The flip of 43 and 34

Posted by Darren Urban on December 27, 2010 – 3:35 pm

The Cardinals have used more of the four down linemen look the past two games in an effort to slow opposing running attacks and, more importantly, to make up for injuries at linebacker. This has caused more than a few of you out there to wonder/inquire about/insist the Cardinals switch from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3.

I have mentioned before it wasn’t going to happen, but since coach Ken Whisenhunt talked about it today: “As far as making a wholesale change, that’s not something I even want to consider right now.”

The Cardinals have never abandoned using 4-3 looks, and the defense has been a bit of a hybrid since Whisenhunt arrived. The 3-4 bent has become more pronounced as the years went on, in large part because the Cards have made the effort to bring in players that fit that scheme better. That’s precisely why nothing will change. It’s easy to look at defensive linemen like Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Alan Branch, Gabe Watson, Dan Williams and Bryan Robinson and think the better players right now are on the line than linebacker.

In fact, that’s the main reason why the Cards have used more 4-3 recently, because the injuries at linebacker have sapped any depth. Will Davis, Clark Haggans and Joey Porter — three of the top six ‘backers — have been significantly banged up (or in Davis’ case, sidelined for good). Davis and O’Brien Schofield, despite being college defensive ends, couldn’t be that in the NFL (too small) and their use as a linebacker would be significantly minimized in a 4-3 scheme.

On the line, Whisenhunt said Williams could operate as a 4-3 DT and the others could adapt. But Williams is probably better suited to be a nose in 3-4. Campbell probably works better as a 3-4 end than a 4-3 end, and even Dockett seems to fit better in a 3-4 than an undersized 4-3 DT. (There’s also depth to consider; Branch, Watson and Robinson are all free agents after this season). Going forward, the Cards see their personnel as a 3-4 fit.


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41 Responses to “The flip of 43 and 34”

  1. By Voice of Reason on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    Any effort to extend Alan Branch and Gabe Watson? Neither is going to break the bank, and both have shown themselves to be good players in our system.

    If not, why not?

  2. By Darren Urban on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    Voice —

    RE: Extensions

    Right now, have not heard of any talks. Haven’t had a chance to ask about any talks either.

  3. By SteveDCO on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    Thanks for this update. Way too many personel issues to even consider making this switch.

    Great information

  4. By Donna Bennett on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    I stand behind the Cardinals know matter what you plan on doing. I believe that the Cardinals are strong and can be a great team. I believe the that we can go back to the Super Bowl and next time we will win. I have faith and I believe in my team.

  5. By Phoenixraven1 on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    I like our D LINE, I like Schofield and think he’s the next BiG thing! He’s hungry! Hope he tares it up in San Fran!!!

  6. By Andrew Luck Fan on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    Darren, can ask with regard to contract extensions, you have said in the past that the management usually will wait until their is one year is left in the contract, but what about Breaston who based on how he has performed over the past several years certainley deserves one. The depth at wideout is not what it once was with the loss of Boldin, it seems they shoud have extended him already. It also seems weird that the team have not at least extended Branch or Watson before they became free agents .

  7. By Darren Urban on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    Luck Fan —

    RE: Breaston

    I am surprised Breaston has not been offered an extension.

  8. By AndyStandsUp on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    The 4-3 is exactly what the Cards should use! They have more talent on the front line than the LBs they currently have, injured, waived or not. I work at a Walmart, sell cheap imported goods for twice the cost and even I can see what the defensive alignment needs to be.
    Bill Davis’s 3-4 didn’t work through 7 consecutive losses, now that the 4-3 base has been a hand in 3 of 4 victories, it’s time to mute it a bit?
    Either Whiz is being coy about Davis’s job or he needs to join me in “saving money, living better”.

  9. By Darren Urban on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    AndyStands —

    RE: Scheme

    What makes you think the 3-4 is strictly Davis? If Whiz brought in someone new, whether it would be a Pittsburgh guy (3-4) or someone like Wade Phillips (3-4), the scheme isn’t changing.

