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Going 3-4 not an issue for Lions

If the Lions hire Todd Bowles as their next head coach, they'll become the first team in the NFC North to run the 3-4 defense. And it could happen sooner than you think.

While conventional wisdom suggests it takes two offseasons to switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme (in order to acquire the right personnel), the Lions are so deficient on that side of the ball they might be able to make the change this year.

“I would be working towards (a 3-4 defense) as long as I have the personnel,” Bowles said at his press conference Tuesday. “Mike Tomlin's a perfect example. Going to Pittsburgh from a Tampa 2 scheme, they have a 3-4 scheme in place but obviously he was smart enough to know that was working for them and he didn't mess with it. Without having a defense in place here, you have to see what the personnel looks like on that side of the ball and you have to draft and do free agency accordingly.”

True enough, the Lions are transforming a crack house in the slums, not a mansion on Lakeshore Drive. They have only a handful of keepers on defense no matter what scheme they run, and most would be able to play in any system.

Cory Redding played undertackle last year in the Tampa 2, but he'd be a sturdy end in a 3-4 defense. Ditto Andre Fluellen. Cliff Avril showed promise as an end, but if he has any coverage ability he'd likely switch to outside linebacker in the 34. In the secondary, safeties Daniel Bullocks and Gerald Alexander would play in both systems (though the Lions would like an upgrade there). And at cornerback, the Lions don't have much in the way of talent no matter what they play.

The way I see it, the biggest issues in going to a 3-4 are nosetackle, where the undersized Lions don't have a space-eater in the middle, and linebacker, where Ernie Sims (the only must-keep) is a perfect fit on the weak-side in a 4-3 but might have trouble adjusting to the 3-4. Sims is a good player who had a bad year, but he's a top-10 pick with the talent the Lions can't afford to give up on. That's a hard evaluation general manager Martin Mayhew has to make if Bowles and his defense come aboard.

Regardless what scheme they run, expect the Lions to restock their defense in April's draft. If they use four of their first five choices on defensive players (all within the first 82 picks), they should come away with no fewer than three starters. Add a second-tier (but hole-filling) free agent or two to the mix and the Lions will be a better team no matter what system they run.

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Blogger GMart said...

Good article as usual, Dave. I was wondering if you could elaborate on something. Specifically, how would the responsibilities change for a guy like Ernie Sims with a switch to a 3-4? Is the problem that he may be too small to succeed at LB in such a scheme? And if that's the case, wouldn't the same thing be true of Dizon, too? Thanks!

7:58 PM 
Blogger Bill T said...

Appreciate the work. Great insight as usual. You keep writing...we'll keep reading.

10:01 PM 

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