San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Arizona all run a 3-4 defense. That is, three down defensive lineman and four linebackers. A 3-4 defense rushes four players, just like a 4-3 defense, but which player is the fourth rusher can vary from snap-to-snap. That variation often makes it just a little bit harder for an offensive line to prepare for a 3-4 defense. That fourth rusher can come from any side or any angle, including up the middle. Communication on the offensive line, and trust in the guy next to you knowing to pick up the appropriate rusher, is paramount. It is no wonder, then, that the inexperienced Seahawks line took a few games to acclimate. Sunday will be the first test against a more classic 4-3 front. That does not mean it will be easy.
The Falcons feature talented defensive ends John Abraham, Ray Edwards and Kroy Bierman. One of their starting defensive tackles, Jonathan Babineaux (Jordan’s brother), will not play due to injury. He will be replaced by Peria Jerry. The other tackle is Corey Peters, a 2nd year player out of Kentucky. Russell Okung will get a fair amount of time against Abraham, but don’t be surprised if the Falcons try to match their best pass rusher up against rookie RT James Carpenter.
Carpenter has made considerable progress since the week one loss to Atlanta, but facing a player like Abraham is a whole other level. Atlanta’s ends are extremely physical, and technically sound. They use their hands well to get around lineman. They are less likely to beat you on speed alone. While 4-3 defenses usually offer a better chance for an offensive lineman to simply block the guy in front of him, tactics like stunts, where the ends swing inside and the tackles loop outside require similar communication as the 3-4 requires. It is possible the Falcons will have noted the weakness in the Seahawks guard play last week, and try some stunts to get their best rushers against the Seattle guards.
No matter the result, it will be another important step in the learning process for the Seahawks line. Eight of the remaining 13 games will be against 4-3 defenses. Watch to see how John Moffitt bounces back from a tough week, how Carpenter holds up against elite ends, and whether Okung is getting closer to full strength.