LA Rams: Evolution of NT role and 2021 impact to Rams defense

Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /
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LA Rams News Wade Phillips
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3-4 began as a rushing defense

From its inception, the odd man front became the hottest new innovation to the NFL, and soon multiple defenses began to deploy their own version of the 3-4 defense with mixed results.  The first iterations of that defense truly hinged upon finding a strong-bodied defensive tackle who enjoyed getting double-teamed and triple-teamed routinely, They weren’t exactly in ample supply.

Los Angeles Rams
Los Angeles Rams /

Los Angeles Rams

The other feature of the 3-4 defense that teams soon discovered is that the defense was ideally suited to defend against the run, but was less effective against the pass. The reason? The first versions rushed just three defenders and used linebackers in their traditional role of plugging gaps, defending short passing routes, and working primarily against tight ends and running backs.

Of course, that wouldn’t do. 4-3 defenses had a distinct advantage simply because they were able to get after the quarterback with more bodies, and that pulled NFL teams back away from the 3-4 and towards the more dependable 4-3 pass defense. Of course, that wouldn’t last long either.

The 3-4 needed one more innovation to successfully compete with the 4-3, and that was the invention of the outside linebacker edge rusher.  Once that role was introduced, the NFL defenses were comparable. But that sort of innovation was not easy to do.  College football really wasn’t producing the new role, and the NFL teams, no matter how innovative, were entirely dependant upon what talent arrived each year via the draft.