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Why Care About the 3-4 Defense in a non-IDP Draft?

So, how does the 3-4 defense matter if you’re not drafting in an

Individual Defensive Players (

IDP) league? Good question, I’m glad you asked.

I started researching this when I saw that the Houston Texans hired Wade Phillips to install this defense. My beloved Atlanta Falcons are playing them in Week 12 – an important time of the year for fantasy. I was sorting through the stats on who to pick for offense and thought I’d dig a bit deeper. After all, if I spend a high pick on Roddy White, Michael Turner or Matt Ryan, I want to know what they’re up against, right?

For the purposes of this article, I won’t go into explaining what the 3-4 defense actually is, but you can look it up on Wikipedia here if you want the full run down –

Why is this scheme notable? Here are the teams expected to (mostly) use the 3-4 defense in 2011-12 and the divisions they’re in:

New York Jets

AFC East

Miami Dolphins

AFC East

New England Patriots

AFC East

Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

AFC North

Cleveland Browns

AFC North

Houston Texans

AFC South

Kansas City Chiefs

AFC West

San Diego Chargers

AFC West

Dallas Cowboys

NFC East

Green Bay Packers

NFC North

Arizona Cardinals

NFC West

Note that the highest average draft position defenses are using this. How many times did you think, “oh, my team’s going up against the Steelers, the Ravens or the Jets” and cringe? I certainly have a few times.

How about this … the highest scoring defenses last season in a standard points format, with a star next to the 3-4 defenses:

* Pittsburgh Steelers: 188

* Green Bay Packers: 166

* New England Patriots: 158

* New York Jets: 158

Chicago Bears: 150

Oakland Raiders: 142

* San Diego Chargers: 139

Atlanta Falcons: 136

* Baltimore Ravens: 133

Remember, the Houston Texans hired Wade Phillips to install it after taking a thrashing last year on defense. It must be a worthwhile improvement after scoring second to the dead last Denver Broncos on defense with 37 points.

But how do you use this?

Food for thought – look at the divisions these teams are in. The Cincinnati Bengals are the only team in the AFC North not using a 3-4 defense. The Buffalo Bills are the only team in the AFC East not using it. But with the other three teams in their own divisions using it, they will be playing those teams more than anyone else. Are you following me yet?

Out of 17 games, the Bengals are playing eight of them against the 3-4 defense, and guess what? Almost all of them are during the last eight weeks!

The Bills are playing nine of their 17 games against the 3-4, and in Weeks 1, 3, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15 and 17. That’s a pretty hard hill to climb during your fantasy playoffs.

If the best defenses are using this, and your offensive player is going up against this scheme on a regular basis and during the football playoffs, does this mean that you should avoid Stevie Johnson and Cedric Benson altogether? Not necessarily. There’s definitely a place to draft these players. But for me, it would have to be at a late-round value price.

Conversely, there are only three NFC teams expected to us the 3-4 defense: the Green Bay Packers, the Arizona Cardinals and the Dallas Cowboys. So if this is the best defense to use, my hometown Atlanta Falcons are off the hook, along with generally the rest of the NFC.    New Orleans, for instance, is only playing against the 3-4 defense in Weeks 1 and 3.

This early in the season, we don’t know which defenses will be the best, we don’t know who will be on what team, heck, we don’t even know what Chad Ochocinco’s newest hobby will be by the time football starts. So this isn’t supposed to give you any hard, fast rules about who to draft or who not to draft, but keep the 3-4 defense and the schedule in back of your mind if you have to decide between Fred Jackson, A. J. Green and Jimmy Graham in the seventh round.

Happy drafting!

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