Cleveland Browns: Which Browns players could switch to a 3-4 defense?

Cleveland Browns Joe Schobert (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Cleveland Browns Joe Schobert (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) /
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With speculation that 49ers coach Joe Woods being hired as a defensive coordinator, there is speculation that the team could switch to a 3-4 defense.

Joe Woods is expected to be announced as the new Browns defensive coordinator after the results of Super Bowl LIV this Sunday. With it, some fans and pundits are speculating whether or not the team will switch from a traditional 4-3 base to the more blitz heavy 3-4 base that the Pittsburgh Steelers infamously use.

Factory of Sadness’ own Nick Dudukovich speculates about the possibility, inspired by something Tony Grossi said.

"Woods called plays as a defensive coordinator for two seasons under Vance Joesph in a 3-4 scheme. However, under Saleh, the San Francisco has operated a 4-3 base. “Woods said he could run either, but would tailor his system to his players. Thus, he will keep the 4-3 base alignment in Cleveland,” Grossi wrote. Here’s what Woods said about matching a scheme with the players he inherits. “I think it’s too hard to acquire the personnel you need to have success [in a particular system], So wherever I go, I would do it just based on the personnel I have, whatever their personnel is best suited for.”"

So the debate becomes whether or not the team will switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and if they do, would it work? Part of the issue with switching defensive schemes is how it affects the front seven. In a 4-3, the linebackers play more in the flats and focus more on filling gaps for tackles at the line of scrimmage. The defensive tackles gain depth and try to make plays in the backfield. Defensive ends are primarily pass rushers, with the sole desire to gain depth and make plays in the backfield.

In a 3-4, the dynamics switch. The lone tackle’s duty is now about plugging the A-gap (center position) while blocking holes and do to this the position is referred to as a nose tackle. The tackle becomes essentially a hole-blocker, more tasked with causing chaos and not about getting tackles necessarily. Their entire job is to keep the linebackers free and clear to make plays. The defensive ends keep containment and allow the outsider linebackers to gain depth on blitzes.

To simplify, you play the 3-4 when you have better linebackers, and you play the 4-3 when you have a better defensive line. Often times traditional 4-3 tackles will play defensive ends in a 3-4, and traditional 4-3 defensive ends will play outside linebacker.

This leads us to question whether or not the Browns players can transition to a new scheme if necessary. So let’s take a look at the guys who certainly can, possibly can’t and maybe can or can’t from all of the front seven’s most prominent starters.