What switching to a 4-3 could mean for the current Lions players

Jahlani Tavai (51), Jalen Reeves-Maybin (44), Detroit Lions (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
Jahlani Tavai (51), Jalen Reeves-Maybin (44), Detroit Lions (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Matt Patricia, Detroit Lions
Matt Patricia, Detroit Lions – Mandatory Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports /

With a new coaching staff often comes a new scheme. Would that help or hurt the current Detroit Lions?

People, I absolutely love me some change, especially when it’s coming to the worst defense in the NFL … and change is on the way. On Thursday the Detroit Lions announced they hired general manager, Brad Holmes. And according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, New Orleans Saints assistant head coach, Dan Campbell, is the favorite to win the head coaching gig.

These are the brave men tasked with being the ‘Quinntricia’ replacements. The men tasked with unraveling this weave of draft busts, overpaid veterans, and scheme-specific misfits. Defensively speaking.

Former head coach Matt Patricia made a lot of changes when he was hired in 2018. One that was much more critical than the infamous ping-pong table removal was the change to the defensive scheme. For the past three years, this defense has been in the grueling process of being broken down and rebuilt from Teryl Austin’s 4-3 to his 3-4 (or 3-3-5) base.

The 4-3 is still the most common base in the NFL by a wide margin. So while it’s still unclear who the Lions defensive coordinator will be, we can play the odds. New head coach Campbell is an offensive guy but throughout his 11-year coaching career, his teams have had a 4-3 base nine of those seasons. For what it’s worth.


The biggest difference between a 3-4 and 4-3 base defense is exactly what the numbers are referring to, the defensive front. Today we’re going to focus on what a switch from a three-man front (3-4) to a four-man front (4-3) base might mean for the current Lions defenders.

Before I get to the basics of each defense, these are just the very base principles of both schemes as the techniques and gap responsibilities will obviously vary in each. Every type of player can have value in either scheme, but NFL rosters are only so big. So if a player doesn’t fit into the team’s ‘base’ defense, their value takes a big hit.

Either philosophy can work, the trick is getting the right personnel to make it work. This is where the 3-4 is at one of – if not its biggest – disadvantage. It’s much harder to find the players to make it work.