Well that certainly was exciting news yesterday, wasn’t it?
Since outstanding folks who can talk football all day long like Chris Trapasso and Erik Turner have put out some great details on the 4-3 scheme that Sean McDermott will be bringing to Buffalo I do not want to belabor the point or re-hash what’s already been written. Instead, I want to point you to their great pieces and instead focus on some of the basics of the scheme and what that could mean for impending Buffalo free agents, the draft and free agency.
Some Quick Basics
Whether you read it here, or Buffalo Rumblings or Cover1.net or any of the other spots you get your Bills fix from, make sure you delineate between front and gap responsibility. While the Bills will go back to a 4-3 front, in terms of their look it might be similar to what you’ve seen under Rex Ryan in the last few years.
The difference will be that gap responsibility question. For the Johnson/McDermott (which I’ll heretofore shorten to McDermott, but Jim knows I got the love for him!) model, you’re looking at an under tackle (3 technique) and a nose tackle (0/1 technique) that will have one gap to worry about. The expectation is by maintaining that gap, you can stop the run on the way to the passer. For Rex, the nose, Marcell or perhaps Kyle Williams at times would be asked to hold two gaps a good bit of the time to allow for others to get through.
I’ll touch on the aerobic effects of 2-gappers vs. 1-gap in a moment, but I want to talk about “ghost” of the Ryan family that will carry over a bit as well into McDermott’s scheme – the influence of his former head coach, Ron Rivera, who cut his teeth in the NFL with the Buddy Ryan 46.
For the purposes of this 46 look I included Lawson as the edge setter instead of say a returning Zach Brown to give you an illustration of how much personnel movement can be entailed even in a ‘simple’ front change. With McDermott, the DT-NT-DT triangle can 1 gap and crater from b gaps (between the guard and tackle) in and allow Brown to flow over the top and make a stop. This wouldn’t be a bread-and-butter down in and down out idea scheme wise, but based on looking at a few of the last 3 years’ worth of Panthers games you can expect it at some point.
Regardless of a 46, 4-3 under or over you’ll need at least one off-ball linebacker (call him Will, I will!) to be your runner. Ragland and Preston can be interchangeable at Sam or Mike, but you need that Will to be someone that can move. Zach Brown’s resurgence under Rex leaves me to believe that he can be that guy, but will Buffalo want to pay to retain him?
In terms of the defensive line, the same can be said for Lorenzo Alexander. In fact, let’s take a step back: what would Lorenzo be in this defense? Will linebacker, weakside end, safety?
We can probably eliminate safety.
Nevertheless, as McDermott and his staff evaluate the current Bills personnel we’ll get an idea on how he sees the impending free agents fitting in the scheme.
Fill Up Your Gas Tank
For your nose tackle, that two gapping is a miserable experience. Instead of getting up the field, he may be facing off with two or three offensive linemen snap after snap. For Dareus, who came back from suspension and had to play himself into shape that had to have been a nightmare. Under McDermott, I would expect that Marcell at both nose and under tackle, because a heavy rotation will be needed as it was under Schwartz. That requires, again as it did under Schwartz a solid DL rotation, most likely 9 active on game days. If you want maximum effort/energy out of your guys that is a non-starter otherwise. With the rigors of the season you’re asking for trouble if a Kyle Williams for instance is asked to be in on 90%+ of snaps again.
That dovetails my point above with the impending free agents: if the Bills determine for instance that Lorenzo is a solid special-teamer and a good wave weak side end or Will backer, he’s a depth player that can perhaps start at two spots in a pinch. Despite his age, that’s great bang for your buck. With the injuries that caught up to Jerry Hughes this season, you need to have a wave end that can allow him time to recuperate. Playing hurt and playing ineffective football only gives fans ammo to fire at a guy trying to do the right thing by his teammates.
(Also, stop having players who are that hurt playing Buffalo, it helps no one.)
See Ball, Get Ball
The Bills secondary will be switching to more of a zone look, which to many seems to hallmark requiring merely average play from the secondary. I’ll argue vociferously the opposite. Despite the fact that they are running zone (with the cover 1 with man underneath) you still have to drop to the route combo you anticipate seeing. That requires you to still be an athlete, as well as good enough to go stride for stride down the field with your opponent if your responsibilities dictate that to be so. I would recommend reading this primer on zone coverage so you know what folks are talking about in the coming weeks/months!
Consider the Seattle Seahawks. Richard Sherman in cover 3 is still just as responsible for a receiver in his zone running deep as Stephon Gilmore would be in man. Or think about the Panthers themselves when the franchise tag was removed from Josh Norman. Many argued after the fact that he wasn’t as valuable in a zone scheme because he could be easily replaced. The passing defense of the Panthers dropping from 11th to 29th in passing defense was in part because of losing that essential piece of their puzzle.
The secondary also needs to hit – and help out in run defense. Most would think of Kam Chancellor as the yin to Earl Thomas’ yang. Buffalo needs a strong safety that can intimidate (legally!) over the middle and a free safety that can handle those cover 1 responsibilities without brain farts. As it stands now, Corey Graham is on the roster and could do the job perhaps at strong safety. The Bills do not have a free safety that can do the job at this moment.
If you’re an older fan, you may remember Brian Dawkins on the Eagles as one of the prototypes in this defense. ‘Weapon X’ isn’t walking through that door – but finding the next one should be top on their priority list.
That needs to change before June 1st or thereabouts.
Buy The Groceries
And now here is where the relationship between McDermott and Whaley will need to be critical. This defense cannot work without solid subs for the “big horses” that will be driving the pass rush. This defense cannot work without the rotation, linebackers and secondary described above.
(I know, every defense needs these things, bare with me.)
As the newly minted Bills head coach and his GM meet and chat over the next few weeks, decisions will need to be made on a number of players, who to bring in, and who to draft.
Allow me to butt in for a moment gents. Stephon Gilmore, Lorenzo Alexander and Zach Brown need to be retained. Buffalo needs to draft a superlative safety or pay the freight for one in free agency. And for all that is holy, make sure that if Kyle Williams does return, he doesn’t have to be bolted and taped back together weekly to get on the field because you don’t have a rotation.
[I want to close on a bit of a side-note:
In an effort to kick off that #synergy thing, I’m going to be doing a film project this off-season with some of my colleagues here at Buffalo Wins, as well as my fellow contributors to the Bills Wire and any other Buffalo related media or fans that are interested. Simple let me know on Twitter (@rdotdeuce) and let me know if you are interested!]