The Browns and the 4-3 Defense

Craig and I discussed the potential problems with Cleveland switching from a 3-4 base defense t0 a 4-3 in our most recent podcast. Additionally, Terry Pluto listed several difficulties in his Sunday column.

The biggest issue with making the switch is obviously the personnel. The Browns don’t have anything on the roster that resembles a 4-3 defensive end. Will they try to convert linebackers such as Matt Roth to play the end position? Roth may be able to provide a little depth at the position, but he shouldn’t be counted on to start and play the majority of snaps there. That also is assuming that he wants to play with the Browns next year, as he is one of many free agents the Browns will have to try and re-sign when the CBA is agreed on.

If you look at successful 4-3 defenses, they are strong on both ends of the line, and at the middle linebacker spot. Take the Bears for example. The Bears’ defense took a significant step up this year with the addition of Julius Peppers, and the emergence of Israel Idonije. Both defensive ends had 8 sacks on the year. That kind of production from your down linemen means you don’t have to call as many blitzes. They also had Brian Urlacher at middle backer. Even at age 32, Urlacher had 125 tackles and played at a high level. The Bears ranked second in rushing defense by the way, and gave up 3 fewer points per game than the Browns did.

What exactly will the Browns have to find, either through free agency or the draft to make this defense work? Let’s begin with 2 starting defensive ends. I have little confidence in Kenyon Coleman’s ability to be an effective pass rusher at age 32 coming off an injury riddled season. Brian Schaefering and Dereck Robinson are great guys, and gave 100%, but they just aren’t at the talent level to be impact ends.

Inside at the defensive tackle position the Browns could be set. That is if Shaun Rogers plays a whole season, something that hasn’t happened since coming to the Browns. Assume that the Browns will need at least one reserve DT that can learn the game to be paired alongside Rubin for the future.

At linebacker, the Browns have a lot of options, but may not have the right options. Scott Fujita was far and away the Browns best LB last season. He doesn’t seem to be the prototype middle linebacker however. I figure he will lock down the strongside backer job. That would leave Gocong at another backer, most likely the weakside. What about in the middle? Barton? D’Qwell Jackson? Free agent? Like I said, lots of options, but not really lots of answers.

The secondary is a question mark to some degree as well. Ward and Haden are locks. They were fantastic as rookies and should be starters for years with the team. Who lines up with them is another story.

Did Abram Elam play well enough down the stretch to be the other starting safety? What about opposite Haden? Is it time for Sheldon Brown to move to safety? Will Eric Wright be brought back?

All these holes and question marks are basically created because of a shift to the 4-3. Now, the Browns haven’t come out and said they will be making the switch, but given Jauron’s history with it, and Holmgren’s preference for it, it seems like a lock.

  • Shamrock

    Just to many holes left on the team but the 4-3 is the way to go. Given the Browns haven’t sacked the QB in years what is the rush now? Von Miller at MLB would be a beast. Other then him I’d still look at WR at #6. Maybe Bowers of Clemson will slip (doubtful I know) or something.

  • Josh010388

    I would like to see them maybe take a DE in the 1st round (even though I love AJ Green), and look to add a LB in the 3rd round maybe. Move Brown to safety, resign Wright, and make a major play for potential free agent LBs or DEs… AJ Hawk comes to mind… and we still need another Rb and right side of the OL… I want to be optimistic but there are so many holes…

  • OmegaKing

    Whether it was the 3-4 or 4-3, there were still a lot of holes to fill on this roster. These are just different holes than before.

  • Garry Owen

    Need I kicker. I have just the guy . . .

  • Garry Owen

    “a” not “I”

  • Stinkfist

    Speaking of some of the holes, especially with WR and RB, I got wondering. I’ve heard that New Orleans isn’t sure what to do with Reggie Bush. Would it be worth at least looking into? I think that Bush could help be a spell (Lightening to Hillis’ Thunder) and he could be used to supplement the receiving corp when he isn’t in the backfield. Just a thought. It probably isn’t reasonable, but I thought it was interesting

  • christiang

    I’d be in favor of moving Brown to FS and drafting one of the two CBs with our #6 pick. You need 4 down lineman, Rubin is probably the only one in our 3 year future. Might as well take a longshot at a third or fourth rounder and see what kind of production we get. If he fails, then the next year we take a Dline higher.


