Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott stated recently on an in-house radio show produced by the Panthers’ web staff that the team might experiment more with a 3-4 defense in 2013.
McDermott said the Panthers showed the 3-4 some on third down last season, and he liked how it created different pressure looks and situations for his defense to attack opposing offensive lines.
"Let's face it, we're all creatures of habit, and offensive linemen are used to looking for jerseys with 90 on them," McDermott said on Panthers Pulse. "When you can hide that fourth and fifth rusher, and those rushers come with a 50 number on, or a 40 number or 20 number at times with our pressure packages, that's where you create problems and confusion."
While being able to disguise the identity of multiple would-be pass-rushers is a key advantage to the 3-4, it’s not the only reason the scheme would favor the Panthers.
Carolina is rich with linebacker talent. Being able to take a defensive lineman off the field and keep James Anderson, Luke Kuechly, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis on the field would make for stout front seven.
"I don't know that there's a better linebacking corps on paper than what we have in Carolina," McDermott said. "Now, we've got to get all of those guys on the field, and a lot happens between now and then in terms of health."
While McDermott’s schematic logic and personnel evaluation is sound, the problem is that he’s right about the health situation of this group. On paper this does sound great, but it may be more of a pipe dream than anything.
The first reason is health. Anderson missed four games last year with back issues, and Beason was placed on injured reserve with an Achilles injury. Davis played in 15 games last year, but only tallied nine in the previous two years combined because of injury.
There is definitely the talent at linebacker on this roster to pull of the 3-4, but how often with these four linebackers all be healthy at the same time? If recent history is an indication, rarely if ever.
There’s also a bit of financial intrigue that may play a part in this idea to play more 3-4.
The Panthers are somewhere close to $15 million over the salary cap and may look to guys like Beason—who’s scheduled to count $9.5 million against the cap in 2013—Anderson ($4.4 million cap figure in 2013) and Davis ($3 million cap figure in 2013) to either restructure their contracts or possibly even cut them outright.
There are too many detractors working against the Panthers here. The idea to move to a 3-4 more often and fully utilize all this linebacker talent is a fantastic ploy. But, in all likelihood it’s never going to materialize—at least not with all four of these linebackers in the middle of the defense.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.