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The Role of 3-4 Defensive Linemen

Before we go any further in talking about the offseason, there is something I would like to address. It is something I have heard people comment on all over the place, not necessarily GGN. Let's talk about the job of defensive linemen in a base 3-4 defense. There seems to be a lot of misconceptions on what they really do, which is why I have to listen to people call up WFAN and bash the Jets' linemen. Hearing this is like nails on chalkboard to me because it feels like these people do not understand what linemen do in a 3-4 scheme.

In a 4-3, linemen are playmakers. Most of the time, they will be asked to win a one on one assignment. Typically only the nose tackle is required to fill two gaps and tie up a pair of offensive linemen. The other three often get in one on one situations.

That is not the case in the 3-4. There are 3 defensive linemen matched up against 5 offensive linemen. Keeping the linebackers clean and preventing them from getting to linebackers requires taking up more space for each individual lineman than it takes in a 4-3. This means tying men up and holding the point of attack more than it means penetrating.

Facing constant double teams prevents 3-4 linemen from taking on major roles as pass rushers. It is difficult to beat a pair of blockers to get to the quarterback. What the best ones do is drive the blockers back into the quarterback's face and collapse the pocket. Many of their sacks come because a linebacker coming from the outside forces the quarterback to step up into a lineman getting a push.

Most people considered Richard Seymour a top notch 3-4 defensive end. He has had more than 5.5 sacks in a season once. He has never had more than 8 sacks. He is still really good. His job is just not getting sacks. Do you think Shaun Ellis was a big time pass rusher this year? According to Pro Football Focus, he was in the top five in the league among 3-4 ends in sacks, quarterback pressures, and quarterback hits.

In a 4-3, guys like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis can take chances trying to win their battle by flying upfield because there is more on the line to keep the linebackers clean. If Shaun Ellis tries that and fails by overrunning the play, his entire side of the defense is exposed. The outside linebackers in the 3-4 are the athletic guys trying to get to the passer by winning one on ones.

Some linemen are indeed better than others at powering their way into the backfield and getting to the quarterback. Just keep in mind, though, that adding an end to the 3-4 is not going to be a game changer and fix the pass rush. The Jets are not going to add either a 3-4 end or outside linebacker to get an elite sack artist. It would have to be a linebacker.