    As I’m sure someone has stated, the browns run D was actually pretty legit this year. Often we were creative with our blitz schemes but didn’t have the secondary to give time for a sack. The thought of having two awesome CBs press a team like the Ravens or the Bengles, forcing them into short yardage and the run game, makes me really think we can start winning games against them in the future.

  • Chucky Brown

    yes, I would like us to take the DB from Nebraska in the 1st then WR and DL as well

  • cbwilson25

    I would definitely be in favor of Prince from Neb with the first pick, but the guy who I am really leaning towards is Marcel Dareus from Alabama. I agree the ends are important in a 4-3, but I think even more important is being stout up the middle. We have Rubin to take on blockers, now we need a DT who can penetrate if we are switching to 4-3. I have long been in favor of trading Rogers for anything we can get, and Dareus is a game-breaking DT potentially. Look at what Suh did in Detroit in one year, gave their whole defense a pass rush, I think Dareus could be a poor man’s version of him.

    Also, the knock on D’Qwell for years was that his size was better suited to play MLB for 4-3, now that’s what we’re going to need; let’s give him a chance. He racked up several 100 tackle years, now let’s put him in his alleged best position for one year and see what he can do.

  • bobby

    Woah.. the 2ndary wasnt good enough? Ya they got lit up, but thats because there was rarely pressure on the QB, or Ryan sent everyone and it was an easy quick read. You cant just look at sacks and say o well we had pressure all the time. This is where rankings dont show the true story. Who was our dominant pass rusher this year? Thats what I thought. I would not be opposed any way they go in this draft as long as they thin its the best player available. Up high there are so many DL i would like to have, but with the depth there is at DE I can see getting someone else and getting DL later. Green or a CB, then a DE that slides out of the 1st round, and Casey Matthews in the 3rd (if that all falls right) is starting to look like a plausible draft plan.

    I really think we can get DL in the draft, maybe trade some of our 20 LBs and get some DL depth. Its really not that big of a change because we dont have good players in the LB core. There is a bunch of avg. players that are being overrated in value in our eyes. I dont see Barton, Bowens, or Jackson on the team next year. I think we would be competitive with Fujita-Gocong-Trusnik (obv i would like to see Matthews in the middle and Gocong for Trusnik instead but ill move on). Roth was a DE in college, so I dont know why he couldnt be one here. Bernard can be a situational pass rusher. I would think they get a DE high in the draft they expect to start. Then FA to fill out.

  • Harv 21

    With the scheme switches, more convinced than ever we should pick a defensive player first. And more than ever that it should be a fast, high-motor, play-making linebacker if one is available at #6. The 4-3 requires LBs who can run; our current ones are mostly slow. The WCO requires precise route-running, sure-handed receivers who will be available later.

    Also, an awful lot of unconditional love for TJ Ward here, as if he’s as advanced as Joe Haden. Was a great pick, but let’s not get loopy over what Mel Kiper says and forget that his pass coverage started off bad and did not significantly improve by week 16. He probably will get better at knowing where he is supposed to be but he’s not there yet.

  • eldaveablo

    Let’s be honest, the Browns don’t have the pieces for a successful 3-4 defense either, so I don’t see the point in worrying if they don’t have the pieces for the 4-3.

    The strengths of the defense to build around are Rubin, Haden, and Ward. They all fit either scheme, and Fujita is pretty flexible and can fit in either defense. I love Josh’s suggestion of AJ Hawk as a FA target. It seems as if GB doesn’t have room to keep him. While he’s not a Pro-Bowler, lets not pick nits here – he would fit a need, is reasonably young, and is really solid.

    The good news about the draft is that the Browns really can’t go wrong picking the best player available. Everything I’ve seen points to the best available being DL (too many to list), WR (Green), or CB (Prince from Nebraska). Any one of them fits a Browns need, and hopefully can be slid right into the lineup.

    3-4… 4-3… I could really care less at this point. Just pick a philosophy and go out and get some talent.

    Go Browns.

  • mgbode

    get a DE in the 1st (Cam Jordan would be nice)
    get a MLB in the 2nd (Greg Jones works for me)

    that would help the defense immensely. Problem, of course, is that we would really, really need to grab a WR in FA.