  10. By cards62 on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    Great game as the defense and Jay Feely won the game again for us. Feely is incredible this year. Shame we had to waste his skills this season. Even at the end of the game he kicks off from our 15 and the ball goes to the 1 yard line.
    Incredible game to watch and enjoy and perfect example of this season as we could see the entire season in this game.
    TE had chances and can not get open or drop the ball. How many drops did our TEs have this game. Could not believe Skelton would only throw the ball to Roberts in the second half. What was with that after Fittz 10 catch game, but you have to give the rookie his due as he lead us on the winning drive with very liittle time and converted a 4th down.
    I think our offense had 5 first downs midway through the 4th quarter and we could not or would not run the ball again with a large lead. I think Beanie picked up 9 yards on a first down run and we still did not pick up a first down.
    Beanie did have a great blitz pickup block this game so good for Beanie.
    Levi Brown is not a tackle. Move the man to guard next year. Did we not learn anything from Leonard Davis.
    We need an OC more than we need a DC but I would like one of each next season. Davis did gamble and was winning most of the battles, but our offense would do nothing and leave our defense on the field too long again and that is not the DC fault.
    I agree the NFL network was not the best especially the Dallas Cowboy Pregame Show, but it made me feel so good to hear them say over and over at the end what a good game it was and how our team competed with nothing on the line and the interviews with Skelton and Fitx after the game.
    Can not believe the 49ers fired Singletary with just one game to go on the season.
    Darren and fans why do you think 49ers did this?

  11. By Darren Urban on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    cards62 —

    RE: Singletary

    I guess they figured why wait.

  12. By Eazy E on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    34 over 43 any day. More complex for offenses and more dominant. We got the personnel anyway whether we have billy davis, somebody from pittsburgh, or whoever. Dockett, Campbell, D Williams, Lenon, D Wash, and so on and so forth are better in the 34

  13. By BLOOD RED on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    Whatever scheme we run we have enough talent to be in the top 5!Sign Watson and Branch I think both are stepping up and will turn into really solid players.Keep all of these young studs.Building chemistry will cost some money but when you build a solid team ,stands will always be full of those red/black jersey’s.We have got to quit selling our tickets to these out of town fans!Makes me sick.Having a team we can always be proud of will keep those jackwagons out of our nest!ROCK N ROLL REDBIRDS!!!

  14. By georgiebird on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    Don’t think the issue is the 3-4 or the 4-3; it’s the way Whiz answers the question- he gives the stubborn my way or the highway answer much like he did with the QB situation which he didn’t handle correctly as it turned out.
    A big negative this year has been the 3rd and long which we can’t stop. Why can’t we play the 4-3 package in those situations to put maximum QB pressure and force teams to throw under the defense. These guys practice almost year round- a pass rush package should be an easy addition.
    What scares me most about next year is we could have two undersized LBs (OB & DW) -hope we don’t get pushed around again. And DRC is no help against the run.

  15. By AndyStandsUp on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    If Whiz supports the 3-4 base which is in the bottom tenth of the league in PPG and YPG, then it’s his decision.
    Just seems to me, that if you’re winning, you’d want to keep that same vibe and not go back to what was unsuccessful.
    But that’s why I work retail and you get to talk to Calvisi.

  16. By Darren Urban on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    AndyStands —

    RE: D scheme

    Steelers and Ravens run a 3-4. Still convinced it’s all about the scheme?

  17. By AndyStandsUp on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    Darren, don’t want to go down the path of Casey, Voice of Reason and UC.
    Don’t know about the Steelers or Ravens personnel, (other than I predict the Ravens in the SB)just sense that the Cards are better equipped for the 4-3 than the 3-4 based on the talent they have upfront over the LBs currently in place.
    And my opinion is steadfast.

  18. By Bill on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    Cards are better suited for a 4-3 then a 3-4. It takes special linebackers to run the 3-4 (Woodley, Harrison, Lewis, Suggs, Timmons). I like Washington and O’Schofield and their potential but all-pro’s they aren’t …. yet.

    Problem is the Cards DL could take a hit this off-season with Watson, Branch as FA and Iwebama coming off ACL. Tough decisions but 4-3 is better, Cards don’t have the run stuffers the Ravens (Ngata, Kelly Gregg) and Steelers (Hampton, Smith) have.

  19. By Rodgerscromartie17 on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    Hey Darre, do you see the Cardinals resigning DRC when he contract is up? or do you think he will stick around

  20. By Darren Urban on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    RodgersCromartie —

    RE: DRC

    Long, long time before that’s a question before the court.

  21. By Eazy E on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    Our 34 will be a beast we have needs at cb and olb that we need to address in free agency and the draft

  22. By Eazy E on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    On defense those are our needs

  23. By Javi on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    Hey darren my question to you is WHO will the Arizona cardinals draft in the 2011 NFL Draft .

    I hope that the cardinals will draft CAM NEWTON because he will bring bread the table am I right??

  24. By Darren Urban on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    Javi —

    RE: Draft choice

    I have no idea.

