Monday, August 03, 2009

On The Ground: Adam Best on the Kansas City Chiefs' 3-4 switch

Once again, I've written a massive piece for The Good Point on the NFL. This one looks at the role of unconventional thinking in the league, specifically with reference to the Wildcat offence, the zone blitz and the 3-4 defence. For this piece, I spoke with Steve Sheiner, the senior editor of and the editor of the Dolphins' site Blog With A Porpoise, Adam Best, the senior editor of the Fansided blog network and the co-founder and senior editor of Arrowhead Addict, Frank Mineo (drinkyourmilkshake) of Behind The Steel Curtain and Brandon Peterson of Vikings' Throne. As before, I got some great information from them that I wasn't able to squeeze into the article, so I figured I'd continue my On The Ground interview series with some of the extra information from each interview. First up, Adam Best. The other full interviews will follow later this week.

Adam's a very knowledgeable sports fan, as anyone familiar with his blogging at Fan Addict and Arrowhead Addict knows. You should definitely check out this fascinating recent piece of his, where he asked various prominent sports bloggers (and me!) to contribute lists of the 12 celebrities (dead or alive) they'd like to have dinner with. Also, follow him on Twitter. Here are my questions and his answers. Seeing as we both have the same first and last initials, I've used our middle initials to differentiate between the two; my questions are marked AGB, his answers are marked ACB.

Andrew Bucholtz: What do you think of the Chiefs' proposed switch to a 3-4 defensive scheme? Is it something that will help the team immediately, or is it more of a long-term move?

Adam Best: It's a big part of the Patriot Way, so it has to happen. My biggest worry is that we wasted the No. 5 pick on Glenn Dorsey, because I don't see him as a natural fit in the scheme. Most people seem to think they'll run a 4-3/3-4 hybrid this year and ease into the 3-4 scheme over the course of the next several years. I think they'll make a quicker transition. The Chiefs' young secondary is very talented, and both the pass rush and run defense can't get much worse. I think the young bucks back in the defensive backfield can hang in there while we get everything sorted out up front. I also think having Mike Vrabel and Zach Thomas on the field will expedite the process.

AGB: The 3-4 used to be a less-common defense, but it seems that more teams are switching to it all the time. Will the 3-4 scheme be less effective in the near future thanks to more competition among teams for the players who would excel in it?

ACB: Probably. The game of football is always changing, always evolving. Coaches like [Bill] Belichick and [Mike] Tomlin don't get paid what they do because they can figure things out and adapt. The best coaches think ahead of the curve, and are always one step ahead of the competition.Thing is, the 3-4 isn't exactly new. At worst, I think it can be part of an effective mix. That's the future, I believe -- hybrid defenses. And what better way to keep the offense honest? Guys in the defensive backfield are stronger than ever before, and the big boys up front can move like never before. That means parts that can be shifted around, camouflaged and used in a lot of ways. Three techniques dropping back into pass coverage, corners blitzing, linebackers playing as glorified lineman, safeties playing as glorified linebackers, etc. So, I think you are going to see more of the 3-4 in the immediate future, but in the long run I think you are going to see hybrid defenses with a lot of versatile pieces.

AGB: There are obviously plenty of differences even among teams that run 3-4 schemes, such as the Steelers' emphasis on the zone blitz, the Cowboys' 1-gap system and the Patriots' linebacker-centric approach. Will Scott Pioli's influence lead to the Chiefs adopting a Patriots-esque system, or do they have something else in mind?

ACB: I think it is very similar to what they did in New England, down to Pioli drafting Tyson Jackson to be his Richard Seymour, and bringing in Mike Vrabel to be his, well, Mike Vrabel. I think the the defense will be very linebacker-centric. You have two vets that are all-time greats -- Thomas and Vrabel -- paired with two great, young athletes -- Demorrio Williams, presumably, and Derrick Johnson. That's very reminiscent of what the Patriots have done, as they always seem to mix crafty veterans with young, athletic studs. At the same time, Clancy Pendergast seemed to focus more on his defensive line and secondary while in Arizona, but that could just be because that's where his defense had most of its talent.

AGB: Do the Chiefs have any other unconventional innovations in the works that you know of, either in player acquisition or play design?

ACB: Not that I know of, but Chan Gailey did get awfully innovative last year, mostly out of necessity. Tyler Thigpen isn't cut out to take snaps from under center -- he's a smaller guy and a spread quarterback. With a prototypical passer like Matt Cassel and a better line (Branden Albert is a year older, Mike Goff is in the fold), Gailey and new head coach Todd Haley won't have to rely on gimmick formations and plays nearly as much. That being said, I'm guessing the Chiefs will want to get a talent like Tyler Thigpen on the field some. When you consider that both he and Matt Cassel can really run, it gives the Chiefs a lot of options. The Chiefs could use Thigpen strictly as a back-up, but they have Brodie Croyle for that as well. I think that Haley and Gailey will want to use Thigpen in a more exotic fashion: at least periodically, anyway.

AGB: How important do you think it is for NFL teams to try unconventional strategies, whether in player acquisition or in play design and selection?

ACB: I think it's very important. Not necessarily just for the direct results, although both unconventional personnel moves and plays can net results. the main focus here is to always keep your opponents guessing, both during the preparation stage and during the game. Additionally, if one team has inferior talent, reaching deep into your top hat and pulling out all the magic tricks can equalize things. For example, last year the 2-14 Chiefs damn near beat the 9-7 Bucs, in large part to a trick play. RB Jamaal Charles was in the Wildcat, he took the snap, ran the option and pitched a reverse to WR Mark Bradley. Bradley hit Thigpen, who was spread out as a receiver, with a bomb for a touchdown. Also, if you're a contending team and can save those trick plays for the right moments, that can pay off, too. Just look at Bill Cowher's final Super Bowl.

Thanks to Adam for taking the time to answer my questions! Be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his work at Fan Addict and Arrowhead Addict!

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