    I agree on Fujita at SLB, but not with Gocong at WLB. WLB in Jauron’s style of 4-3 tend to be the superfast ‘chaser’ style LBs. D’Qwell would fit there well if he could stay healthy, but I’m not sure he could do that. Roth might be an option at MLB if we don’t draft one?? Not ideal, but maybe the best option we have on the roster.

    DE is obviously a nightmare and don’t forget that we have a bunch of SS’s but no FS on our roster currently.

  • Josh010388

    I also wonder if Bernard would be better suited as a DE, or if he is too undersized for that… Also, I would love to see us make a run at Plaxico if he gets out… It would be a very understandable and worthwhile gamble, and much cheaper than say a Vincent Jackson.
    I think Reggie Bush woul be a great pickup… Colt could dump off to him, and he could give Hillis a break. Plus a wildcat/flash/cyclone with a healthy Cribbs, Hillis, Bush, and Wallace on the field at once sounds like a nightmare to defend.
    Anyone know who might be available in free agency for the right side of our line?

  • Max

    so let me see if I understand the progression of things here…we installed a 3-4 when Romeo arrived, we heard a couple years of how “we had to get the right pieces in place” so that was an excuse for the defense not doing very well. Then Mangini arrives and sticks with the 3-4, another year of the “getting his guys” in place excuse, and then finally, after all that time, the defense in 2010 was the best we have seen since 1994.

    So, what do we do? Revert to another scheme, where we will hear about how the new coach needs leeway because there has to be time to “get the right guys in place”

    Bill Murray just shut the alarm clock off again

  • The Conductor

    Saying we are switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 is just a marketing gimmick to get people to buy season tickets. “I know we sucked in 2010, but in 2011 we’re are going to have a 4-3 defense, its going to be different, so buy tickets!”

    It’s all a rouse. We will have the same results regardless of what defensive scheme we have.

  • bobby

    The D wasnt THAT GOOD LAST YEAR. You guys needs to watch a game instead of looking at stats. The D was taken up and down the field consistently. Look at the NYJ game. They walked down the field for the first 10 min. of the half. Sure, we saw a few good plays, but they could not guard a screen to save their life, they always gave up positive (as opposed to getting a tackle behind the line of scrimmage) rushing yards, and they could not consistently get to the QB.

  • Colin

    If anyone wants a masterkey of all of the free agents, walterfootball has an awesome section. Check this out-

  • B-bo

    A change that should have been made last off season. Now, about that lack of an OC…..

  • bimbocoles

    as the roster currently stands i really only see 3 players that would project as starters in a 4-3 scheme, rubin at DT, fujita and gocong at OLB. because marcus benard is young and seemed to be the only guy last year who could actually get to the qb and get the qb to the ground i would give him a shot as a third down situational DE. matt roth looked old and slow this past season, he’s also a FA, doesnt really seem to make any sense to re-sign him and then convert him to DE. these conversions aren’t as easy as some would lead you to believe, i’m having visions of kenard lang trying to play 3-4 OLB and corey williams trying to play play 3-4 DE. the biggest reason why the 3-4 scheme never worked here in cleveland is they never had the right players to fit the scheme(rogers and williams 4-3 DT’s never really seemed to fit). it really shouldn’t take 6 yrs to effectivley change defensive schemes, the packers successfully made the switch in 1 offseason. how did they do it? simple, they drafted BJ Raji and Clay Matthews in the first round of the 09 draft. if the browns want this switcch back to the 4-3 to work they shouldn’t try to fit square pegs into round holes, go out and get legit FA’s and draft some rookies who fit your scheme.

    some unrestricted FA’s i would look at if i were Heckert:

    Ray Edwards DE Vikings, has had 8 and 8.5 sacks in the last 2 seasons, he’s only 26

    Barry Cofield DT Giants, also only 26, he’s been a healthy and productive NFL starter, was a starter for superbowl winning defense, he’s a cleveland guy

    as far as AJ hawk is concerned, he is under contract for 2 more seasons in green bay, but he is owed a 10 million dollar base salary in 2011 and some have speculated that GB doesn’t want to pay that kind of price tag, he might be on the trading block or he may be asked to restructure

  • mike

    I have said it before and I will say it again, did we have the right personnel for the 34 defense too? Since Romeo, we have had the 34, and I am probably sure that we have not been above 15 in total defense in any season since. So, its clear the 34 hasn’t worked for us, lets blow it up and try something new! Ha

  • bobby

    Colin- nice link up to the FAs.

