I know the Panthers run a 4-3, but they do
something very different than most defenses on 3rd down that could be very improved with the addition of a 3-4 end.
As I said, the Panthers run a base 4-3 defense meaning there are four down lineman and three LBs, but when passing downs come they do something a bit different. In a true nickel defense, you would keep 4 down lineman and pull a LB but our LBs are so good they almost never come off the field, the Panthers remove a defensive lineman forcing them to rush from a 3-3-5 formation. That is why I could see a guy with the 3-4 DE body fitting perfectly. There is another rushing school of thought, when not playing nickel they move their line over a bit. Traditionally, when rushing true 4-3 you keep 2 players outside of the tackles (DE(defensive end) one guy in the A or B gap (space between guard and center, or NT (nose tackle) and one under the guard in which is not being split (UT(under tackle). When the Panthers rush from a base 4 line, they match one guy up outside of the OT at DE then they move their DTs to split both the A and B gaps essentially forcing the center to pick which guy he wants to help and which one he leaves isolated or for a RB/TE to help. Then they slide their extra DE into the gap between the guard and the tackle forcing the guard to choose who he wants to block, the tackle or the DE, while hoping the guard and the center both don’t chose the other guy. In other words, leaving someone unblocked. This split second decision allows for the defensive line to get a bit more push. Now if left isolated the OT is forced to block in an unnatural way (from the inside). This gap that the Panthers move the DE into is the natural rushing position of a 3-4 DE. Now it becomes a bit clearer why a 3-4 defensive end type player would help.
4-3 Defensive End vs 3-4 Defensive End
The difference between the two players really comes down to size and bend. A true 4-3 end is a bit smaller normally 6’3- 6’6 and 260-280 LBs and they can bend around the edge better to avoid a full on block from the OT. A 3-4 end is a bit bigger 6’5-6’7 280 to 300 LBs they don’t have a great bend but they are normally stronger and have explosive steps to force both the OGs and OT off balance when rushing through the gaps. On run downs since the Oline just tries to get a push on the defensive line, the bigger DE will help to now allow holes to open up. Being that the difference in DE position is about pass rush and the Panthers will take that player and slide him into the natural 3-4 end gap on passing downs. A 3-4 DE could provide a boost to what has been an impotent Panthers pass rush.
AKA The Pope