It's not hard to understand why New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton decided to switch to a 3-4 defensive alignment. All you have to do is look at the two teams who will be invading his home turf in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for Super Bowl 2013 - the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens.
The 49ers have arguably the NFL's most dominant defense right now. And though the Ravens are starting to show signs of age, they've had arguably the most dominant defense of the past decade - either them or the Pittsburgh Steelers.
And all of those teams feature a 3-4 defensive front, which is favored by roughly half of the NFL's 32 teams. Among them are teams like the Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers, who used switches to 3-4 schemes to help vault them to greater production in recent years.
An estimated 15 NFL teams will also run as their primary alignment in 2013. Several others will run a hybrid between the 3-4 and 4-3 fronts. (See this chart for a complete breakdown).
Of course everyone here in New Orleans considers the switch a no-brainer, whether they harken back to the days of the Saints' "Dome Patrol" linebacking corps -- or simply notice how often the Saints' current offense has struggled against 3-4 teams.
"Just my experience playing against it is the teams that really do it well, the 3-4 allows you to do some more things with those rushers," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "You really have at least five rushers on the field at all times instead of four, with the ability to bring a lot of pressures where you've got all these hybrid guys on the field that, 'Hey are they gonna rush the passer? You don't really want your running back blocking them. Are they dropping in coverage?' So they can be more multiple, I'd say, which can be more problematic for an offense.
"But it's really all about execution. Just because you throw a 3-4 out there doesn't mean you're going to be successful. You've got to execute it."
League-wide, the defense du jour has been a constant evolution.
Saints' switch to 3-4 defense inspired by dominance of teams like San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens
New Orleans Times-Picayune | Jan 31