The Optimist’s Take – Lowering The Curtain On A Three-Man Front

While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.

No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.

With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.

In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.

Question: Should the Steelers actually consider a conversion to a 4-3 defense?

For much of their relevant history, the Steelers, like most teams, employed the standard 4-3 defense, with two pass-rushing defensive ends, two defensive tackles, and three linebackers who were more focused on covering receivers than attacking quarterbacks.

This only changed, essentially, when Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene retired in the early 80s. The Steelers switched focus to a 3-4 and have remained such since. They have gone to four Super Bowls running that system, and have won two of them, with the defense the focus of the team’s success in each of those years.

The most recent front seven that made up the bulk of the last three trips to the Super Bowl is just about completely on its way out as of the 2015 offseason, but many have for years suggested that the Steelers revert back to the system that brought them out of the doldrums and made them the first organization with three, and then four, Super Bowl trophies.

Considering how much of a state of flux the defense has been in in recent years—I’m thinking in particular about their lack of quality consistency at the bread and butter position of outside linebacker—perhaps now wouldn’t be such a bad time to convert, or at least slowly begin the conversion process with a hybrid system.

The Steelers do already use a variety of a 4-3 front in their nickel with a safety creeping up into the box. They’ve even used a true four-lineman front on brief occasions. One might argue that they don’t have the true pass-rushing defensive ends to run the 4-3 effectively, but then again you might be countered with the argument that they don’t have the outside linebackers to effectively run the 3-4.

With all else being equal, it’s more valuable to be able to get after the quarterback by rushing your front four than if you have to use five, including your OLBs, to generate pressure. If the Steelers could use some of their cap space to bring in a capable defensive end as a rusher, I don’t see why the idea of a 4-3 couldn’t at least be experimented with in 2015.

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