The Buccaneers will play a 3-4 defense for the first time this season on Sunday in Dallas, and that has occasionally caused the team some problems in the recent past. The Bucs play in a division with three other 4-3 teams, so the 3-4 isn’t a look they see on a near-weekly basis. On the other hand, the scheme has gained a stronger foothold in the league in the last decade, and some of the NFL’s top current defenses employ it, including the Pittsburgh Steelers (as usual), the Houston Texan and the San Francisco 49ers.
The 3-4 defense, of course, employs three down linemen and four linebackers. Because the scheme usually depends on bigger interior linemen up front and pass-rushing linebackers off the edge behind them, it can lead to a lot of different pressure packages. An opposing offense has to work hard to figure out which four or five players in the front seven are raiding the backfield on any given play.
That’s true of the Cowboys, says Tampa Bay Head Coach Greg Schiano. Dallas has talented defensive personnel, headlined by the NFL’s best pass-rusher in DeMarcus Ware, and Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan likes to get creative with them.
“Rob does a very good job; he’s very multiple,” said Schiano in the hours leading up to Sunday’s game. “He gives you a lot of different looks. And as an offense, we’ve got to be able to identify those looks and make sure we’re in a good play for the look. That’s a challenge, and you only have one week to get ready for it. Now, we worked a little bit in training camp on some 3-4 things, but now you’re totally locked into it, and it’s going to be a challenge today to make sure that we identify and then execute. It’s a two-part deal.”
The Buccaneers have allowed two sacks of QB Josh Freeman in each of the first two weeks. That might have actually been considered a win last Sunday in the Meadowlands, where the Giants’ talented pass-rush was held largely at bay. It will be quite a challenge to do the same Sunday in Cowboys Stadium, not only because the 3-4 provides an extra bit of confusion but because Ware and company are as dangerous as the Giants’ Pro Bowl linemen.
“Scheme is one thing, and then you have the great players that they have,” said Schiano. “When you talk about a DeMarcus Ware, you talk about a Sean Lee, those guys are all over the field and very, very productive.”