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Tackling the 3-4 takes some hard knocks

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Sep 9, 2005.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    Source: <a href="http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/spt/stories/090805dnspochargers.2e048da.html" target="_blank">Dallas Morning News</a>

    SAN DIEGO – Speaking from experience, San Diego Chargers inside linebacker Randall Godfrey knows what awaits the Cowboys' defense.

    Get ready for a rough early ride.

    The switch to a 3-4 alignment does not magically bring success. The change will get harder before it gets easier.

    "It's going to take awhile," Godfrey said. "It'll probably take to midseason to get it down and start feeling comfortable."

    The Cowboys start the transformation for real with Sunday's regular-season opener against the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. A year ago, San Diego was in the Cowboys' position.

    Godfrey, with the Cowboys from 1996 to 1999, was among a group of veterans brought in last season to help San Diego make the wrenching change to the 3-4 defense. The Chargers improved by eight wins to reach the playoffs at 12-4 and allowed 128 fewer points than in 2003.

    Even with experienced imports such as Godfrey and outside linebacker Steve Foley, the new-look defense was not an immediate success.

    The Chargers allowed 22.6 points per game and 16 touchdowns in a 3-3 start. Five of those opponents gained more than 325 yards. Jacksonville ripped the Chargers for 429 total yards in a 34-21 loss.

    San Diego rallied from the slow start to win nine of the final 10 games, giving up 17.7 points per game in that span. The defense had to go through the tests of the regular season to improve.

    There is no replacement for that crucible.

    "In the first year, a lot of us didn't know what to expect," said inside linebacker Donnie Edwards, who had played in the 4-3 exclusively in his previous eight NFL seasons. "Most of us didn't have experience in a 3-4. You get thrown into the fire and get your experience as you go. That's the only way to do it."

    Early in the season, those involved said, defensive players found themselves thinking about what they had to do on each play. There were problems with failed communication and missed assignments.

    Nothing came naturally. Because of that, defenders were often a step late on plays. The Chargers played at a slower speed than the usual turbo-charged NFL pace.

    A year later, the Chargers maintain they are a better and more confident team for the experience.

    "I don't think there's any question that anytime you get involved in a new defense or a new offense, there are uncertainties that arise from time to time with a player," coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "That compromises the speed at which he can play. At this level, we all know the consequences of that.

    "We're dramatically ahead of where we were a year ago."

    Schottenheimer downplayed the potential advantage of drawing the Cowboys at this stage of their development in the 3-4. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells knows the 3-4 as well as anyone in the business, Schottenheimer said. The Cowboys will eliminate some of the indecision by playing a no-frills defense.

    The Cowboys' defense is a work in progress, but the same applies to San Diego's defense. It improved last season but remains a second banana to the offense.

    The Chargers finished 11th in the league for points allowed and were third against the run with 81.7 yards per game. The pass defense was soft.

    San Diego allowed 253.3 yards passing per game, the second-highest total in the league. Opponents had six touchdown throws of more than 20 yards. The Cowboys last season gave up 12 touchdown passes of more than 20 yards.

    An altered defense did not improve the pass rush. The Chargers had the third-lowest sack total with 29. Foley had 10 sacks, six more than anyone else.

    "It's nice to come back and have an understanding of what we're doing," Edwards said. "The new scheme really shored up our defense. But we still need to get better on pass defense."

    The 3-4 on its own is not a cure-all. The Chargers know that.

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