Broncos: The Switch Back


By David Graham

Since the hiring of John Fox as head coach, and Dennis Allen as defensive coordinator, the Broncos will likely make the switch back to a 4-3 defense from a 3-4.

 Concerns have come up as to whether the personnel can make this change, and whether this might hamper the effectiveness of All-Pro Elvis Dumervil when he returns. However, there seems to be much stronger reasons for returning to the 4-3 than maintaining the 3-4:

  • The Broncos used the 3-4 scheme for exactly two years. One of those years was the implementation by Mike Nolan, who came in from the outside under Josh McDaniels to put it in place. The other was Don “Wink” Martindale, who came over as linebackers coach under McDaniels to take over the unit from Nolan last year. With limited experience and a lot of coaching turnover since then, it’s not a well established system. In fact, with five different DC’s in each of the last five seasons, there is no established system at all. Fox should change that.
  • The Broncos were 31st in rushing yards given up to the opposition last season under the 3-4 scheme. A 4-3 scheme is more run-oriented (one more down lineman to handle a blocker) and would help shore up the run defense. The Broncos have quality cornerbacks in Andre Goodman and Champ Bailey (if the Broncos bring him back). A move towards a run-first defense this year would help accentuate the talents of the backfield.
  • The coming changes to personnel, both coaching and player, make now the ideal time to change. Beyond D.J. Williams and Elvis Dumervil, no one in the Broncos front 7 brings fear into opponents’ hearts. It is easy to see Fox committing to numerous free agents and draft picks to being locking up the defense. Fox and his coach staff have also had experience with a 4-3 defense in Carolina, something that cannot be overlooked.
  • A 4-3 defense could bring a shift towards the Broncos teams of the past. Having gritty defensive linemen to stuff the run and gritty offensive linemen to open up the run brings back memories of Terrell Davis and Clinton Portis. In fact, it seemed like anyone could be plugged in and run the ball effectively back in the early 2000’s. With an efficient runner like Tim Tebow developing his arm, going back to focusing on the run on both offense and defense could help reestablish the Broncos.
  • The 3-4 defense is the trendy defense now. However, having the trendy defense means that offensive coordinators are planning for it. Michael Vick proved that he can dismantle defenses not focused on the run with his legs and his ability to improvise. Further, the trendy defense means the players to fill the defense are in high demand. A 3-4 defense requires bigger down linemen (the 3) to take on as many blockers as they can. However, there are only so many 330-pound nose tackles out there.

The Broncos would be well served to go with Fox’s experience and stay away from the trendy defense that has been implemented on other teams. With the ability to draft and sign a number of additional personnel, the Broncos could change the face of the defense and improve from the dismal rankings they had last season.

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