The Bills defense is losing arguably their most impactful player Marcell Dareus for the first four weeks of the regular season. We all know how Rex Ryan feels about Marcell:
“Marcell in my opinion is the best nose tackle in football, but he’s not just a nose tackle,” said Ryan. “He’s got other abilities where you could put him over a guard or a tackle and we’re going to take advantage of it”.
So you know that the Bills first four opponents are salivating knowing that Mr. Big Stuff will not be clogging up the middle. But he is not the only player that was supposed to make an impact this season, rookie Inside Linebacker Reggie Ragland was supposed to solidify the middle of the defense as well. Now that he went under the knife and is lost for the season what kind of changes will the Bills need to incorporate in order to make ends meet without those talented players?
The first and obvious tweak will come from the personnel. The Bills do have other pluggers on the roster such as Casey Walker and newly signed Alameda Ta’amu who could help at nose tackle. But to think that those guys can come in and make a difference right away is far fetched in my opinion. So, with the Bills in their 3-4 defense who will play the nose tackle position? The obvious choice will be Kyle Williams, right? Yeah in certain situations he will be called upon to man the nose position. As will Corbin Bryant, but the difference between Williams/Bryant and Dareus besides pure talent is the size and ability to occupy two offensive linemen. In a 3-4 defense, you must have a nose that can free up your interior defenders. Well, Kyle and Bryant and even Worthy who played a little nose tackle in the Bills first preseason game do not have the lower half to anchor and hold their ground versus double teams. So Rex Ryan and the staff will make a few minor changes to their scheme to accentuate the strengths of their interior defensive lineman.
One such tweak is to attack the offense with run blitzes. On early downs and versus certain personnel packages, the Bills defensive secondary can match man for man allowing Rex to commit more players in the box. Rex can bring blitzes or extra defenders to outnumber the offense. This tactic will often get the defensive lineman in one on one matchups.
Rex did this a lot in their first preseason game from the third series on. Once Marcell left after the first two series, Bryant, Worthy, and Walker began manning the nose tackle position so Rex began blitzing.
On this 1st down and 10 play, Corbin Bryant is the nose tackle and the Bills blitz inside linebacker Brandon Spikes. Initially, the linemen double team Bryant but they are forced to go to man on man blocking because of Spikes. Inside linebacker David Hawthorne “green dog blitzes” because the running back stayed in to block. So across the defensive front, each player is one on one. That is exactly what the Bills want. One thing they have is defensive lineman that can rush the passer. Think about this, Kyle Williams didn’t even play in this game. Just about everybody wins their one on one matchups and it leads to the QB scrambling for a short gain.
The predominant blitz of the day in their first preseason game was the safety blitz off the edge. The Bills primarily ran this blitz from the field. This was called several times but I only cut up three.
The Colts have the ball with 11 minutes left in the second quarter and are faced with a 1st and 10. They are in 21 personnel with twins to the field. Rex again calls a safety blitz to the field side. Duke makes the play.
Here it is again. The Colts bring out 21 personnel on 2nd and 5 and run to the weak side. Jonathan Meeks comes down to the line of scrimmage and blows up the lead blocker causing the play to gain only one yard.
This time late in the fourth quarter. Notice the down and distance; 1st and 10 and the 22 personnel look; a heavy run set. The Bills bring the safety blitz from the boundary this time and give up a minimal gain.
Obviously, there are many ways to overcome not having one of the best defensive tackles in the league. Rather than blitz to stop the offense, Rex can devise different fronts that create problems for blocking schemes. One of those fronts is the 4-6 defense. They used a lot of it last season but I believe they will have to incorporate it, even more, the first four games. Again, this is all based on personnel so if the offense comes out in 11 personnel I don’t expect to see the 4-6 defense. But if the offenses in the first four games come out in 12, 21, or 22 personnel on 1st or 2nd and long, I could see Rex using this defensive look.
As mentioned in Rex’s book How to Coach the 4-6 defense:
“The 46 pressure package requires the services of a strong safety who can play linebacker technique.”
The Bills are loaded with safeties that can play that role. Aaron Williams, Corey Graham, Duke Williams, and Robert Blanton are all capable “box” safeties.
On this play, Duke does a great job of getting the defense set. On the snap, Worthy creates havoc from his defensive end position by occupying not only his man but the lead blocker as well. This frees up Duke to make the hit.
Adjusting the defensive scheme to the 4-6 and even this umbrella look on early down and distances will dictate what offenses want to do.
If offenses want to run versus a stacked box, Rex will take that matchup.
Rex used the umbrella and 4-6 defense versus the Colts last season a bunch, specifically on first and second downs. You remember, the game that Marcell was suspended for.
What is great about the 4-6 is that you can scheme to get your talented defenders into one on one situaitons. That’s what Rex does here by calling his “4-6 Single” play. The play call gets Kyle Williams one on one versus the guard. Listen to Rex teach the play call:
In the following play, the Bills are in their 4-6 defense and the Colts keep in one tight end and their lone running back in to block. Inside linebacker Preston Brown is given the green light to blitz seeing as how the back stays in. Stephon Gilmore is step for step with the receiver and bats the pass down, one of his four pass deflections on the day.
As you can imagine there are many ways for Rex Ryan and company to scheme up their defense for the first four games of the season. The Bills will bring more run blitzes on suitable down and distances. They will also use more 4-6 and umbrella looks to deter teams from trying to run it down their throat. What is great about Rex’s scheme is that it is complex. He is able to do many things with his alignments and personnel groupings because it is all a part of the playbook. This allows him to call plays that dictate instead of reacting to the offense. But let’s be clear, Rex will be able to bring more run blitzes and align his safeties in the box because he has two really good cover corners in Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby. In that first game last season, those two combined for five pass deflections and one interception (Defense had 8 pass deflections and 2 INTs in all). Without those corners locking down their men, Rex would not be able to call these exotic plays. So although, the Bills will be missing Dareus and Ragland up the middle, his corner duo will allow him to devise ways to overcome deficiencies in the front seven.