Switching to a 4-3 Defense: What it means for the Chargers


Dec 18, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) looks to pass during the second quarter as San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Melvin Ingram (54) defends at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

What will change about the Chargers when the team debuts its new defensive scheme in the 2017 season opener?

A few years ago, Los Angeles Chargers GM Tom Telesco was asked a question about the defense. It was about the team’s implementation of a 3-4 defensive scheme in their system. Telesco responded by telling the reporter that the defense is simply classified as a 3-4 to assign it a name, per ESPN.

“I know we’re 3-4 on paper, but it’s as close to a 4-3 as you’re ever going to see. We’re an under and over defense. Guys are in the gap moving, and very rarely do we line up with a nose tackle head up on the center two-gapping with the two ends two-gapping. We don’t play that type of defense. It’s a 3-4 by name only.”

A few years ago, a fellow Bolt fan clamored for the move to a 4-3 scheme. Now, he’s finally getting his wish.

New head coach Anthony Lynn hired former Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley as the team’s defensive coordinator. Bradley then made the announcement that the team will switch to a 4-3 defense in 2017. He stated the move was done in an effort to “play hard(er), play fast(er), play smart(er) and play (more) together.”

Why the switch?

One reason the Chargers finished with such an underwhelming record in 2016 was that the defense was only ever able to do enough to match the production of the offense. It couldn’t compensate for when the team turned the ball over, something the team did at a league-worst pace last season.

Oct 23, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; San Diego Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (99) celebrates a sack with outside linebacker Melvin Ingram (54) against the Atlanta Falcons in the third quarter at the Georgia Dome. The Chargers defeated the Falcons 33-30 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The use of a 4-3 will immediately help Joey Bosa, the budding pass rusher on the team, who thrived in the 4-3 at Ohio State. Bosa finished with double-digit sacks in his rookie season with the Bolts, good enough for a Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. Unleashing him as the primary pass rusher and allowing him to get to the quarterback freely will be a season-changer for the team.

Corey Liuget has largely disappointed as a defensive end since coming into the league in 2011. The switch will allow him to return to the defensive tackle position that he feels at home playing at. He’ll also be learning from veteran nose tackle Brandon Mebane, who plays a key role in stuffing the run.

With Liuget returning to defensive tackle, a hole needs to be filled at defensive end opposite Bosa. The two top candidates to convert from linebacker to end in the 4-3 are Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu. Attaochu is more likely to make the switch, as he was a natural end at Georgia Tech before making the switch to linebacker at the pro level.

The team is loaded with depth to replace Attaochu at linebacker. Kyle Emanuel and Joshua Perry (the latter of which was Bosa’s teammate at Ohio State) are poised to take over at outside linebacker. In addition, Denzel Perryman and Jatavis Brown form a versatile duo on the inside. The team also tendered Korey Toomer, a midseason pickup who thrived last season.

The team has the personnel to thrive in the 4-3. That personnel, like most of the team, however, is oft-injured. A mostly to fully healthy season from everyone in the front seven could revolutionize the Chargers’ defense from middle-of-the-road to great.