Commentary

Numbers game

The 4-3 defense, once headed to its NFL deathbed, is making its way back

Updated: September 7, 2011, 1:16 PM ET
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN The Magazine
Bill BelichickHarry How/Getty ImagesBill Belichick became known for the 3-4 defense, but even he's making a change.

ELVIS DUMERVIL DOESN'T have to say he's excited that the Broncos are using the 4-3 defense this year. His smile says it for him.

"I remember what it was like when we switched to the 3-4 in 2009," says Dumervil, a sixth-year defensive end with 43 career sacks. "They basically said, 'We're changing defenses. Good luck.'"

After the Broncos allowed a league-worst 29.4 PPG last season, it's not hard to understand why they're ditching the 3-4. But they aren't the only ones.

The Browns and Patriots have also dropped the scheme as their base defense. Make no mistake: Three-man fronts are not going away. The Packers, Steelers and 12 other teams still use them, but just a few years after the 3-4 seemed to be taking over the NFL, the pendulum is swinging back to the 4-3. Why?


Sign up for ESPN Insider and see how Bill Belichick helped spread the 3-4 defense and why he has decided to abandon it.

Jeffri Chadiha, formerly of Sports Illustrated, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Chadiha first attended Wyoming on a full football scholarship before injuries led him to transfer to Michigan after two years. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication from Michigan in 1993 before pursuing a career in journalism. Chadiha is also a frequent contributor to ESPN TV.