With, ahem, great success the Rams have been running a 4-3 defense for sometime. One of the burning questions floating around the Rams hunt for head coach is the making the switch to a 3-4, since a number of the candidates embrace that system. Should a new coach come in and push for the 3-4 base defense I started wonder if the Rams make such a switch in a single season?
Under Haslett, during his two and quarter seasons as the Rams defensive coordinator, the Rams used a blitz-heavy 4-3 with press coverage in the backfield. We all know the results; the Rams have been among the league's worst defenses against both the pass and run for the last three years, setting a new franchise record for rushing yards allowed this season. Actually, according to DVOA, you have to go all the way back to 2003 before you can find a Rams defensive unit above the league's bottom quartile. The team's personnel problems are obvious, and have been for some time. And it's the personnel on the roster, more specifically, the personnel worthy of keeping on the roster that make me wonder about the switch to a 3-4 defense.
Because of their struggles and injuries over the last two years, the Rams did finally start to use some different looks on defense. One of those looks included a version of the 3-4 defense, featuring LB Will Witherspoon in the hybrid rush end role. That's how he ended up leading the team in sacks, with 7, in the 2007 season. So what are we looking at to make the switch?
But Witherspoon, mighty as he is, doesn't perfectly fit the profile for that role in 3-4 defense, and the Rams linebacking corps would need a major overhaul to run the 3-4 system. Not that it doesn't need an overhaul anyway, but the Rams have decent LBs for a 4-3 system, just sorely lacking a big presence in the middle, where an out of place Witherspoon has been filling in. The biggest Rams LB currently on the roster is Culberson, who tips the scales at 240 lbs. To improve their current 4-3 defense, the Rams need a true blue MLB, while the switch to a 3-4 would require even more changes among the linebackers.
One possibility is moving DEs Leonard Little and Chris Long to the rushing end/LB spots in a 3-4. For Long, the transition might not be all that difficult; he played in a much similar system in college. For Little, whose aging rapidly, the transition is much more of an unknown.
Up front, the '3' in the '3-4,' the Rams would have to add a big guy at NT - something they need to do anyway - to stuff the run and draw double teams. Carriker would fit as an end in the 3-4 scheme and James Hall, 32, might work on the other side. Adeyanju, who certainly earned his place with the Rams, might be a little smallish for the role.
Of course the Rams flip the palindrome and make the switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 ahead of the 2009 season but in doing so they'd add even more needs to an already lengthy spring shopping list while pushing aside some perfectly good role players. It's not impossible, but easing into the transition over two seasons might be the more effective way to make the switch.
One more note. I'm not a 3-4 zealot. There are plenty of teams still in the hunt for the title run a 4-3, including the still champion NY Giants and their defensive coordinator/head coaching candidate Steve Spagnuolo. To me, the players you have on the field and their leaders/coaches have a much bigger impact, and that's what the Rams have to address before starting any debate about schemes.