Going back to the 4-3 defense is a good move for the Buffalo Bills.
Recently one of my friends asked me my thoughts on the Buffalo Bills going back to playing a 4-3 defense rather than the 3-4 system they had implemented. For the football lingo impaired, a 4-3 means there are four linemen and three linebackers, as opposed to the 3-4 which has three linemen and four linebackers. Anyway, back to the question, I told him I thought the Bills should have never switched to the 3-4 in the first place and that I was calling for this change during the 2010 campaign. I’m sure you all want to know why, but too bad. I’m not going to tell you.
I’m not going to pretend I am an expert, but anyone who knows me and my football knowledge base knows I love defense. Being a Steelers fan, I think I’m precisely the guy to tell you why the 3-4 did not work in Buffalo and should have never been inserted as their base defense. Several factors are to blame for the failure of the 3-4 in Buffalo, but that’s a blessing in disguise. A 4-3 scheme is much more suitable for the players the Bills have. Let’s break this down:
To run a successful 3-4, you have to have the personnel to do so. The Bills simply do not have four stud linebackers that can handle the various responsibilities that come with a complex 3-4 defense. The Steelers are the blueprint for what a 3-4 should be, and the Bills don’t have outside linebackers that can consistently draw/beat a double team to rush the passer. Outside of Marcell Dareus, they don’t have that big guy in the middle that can clog running lanes and draw double teams, enabling the blitzers to get to the quarterback or stop the running back before he gets too far. This is evidenced by how porous Buffalo’s run defense has been the last two years and their paltry number of sacks. I don’t have to get too complex here, the Bills just did not have the talent to run a quality 3-4. Couple that with injuries to key players and this system should have been nixed long ago.
Now that I have told you why the 3-4 didn’t work, let me tell you why the 4-3 will bring about drastic improvement to this defense. Marcell Dareus is a beast, and played pretty well for a rookie on the line. Kyle Williams was injured, but if he comes back healthy then you have two guys right there who play the game at a high caliber. Youngster Dwan Edwards also performed well last season and seems to be coming into his own. So right now the Bills have three of the four pieces in place on the defensive line. Where do they find the fourth then? The draft.
The upcoming NFL Draft is unusually deep at defensive end. If the Bills can, with their tenth pick, nab a Quinton Coples (North Carolina) or a Courtney Upshaw (Alabama), he would immediately be a starter and make the Bills defensive line a lethal one. Four studs on the line will improve run defense and pass rush right away. Once that issue is addressed on the line (and I’d be extremely surprised if they look anywhere else position wise with that ten spot), the other pieces will fall right into place at the other positions. Nick Barnett is a great middle linebacker. The Bills have a host of other guys at linebacker, I am very curious to see who comes out of training camp at the other two spots. The list of candidates is as follows: Kelvin Sheppard, Spencer Johnson, Arthur Moats, Shawne Merriman, and Chris Kelsay. I’m gonna be bold for a second and predict the young bad-ass Sheppard fills one of these spots on the outside. It remains to be seen who will fill the last spot, but all the guy listed are serviceable (especially a healthy Shawne Merriman).
Rounding out the defense, I’d have to imagine second year cornerback Aaron Williams will get a chance at a starting spot after playing impressively when called upon last season, and he would certainly be an upgrade over Drayton Florence. At the other corner, I’ve always been high on Leodis McKelvin. Bills fans seem to give this kid a rough time, but make no mistake; he has all the physical tools to be a shutdown corner. Some coaching and maybe an effective pass rush will wildly improve the performance of the Buffalo secondary overall. Every team has a whipping boy, unfortunately for McKelvin he’s taken a lot of undeserved scrutiny. On that note, I urge all you Bills fans to get your apologies ready.
Now that I’ve broken it down, I’m not sure if I believe my own words, but I rationally have to think this unit will be much improved going back to the 4-3. It just makes too much sense not to be. Throw in new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, and I look for the Bills defense to at least be competitive and an asset, not a bunch of pushovers that are a liability. Too bad we have to wait seven months to find out!