Over at Revenge of the Birds, Andrew602 brought up the issue of how quiet defensive end Darnell Dockett has been since the Cardinals switched from the 4-3 to the 3-4 on a full-time basis. We've had various complaints here about the 49ers use of the 3-4 instead of the 4-3 so it was something that piqued my interest.
As would be expected with a 3-4 defensive end, Darnell Dockett's statistics have taken a hit. The 3-4 defensive end can make impact plays, but often times he finds himself occupying blockers to open up holes for linebackers looking to make plays. It can be a thankless position, albeit an incredibly important position. The Cardinals struggles in generating a pass rush, much like our 49ers from time to time, has allowed offenses to send more blockers at a normally disruptive threat like Dockett. Andrew discussed it as follows:
Opposing offenses can't and won't use four blockers on Dockett every down, but it creates more blocking possibilities. With no pressure coming from the Cardinals outside linebackers this season, it has created a bigger issue along the defensive line. Dockett flourished in the 4-3 defense for two reasons: One, because he played alongside another defensive tackle and was able to penetrate one on one with interior lineman. And two, Dockett's combination of quickness and strength made it easier for him to blow past a slower guard then a quicker tackle.
If Dockett lines up at right defensive end, he'll be squaring off against the generally sturdy Barry Sims, as opposed to the fresh-faced rookie Anthony Davis. Additionally, any guard help will be coming from Mike Iupati as opposed to the much-maligned Chilo Rachal. While the 49ers offensive line rarely seems to hold an advantage over opponents, this might set up as one such rare advantage for the offensive line.
Over the last two seasons against the 49ers, Dockett had a sack and interception last year and a forced fumble the year before. His numbers haven't been huge but over those two seasons he was a physical force over the course of the season. Now he seems to be struggling to transition to 3-4 defensive end. Can the 49ers take advantage of this?
Whether the 49ers are in fact able to benefit from Dockett's quiet season, posts like this about Dockett (or when Haynesworth was complaining about his role in the 3-4 earlier this year) make me feel so much better about having a quiet professional like Justin Smith at defensive end. He goes about his business and impacts virtually every game in some form or fashion. Sometimes it's a sack, while other times it's a key QB pressure or a big stop of a running back. Smith is one guy I'd love to hear mic'd up at some point in his career. He's all hustle and just a force.