Once strictly the Steelers' domain, the 3-4 defense now used by
Sunday, September 18, 2005
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Time was, the Steelers lined up against a 3-4 defense only at mid-week, in practice. They were the only team to use it
in the NFL.
Today, they begin a stretch of three consecutive games against a 3-4 defense, starting with Houston and continuing
against New England at home next Sunday and at San Diego Oct. 10.
The NFL has eight teams using the 3-4, and a defense that once looked nearly extinct thrives among 25 percent of the
league's teams. The Steelers had a lock on that style of defense in the late '90s, and not many others used it for most of
14-year tenure. Cowher installed that defense when he arrived here in 1992, but the Steelers played it
since 1983, making it 23 consecutive seasons they've used the 3-4.
"For us, we always felt that there was a little bit of an advantage because teams had one week to prepare for it," Cowher
And now, going against 3-4 teams the next three weeks?
"You're not going to surprise anyone," Cowher said. "It's not going to be a case of [opponents] not being prepared."
The other four teams using it are Cleveland, Miami, Dallas and San Francisco. All three rookie head coaches changed
to that defense this year, the Browns'
and the 49ers'
thought of switching to it but did not, and Baltimore went back to a 4-3 this year.
Nolan's 49ers used it in a big way in an opening victory against the Rams.
33, had played tackle all his
career in a 4-3, but, as a 3-4 end, he had three of his team's seven sacks last Sunday and was named NFC defensive
player of the week.
"With our linebackers coming or our safeties coming," Bryant said of the new alignment, "it changes things up to allow
each guy to get some pressure in the quarterback's face."
Nolan previously coached the defense as the Ravens' coordinator, just as Houston's
coached it under
Cowher with the Steelers and Crennel did so with the Patriots.
"Maybe more coordinators feel comfortable doing it," Cowher said.
The 3-4 is known as the "Okie" because
great Oklahoma teams in the 1950s made it famous.
Denver popularized the defense in the late 1970s under
and it spread. The great four-man defensive lines
such as the Steel Curtain, Purple People Eaters, Doomsday Defense and the Fearsome Foursome morphed into a league
dominated by linebackers. The pendulum swung back to the four-man fronts in the 1980s and 1990s. Could this be the
beginning of a popular swing back to the 3-4?