5 Signs the Detroit Lions may move to a 3-4 defense


Ndamukong Suh has, in all likelihood, played his last down in Honolulu Blue.  Like most Detroit Lions fans, I will be sad to see him go.  It wasn’t just that he was a transformative force on defense.  It isn’t simply because I love hearing the echoes of “SUUUUUUUUUUH!” at Ford Field on game day.  It has been great to have a guy on defense that was outright feared by other teams.  When other things went wrong on defense we could hang our hat on Suh and say “Yeah… but did you see what he did to Cutler last week?”

As the clock ticks down and free agency approaches, one has to wonder if the front office has prepared for this.  Further, some may ask themselves if they have not just anticipated but planned for this eventuality.

” … it’s a possibility, there’s no question about that. But we’re not necessarily going to tell you.” – Jim Caldwell

One point of speculation is that the Lions may bring in a nose tackle and convert their defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4. When asked by reporters that the 2015 NFL Combine if the Lions may move to a 3-4, Coach Caldwell responded by saying,  “I hope not to have to find that out.  But if we do, obviously, we’ll have to cross that bridge when it comes.   Now do we look at it and think about it, because it’s a possibility, there’s no question about that. But we’re not necessarily going to tell you.”

While I don’t know that this will happen, there are some actions that in retrospect may point to just this shift.

Both of the finalists in the coaching search by the Lions were likely looking to guys in 3-4 systems for their defensive coordinators
When searching for a new head coach teams frequently ask their candidates who they have in mind for positions on their staff.  While we may not know for certain what these coaches (Whisenhunt and Caldwell) answered, we do know that in the end they wound up with two guys (Horton and Austin respectively) who were coming out of 3-4 systems.

In an unusual move the Lions decided early in 2014 that they would not exercise Nick Fairley’s option for 2015
Nick Fairley isn’t the guy that we want at NT.  He just isn’t a 0-technique guy.  He is big enough to take up some space, but lacks gap discipline.  He can stop the run, but is best used in a more aggressive style.  Clearly he isn’t a 3-4 DE.  He doesn’t fit well in that system.

Darryl Tapp
Obviously we could have just signed him to play 4-3 DE.  However, he did play some 5-technique in Washington.  So he has experience in the 3-4 system.  Of note is that he was one of the first players that we re-signed in 2015.

Kyle Van Noy
In spite of having a pretty decent line-up of linebackers in 2014 (Tulloch, Levy, Whitehead, and Palmer) the Lions traded up to grab another linebacker: Kyle Van Noy.  Van Noy, obviously, a standout playmaker at BYU in a 3-4 system.

Tulloch indicates that he will return to the Lions in 2015
While many were speculating that Tulloch, coming off a torn ACL, would be a cap casualty, he recently Tweeted that he will be returning to the Lions in 2015.  So in a position that the Lions were fine with most last season (Whitehead, Levy, and Palmer) they will likely be adding two more linebackers (Tulloch and Van Noy).

Clearly all of this is just the off-season boredom talking.  However, it may also be that the Lions front office has known since late 2013 that they would be unable to bring Suh back after his contract.  And who can honestly blame them?  While Suh is a dominating defensive tackle, committing 40% of your cap dollars to just three players is not a recipe for success.

The Lions have significant young talent with contracts expiring in the next two years.  Extending or re-signing these guys will obviously be a priority.

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    It would be difficult to do so if we were to give Suh the $17+ million per year average that he is likely looking for.

    At any rate, I am reminded of the words of Dr. Seuss who told us “Don’t cry because it is over, smile because it happened.”  I, for one, am thankful for the time that Suh has been in Detroit.  When he plays against 30 of the teams in the NFL I will smile any time I hear that familiar cheer of “SUUUUUUUUUUUUUH”.  I am preparing myself for life after Suh.  I just hope that the Detroit Lions have done the same.

    Forward down the field…

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