The Baltimore Ravens defense has gone under a lot of scrutiny over the last couple of weeks and rightfully so. A lot of the issues the Ravens have had have obviously been execution and sometimes the play calling in down and distance situations.
Anyone following the Ravens over the last four seasons knows that defensive coordinator Dean Pees is not an aggressive coach when it comes to blitzes. The Ravens run a bend but don't break defense. In my opinion, if Pees wants to run a 3-4 defense, he has to be aggressive especially when you have a secondary that can't hold up for a long period of time in almost any situation.
I think Pees style of defense by bending but not breaking would actually be better suited in a 4-3. And the reason why I say that is because, for the first time in the history of the Ravens franchise, they don't have quality depth at linebacker.
Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is the only young star at linebacker for the Ravens. Linebackers in Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Daryl Smith are all at least 32 years old. So there will be a time when the Ravens will have to replace all three of those veterans sooner rather than later. And that will soon be a potential problem if the Ravens stay in a 3-4 defense.
Playing a 3-4 defense takes a lot of talent. It puts more of a burden on your linebackers especially on the outside. Outside linebackers in a 3-4 are asked to stop the run and be a quality pass rusher. There aren't too many of those in the NFL who can do both and the teams that have bookends who can do both are getting paid a lot of money.
The NFL has turned into a league more than ever where the refs will call a flag on ticky tack penalties on defensive backs whether it is holding, illegal contact or pass interference. It's hard to ask your secondary not to commit these things.
It's not that some of these defensive backs in the NFL are bad players. It's more about the fact that the NFL has put them in a box where it is impossible to be perfect over the course of a game. Even the elite corners in the NFL have certain situations where they need to leave a cushion between themselves and receivers given the down and distance.
So looking at where the Ravens are in their personnel, it is cheaper and more effective to go to a 4-3 than it is to stay in a 3-4. There's a better chance of finding down linemen in rounds three through seven in the NFL draft than there is finding a quality outside linebacker in those rounds who can stand up as well.
Finding pass rushing defensive linemen is a lot easier than finding pass rushing outside linebackers. The biggest reason is because, pass rushing defensive linemen are not asked to drop in coverage very often. Outside linebackers are expected to drop in coverage all the time.
The best part of a 4-3 defense, is the fact that your defensive linemen have the ability to never get tired as the game goes along. On a 4-3 defense you could suit up 8-9 defensive linemen on game day and rotate them over the course of a game and would still stay fresh.
Compare that to a 3-4 defense where you may suit up only five to six defensive linemen on game day hoping that none of them gets injured. And over the course of a game, they would be more prone to getting tired especially in a no huddle offense because who are they going to rotate out of the game with?
The Ravens already have a start to a 4-3 caliber defense in some young areas on their roster as they have a three technique defensive tackle in Timmy Jernigan, a one technique caliber nose tackle in Brandon Williams, and mike backer in Mosley. Not to mention second year defensive lineman Brent Urban who is currently on the IR-designated to return list is also capable of playing in a 4-3 defense on the inside.
The rules in the NFL today make it so important to have the ability to bring pressure with your front four on defense. It's going to be hard for the Ravens to pay their offensive linemen, their quarterback, receivers and focus on paying their corners a lot of money while finding the right linebackers who will also demand a lot of money too.
The reason why the Ravens played so well in their 3-4 defense in the past is mainly because they had hall of fame caliber talent on every level of their defense. Up front they had Haloti Ngata. At the second level they had Ray Lewis and Suggs. In the secondary they had Ed Reed.
The Ravens don't have those pieces all at once anymore. And you can't pay for everyone. Finding inside linebackers and outside linebackers who can both stop the run and play well in coverage is not cheap. At all.
Besides, the Ravens know how good a 4-3 defense can be as they won their first Super Bowl in 2000 with that style with a unit that is arguably the greatest defense ever.
With Suggs out, the Ravens really only have one pass rusher who draws a lot of attention and that is Dumervil. If they go to a 4-3, it can certainly make things easier.