The New York Giants can effortlessly shift to the 3-4 that James Bettcher runs by shifting a defensive end to the linebacker position.
The New York Giants hired James Bettcher to run their defense for the 2018 season. Bettcher is a great defensive mind and continues the trend that we’ve seen of young coaches, as he will only be 40 years old at the start of next season.
Bettcher is so talented that Bruce Arians told Rich Eisen on his show that he felt Bettcher should take over for him as the Arizona Cardinals’ head coach. He is a great defensive mind, but he runs a 3-4 scheme, while former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had his success with a 4-3 scheme.
The team will need to shift their personnel to fit into Bettcher’s scheme. The most efficient way for the team to do that is pretty simple: Move Jason Pierre-Paul to the outside linebacker position.
One reason the Giants have had defensive success in the past is their strong line. Pierre-Paul has 58 sacks in 111 career games, which is slightly more than one every two games. Fellow defensive end Olivier Vernon has 15.5 sacks in his two years with the team.
On the interior, Damon Harrison is arguably the best defensive tackle in the NFL today, despite the fact that he often goes unheralded. In his two seasons as a Giant, he has recorded 55 and 51 tackles. He doesn’t bring much in the way of a pass rush, producing only 5.5 sacks in his six seasons, but he dominates the run game.
His partner in crime up the middle, Dalvin Tomlinson, just finished his first season in the NFL. The Alabama product had a very nice year, putting up 30 tackles and adding 20 assists. They also have promising young backups Avery Moss and Romeo Okwara.
All four starters are too good to sit on the bench for a year, meaning that for all of them to be starters, one would have to kick back to linebacker. Harrison and Tomlinson are both interior linemen, which eliminates them from moving back to the EDGE position in a 3-4 defense.
That leaves Vernon and Pierre-Paul as players who could move back. The main reason that Pierre-Paul gets dropped back to linebacker over Vernon is how they rush.
Both are exceptional pass rushers with plenty of ways to beat a lineman. But Pierre-Paul relies a little more on his speed than Vernon does. Starting a few steps off the line will help him build speed as he approaches the line, which will enhance his rush.
Starting from the back will also allow him to take different angles at the offensive tackle he is matched up against. When a lineman is in a three-point stance, they are somewhat limited in where they come from and what angle they take towards the quarterback.
As a linebacker, Pierre-Paul would be able to move after the defense is set and line himself up at the best angle to come towards the quarterback. That, combined with his speed, will make him more unpredictable, and thus dangerous for offensive lines to deal with.
There are secondary reasons to keep Vernon as a lineman and move Pierre-Paul to a linebacker spot, one of which is run defense. Pierre-Paul isn’t a bad run defender, but Vernon is a very strong run defender despite playing defensive end. Football Outsiders had him ranked ninth in run stop percentage in 2015, and 22nd in 2016.
The final reason is injury concerns. Vernon has only missed four games in his career, with all of them coming in 2017. Pierre-Paul, meanwhile, has missed 17 games in his seven-year career. Moving him to linebacker gets him a buffer as he approaches the line, meaning that he won’t be accelerating when he hits a lineman like he would coming out of a three-point stance. That will reduce the force on his body, and could help reduce his risk of injury.
If the Giants move Pierre-Paul to linebacker, they will be able to implement Bettcher’s preferred system next year with little to no negative effects.