    Heres what I would pursue if I were Heckert:

    Mathias Kiwanuka DE- I doubt NYG will resign him with a lot of depth at end and JPP entering his second season, I would think Kiwanuka gets off, and he could start opposite of Roth (for now).

    Dashon Goldson FS- Young safety from SF, up and down but is still better then Elam. Elam could stay as a back-up. He just seems to have the most upside with a realistic chance of ending up here. Theres a ton of S FA possible though, so I would expect something down here.

    As for offense, theres a lot of T that could get resigned, so its tough to say who to target. Jared Gaither wants out of Baltimore, but I dont know how much he’d want to stay in the North. I would definitely look to bring in one of the FAs in their late 20s though with starting experience. I dont see any RBs that would realistically be brought in. WR is a toss-up and really depends what the new staff wants to do. I wouldnt bring in any old joe, but I bet they get something.

  • bobby

    @ 20- Roth played DE in college. I dont think its any sort of stretch to say he can still do it. I do agree Bernard should be given a shot as a situational DE. As for Edwards, I dont think he would offer the same sort of production here as Minny. He has the Williams’ Wall and Jared Allen on the line there, as opposed to Rubin and Rogers here. Coefield would be a nice target, but I dont know who NYG has to fill his spot. Kiwanuka on the other hand is set to be let go, and I wouldnt mind going for him.

  • bimbocoles

    i agree the browns need to take a serious look at kiwanuka, he finished the season on injured reserve, but if he checks out medically i wouldn’t hesitate to sign him either. i don’t think cofield, edwards or kiwanuka are the type of free agents that are going to command outrageous FA money, the browns might even be able to sign all 3 which would free them up to go after a CB or WR early in the draft. if roth were under contract i have no problem letting him try his hand at DE, just can’t see signing him to a 3 or 4 yr deal with guaranteed money up front

  • Chad McCord

    Whether we go to a 4-3 or stay with the 3-4, the big think is that the Browns defense have to finish games. Whether or Mangini had a new game plan every half doesn’t matter. We could have and should have had a 10 win season. Pittsburgh, Baltimore and the Packers gave up the fewest rushing touchdowns and the Browns were right behind them with 7. You see were the Steelers and Packers are, the are in the Superbowl. Bottom line, we have a good defense we just need to get a little better and with Jauron coming in I think that will happen. Now that we have Former Bears ST assistant coach we should our ST crew get better as well. I predicted at least a 10 win season!

  • Kyle

    A switch like this is just gonna set an inconsistent and at times struggling defense back a season or two. Ridiculous, I know the defense was great under Mangini and Ryan, but it had it’s moments. Switching to the 4-3 is just gonna make things worse, create more holes on the roster, force us to move players to accommodate the new system….remind me again why we should have any hope for the Browns next year? This power structure with Holmgren as the puppeteer as me seriously concerned.

  • Chad McCord

    @Kyle, you may be right and very true. Holmgren is working with what he has. Give him time and he will put the right pieces together and if they don’t fit he will make them fit and we will be back on top before ya know. All you Browns fans just sit back and relax and watch the magic happen!

  • Tikihat

    I take a different view. The key to the 4-3 is the tackles, not the ends. If your tackles require double team blocking, there aren’t enough blockers left to pick up both ends and any potential blitzers. Rubin and Rogers(if healthy) fill this bill. As to DE, one name I haven’t seen mentioned is Jayme Mitchell, the 4-3 DE we(inexplicably) got from Minnesota last year. That’s 3/4ths of a front line right there. Draft either that Kid from Clemson or the one from NC, and a depth tackle, and we’re set up front. Grab a good MLB to go with Fujita, Gocong and hopefully Jackson, and the linebacking corps can work. With that in place, I’ll stand pat on the secondary and spend the rest of our drafts on the offense.