  25. By SteveDCO on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

    New England and New Jersey also run a 3-4.

    “The nose tackle and the inside linebackers, those are three guys that are very important. But when you go through it, the nose tackle is probably the single-most important guy. ”
    —Joe Collier, Denver Broncos assistant (1969-1988), architect of the “Orange Crush Defense”.

    Maybe the issue is we have a role player (Lenon) and two roockies getting a lot of time at the 3 spots.

  26. By Mike Ellingboe on Dec 27, 2010 | Reply


    Appreciate the insight from the Whiz on how he sees our personnel and where it fits but does he really think Dockett is more effective in the 3-4? Very surprising.

    Good points about Pitt and Baltimore, keeping in mind that we don’t exactly have Harrison, Woodley or Suggs at those particular positions. Now if we can just get some more effective outside pass rushers to prove the Whiz’s theory correct…

  27. By Darren Urban on Dec 28, 2010 | Reply

    Ellingboe —

    RE: Dockett/3-4

    He didn’t comment on Dockett specifically. But the concern with Darnell since he came into the league was that he was more of a ‘tweener. Besides, in a 3-4, he is essentially a DT anyway since one of those linebackers usually is covering him up.

  28. By Chuck 1 on Dec 28, 2010 | Reply

    When the Cards draft LBs, why don’t they draft players like Woodley and Harrison of the Steelers?

    Graves should be the person ultimately responsible for making those decisions, shouldn’t he?

    As an example of his questionable decisions, didn’t he draft a Texas A&M LB (who’s name escapes me) who isn’t around anymore?

  29. By Darren Urban on Dec 28, 2010 | Reply

    Chuck —

    RE: LBs

    Well, the Steelers didn’t draft Harrison either.

  30. By Andrew Luck Fan on Dec 28, 2010 | Reply

    Darren, i have to say to the use of the 3-4 defense by the coaching staff has been a mistake. The cards in the recent past have been known for having a strong run defense when using the 4-3 aliment the last two years prior to this year. I know there has been elements of the 3-4 hybrid used, but i believe that was used on passing downs and not their base defense. I believe going to the 3-4 this year was a huge mistake and these are the reasons why. The success of the 3-4 defesne relys on having athletic big fast linebackers such as Ray Lewis, Lamarr Woodley and James Harrision. The cards just dont have players like this and the ones they do have are past there prime such as Haggens and Porter. In fact the cards lost their best linebacker Karlos Dansby to free agency, and Hayes was hurt most of the year. The cards other linebackers such as Lenon and Washington are fast but undersized to play the 3-4 effectively but are ideal for the 4-3 since they will be responsible for dropping back in coverage. Now as we all know the cards strength is on the defensive linemen with Dockett, Campbell Willams Robinson Branch Watson and Iwebema when he was healthy. It just seems to me Whiz overlooked his personal to swtich to a defense that had no chance to succeed. It also scares me to know who they plan at outside linebacker in the 3-4 next year unless they draft Von Miller and Schofield develops and gains 20 pounds.

  31. By Chuck 1 on Dec 28, 2010 | Reply

    Add to my earlier post on Graves’ ineptitude on drafting LBs:

    In addition to drafting Highsmith (I think that is his name, out of Texas A&M, who BTW is no longer with the Cards), I forgot that forgettable Buster Davis, the 5’9″ monster. Please tell me how many NFL LBs have been, and more importantly, ARE 5’9″.

    Mr. Graves, please sneak into the Steelers’ Draft War Room and look at the names of the LBs that they are considering.

  32. By Yazman on Dec 28, 2010 | Reply

    I hope we lose to the 49ers to get that No. 2 pick. CAM NEWTON!!!!!

  33. By MAD1 on Dec 28, 2010 | Reply

    baltimore drafted harrison i think and speaking of the 3-4 the most successful 3-4 teams nose tackles are like 6’4 340 to350 lbs. the cards are using undersized nt’s 320 lbs? ngata 340 , jenkins nyj 355, rogers clev 350 plus,wilfork ne 340, hampton pit 340 etc,etc.

  34. By Voice of Reason on Dec 28, 2010 | Reply

    Re – no extensions.

    This is Graves’ job during the season — get the players who merit extensions extended. After Dockett’s extension, Graves has taken this season off. And again, that’s unacceptable.

    Unless he gets his stuff together very quickly, we will lose the young depth we’ve worked so long to get on the defensive line — namely Branch and Watson.

    Again, be proactive, not reactive.

