The Green Bay Packers haven’t consistently played a 4-3 defensive scheme since Bob Sanders was their defensive coordinator. He was fired after the 2008 season.
In came Dom Capers and the Packers immediately transitioned to a 3-4 base. What is new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine going to run? Most likely some of both.
The Packers’ defensive strength appears to be their defensive line. They have three legitimate starters in Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark and Muhammad Wilkerson. They have solid player in Dean Lowry. They have second-year, third-round pick in Montravius Adams, who is healthy after an injury-plagued first season. Finally, they just drafted defensive end James Looney in the seventh round.
Compare that to the outside linebacker group. You’ve got injury-prone starters Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. Then you’ve got unproven players in Vince Biegel and Reggie Gilbert. Of course, there’s also Kyler Fackrell, who has been underwhelming, and that’s about it.
Clearly, Pettine and Packers are expecting the pass rush to start up front this season. If and when Matthews and Perry get injured, that may be the only place pass rush may come from.
In such a case, Pettine can get creative with personnel. Why not go with four down lineman and only three linebackers? Or even two linebackers with three safeties?
The question likely largely depends on who’s healthy. However, the Packers regularly put three safeties on the field in 2017. First, it was the group of Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Kentrell Brice. Later, after Brice was injured, then-rookie Josh Jones was regularly in the mix.
Although Burnett is gone, Jones is (hopefully) a year wiser and Brice will be back. Marwin Evans could be in the mix as well.
The point is, Pettine can get creative. Perhaps he goes 4-2-3 down the middle of the D in certain situations. He thus far has been noncommittal about the type of scheme he plans on running, suggesting he plans on playing to the strengths of the personnel he has available to him.
That’s already a change from the Capers’ philosophy, which was all about scheme.
Watching the Packers’ defense might actually be fun this year.