The Packers Should Not Be Afraid of Going Back to the 4-3

Since the Packers season ended on Saturday evening, armchair GM’s have been busily planning the off season for the team.

One of the major conversation pieces has been the future of Dom Capers and his version of the 3-4 defense.

With their third playoff defeat in somewhat embarrassing fashion in four years, the Capers scheme has been called into serious question. Whether it is the players, the scheme itself, a combination of both, or perhaps the game has simply passed Capers by, many are wondering whether or not the 3-4 is the best defensive approach for the Packers to take.

Maybe it is time to switch back to a 4-3 defense, which was in place before Capers arrived on the scene.

The logical answer, of course,  is a resounding no. Based on the players currently on the roster, the team is designed to run the 3-4. Heavy on linebackers and short on defensive linemen, on paper it would require a significant personnel overhaul for this change to take place.

And I am here to tell you that it is very much possible for a switch back to a 4-3 with the players the Packers currently have along the defensive line and at linebacker.

Before everyone tells me I’m crazy, hear me out, and let me explain how this is possible:

  • Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji are both the right size to play defensive tackle in a 4-3. At 6’2″ and approximately 340 pounds,they are big enough to occupy multiple blockers. Raji also has push to move blockers and provide interior pass rush ala Cullen Jenkins, which would be a huge plus.
  • Last year’s first round selection, Nick Perry, was formerly a 4-3 defensive end in college, and quite a good one at that. At 6’3″ and 265 pounds, he is quick enough to provide pass rush off the edge. Having experience playing defensive end would allow for an easier transition from outside linebacker back to a defensive end.
  • Mike Neal is a big, strong, fast man. Another perfect fit for a defensive end. At 294 pounds, he is heavier than Perry, but having quickness and strength might allow for him to move to the outside.
  • Current linemen Jerel Worthy, C.J. Wilson, and Mike Daniels are all around the same size-right around 6’0″ and 300 pounds. While this might seem to be the perfect size to play defensive end, they appear to be a little too small to be able to play the interior. However former 4-3 linemen Johnny Jolly and Cullen Jenkins were both between 6′-6’2″ and 300-320 pounds. If they were able to bulk up, they would have enough size to play the inside. Plus, they are all agile enough to be able to swing to the outside and provide a solid rotation along the defensive line.

Without any additions to the defensive line via the draft or free agency, the Packers seem to have enough personnel to transition to the 4-3.

Now lets address the linebackers:

  •  The player who would be most affected by this transition (if it were to take place) is obviously Clay Matthews. How would a prototypical 3-4 rushing linebacker be able to become a 4-3 outside linebacker, playing coverage more than rushing the quarterback? He definitely has the size to play the position. At 6’3″ and 255 pounds, he is slightly taller and heavier than A.J. Hawk, himself a former 4-3 OLB. But how would he fit into the new scheme? That is something that would have to figured out by the new defensive coordinator. However, this should not seem to be as scary a proposition at it appears. If Aaron Kampman could be reinvented for one season into an outside linebacker, there is little reason to doubt that Matthews, a far superior athlete, could be re imagined as a 4-3 outside linebacker.
  • On the other side of the linebacking corp, we would welcome back Desmond Bishop, moving from the inside to the outside. A sure tackler on the outside would be a welcome addition following the rotation of Zombo/Walden/Jones/Moses opposite Matthews for the past four seasons. And while never the best in coverage, Bishop could hardly fare any worse than some of the misadventures of the above named players did playing in space in the 3-4.
  • In the middle, one of two players would be at home. The first option is Hawk, who played the position in 2008 following an injury to Nick Barnett. Definitely not flashy but surprisingly steady, Hawk has the experience to play the middle. However, he may need a serious contract restructuring for him to return to Green Bay. Second choice could be D.J. Smith. While seemingly undersized at 5’11” and 239 pounds, he might seem to be over matched going up against larger linemen, tight ends, and running backs. However, former All Pro Sam Mills was a mere 5’9″, and wound up becoming one of the best middle linebackers in the past 20 years. Smith has a knack for tackling, and that is what makes this an intriguing option.
  • Incumbents Erik Walden, Robert Francois, Dezman Moses and Brad Jones (all right around 6’2″, 250 pounds) provide the depth.

Again, the current players on the roster appear to be able to fill the positions the 4-3 would need to work, without adding a single player in the draft or free agency.

While this seems simple on paper, the transition would be more difficult than just changing positions for some dozen players. However, the Packers should not be afraid to entertain this option, as the players are there to make the change.

This crazy idea may be completely null and void after Mike McCarthy meets the media for the final time this season on Tuesday. But if he does not come out and say that Dom Capers is being retained as Defensive Coordinator, the possibility exists for a switch back to the 4-3.

They should not be afraid of the big bad 4-3. They are more prepared for this transition than we may think they are.




4 thoughts on “The Packers Should Not Be Afraid of Going Back to the 4-3

  1. “If Aaron Kampman could be reinvented for one season into an outside linebacker,”

    Was he, though? Kampman, despite injury, didn’t really work out at OLB. I didn’t follow him as he continued his career at Jax, but he was going into a defense that switched back to a a 4-3, correct? This may be irrelevant, but I felt like saying something.

    We certainly know Clay is quite a bit more of an athlete, and thus much more flexible and capable of adapting to a new position and responsibilities in pass coverage, than Kampman. And much younger too. He’s the obvious concern to any change. He’s easily our best defensive player. And any change should keep him in very high priority.

    I’m not a great defensive football fan. But I’m not opposed to any drastic change to our defense.

    1. Note: As I reread “Not a great defensive football fan” I should have said, a great defensive football mind. I love great defenses.

  2. I think this defence has the parts to be a good hybrid 3-4/ 4-3 scheme..

    What position did Clay play at USC?? I thought they played a 4-3 didn’t they?

    I think GB has the personnel to use a variety of the 4-3 and 3-4, Clay I am sure is capable of being able to rush as a down lineman on the edge as well as a stand up rusher.. Plus they already have good interior 4-3 linemen in Raji, and Pickett.. They could develop a mean ass rotation on the defensive line like the Giants used for their Super Bowl runs that gave GB fits.

    They also need to hire a Co-ordinator with some intensity and attitude so the D can play with some swagger again..

    I really think MM is going to have to evolve as a head coach and start to get away from “we are executing our same gameplan every time” mentality and evolve to gameplan better for individual opponents the way the Patriots go about their business.

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