  35. By Fortun8s on Dec 28, 2010 | Reply


    Coach Whisenhunt is a firm believer and consistently demonstrates positive mental processes are essential to a winning team. Cardinals are blessed with plethora of physically endowed talented players, but are making mental mistakes at key times.
    To correct, young players from making repetitive mistakes, is to provide an accelerated learning process that will allow players to react instinctively and positively to their reads instead of having think their way through the progression. This reaction is absolutely necessary due to the speed of the game.
    You have stated the Cardinals do not employ a Sports psychologist or at least do not have one on staff. So how are these young minds going to learn the system in the off season and grow the necessary mental preparation?
    If you know that, you probably know the learning system the Cardinals employ and can pass on that info.

  36. By cards62 on Dec 28, 2010 | Reply


    I wanted us to beat the 49ers more than any team this year, but must admit that I hope we play well but lose this game as the difference in draft position could be huge. I hate that they fired their coach with only a week to go on the season as I think that it will be difficult for the 49ers to game plan well. I am hoping the players especially Alex Smith is happy Singletary is gone and plays lights out against us. It is not that I am rooting against the Cardinals as if they win I will not be upset or angry, but long term situation I know we need to upgrade our team a lot and that we need an OC and a new DC.
    OUr draft and free agency is critical this season as our needs are many LBs at least 2,,great NT, CB, 2 QBs, LT, TE, C. I want Luck but if not maybe we can trade down in the first round and pick up another high pick or two. I do not think we had the personnel at any time this season to play the 3 – 4 and if we do not improve our front 7 a lot next year it will be the same story of a terrible defense again, and I love A. WIlson but I do not know what we do with him next season. I do think our secondary has improved but we need a 3rd corner and the old A. WIlson back or a replacement at safety.
    Some have said we need to resign Gabe Watson but I have not seen him much this year as he as been inactive most of the year so I have no idea if he is a football player or not, but I have to have doubts that he is beaten out by a rookie and B. Robinson week in and week out and they do not play well.
    Go Cards Happy New Year and I hope we are smart in the offseason.

  37. By Mike Ellingboe on Dec 28, 2010 | Reply


    While I get your frustration with the DE’s we’ve drafted to convert to OLB’s in the 3-4 we’re not the first team to struggle with that, and overall we’ve picked up some pretty good LB’s under Graves’ watch (i.e. – Hayes, Dansby, Washington, the FA signing of Lenon was a gem, etc.). Understanding that it won’t change anyone’s mind in the FO, it’s the lack of teams that run the 3-4 in college that makes me dislike that scheme so much since the most vital components of it have to switch positions once they turn pro. Pitt got pretty lucky with Harrison (an UDFA they cut three times) although as you noted they do have an incredibly good eye when it comes to LB’s.

    Here’s hoping that Schofield and Davis (if they can stay healthy) become those kinds of players.

  38. By Voice of Reason on Dec 28, 2010 | Reply

    We didn’t draft Highsmith.

    We did draft Buster Davis, though, and in the 3rd round to boot.

  39. By tyman on Dec 28, 2010 | Reply

    I think it dosnt matter 34 or 43 for the cards. What matters is being unperdictible. One thing about the the 34 is me dont have huge LBs that can dominate off blocks. the last few games we mixed it up and thatswhat we need. We have two good young CB’s that we can put out there in man. So we just have to match up well to the other team. Subbing players in and out is good for the d, just look at the titans.

  40. By SteveDCO on Dec 28, 2010 | Reply

    Who ever heard of short LBs..omg.

    Sam Mills
    London Fletcher
    Zack Thomas

    Someone said the same thing about a 6′ QB once….

    He won the SuperBowl last year.

    Davis was a bust but not because he was 5’9″

  41. By UC on Dec 30, 2010 | Reply

    King Whiz wasn’t switching to a 4-3 because he didn’t want to, even though this year they had the better personnel for it regardless of the injuries at LB. King Whiz doesn’t like to let reality intrude upon what he wants to do. Now that the 4-3 has been successful in games, of course he has to float some kind of excuse to try and pacify the fans who’ve been screaming for that change much of the season. Obviously the Cards have 4-3 sets in their defensive packages already, so running them more often shouldn’t be, and apparently isn’t, that difficult.

    And how many enormous offensive lineman, much heavier than himself, does Dockett have to toss around like they’re rag dolls before people will stop saying he’s too small to be a DT in a 4-3? It makes me laugh.

    Hey AndyStandsUp, stay off my cloud, LOL.

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