggled to generate any pressure on the QB. This perhaps would not be a problem for Dorsey if he was back in a 4-3, going up against smaller centers and guards instead of tackles that outweigh him.
The rest of the DT crop could be filled with Shaun Smith, who also excels at playing the run and new draft pick and newly drafted Jerrell Powe.
At linebacker, the Chiefs would be in pretty good shape. They already have Derrick Johnson who can play both MLB and OLB in a 4-3 defense. The Chiefs would likely move him back outside and pair him with Demorrio Williams. Jovan Belcher and his solid tackling would be a nice fit at MLB.
The Chiefs would be deep along the offensive line, particularly at DE where they could play Andy Studebaker and Juston Houston.
They could also trade Tyson Jackson for a bag of magic beans or some OLB depth.
What do you think Addicts? While it is all fantasy, how do you think the Chiefs would perform as a 4-3 defense?
Chiefs 4-3 Defense:
Tamba Hali Glenn Dorsey Shaun Smith Wallace Cilberry
Derrick Johnson Jovan Belcher Demorrio Williams