Coaching Profile | Sean McDermott


According to Jason La Canfora, the Bills have hired Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to be their next head coach.

This should be exciting to Bills’ players and fans alike, considering the scheme and mentality he brings to the table. Most fans know that he is a base 4-3 guy, and that he has coached up a very good Panthers defense under head coach Ron Rivera since 2011.

But what most fans don’t realize is that he brings a ton of defensive knowledge to the table — knowledge that he has gained over the years in Philadelphia. He was groomed in the Eagles organization, starting in the scouting department in 1999. He became an assistant to Andy Reid in 2001, which I am sure facilitated an uptake of an incredible amount of knowledge. Andy Reid is one of a few coaches that knows how to not just control personnel and coaching decisions from top to bottom, but also, perhaps more importantly, how to manage people.

McDermott rose through the Eagles organization, primarily working with the secondary, which is his forte. He played in the secondary in college which helped him coach some really good defensive backs in Philly, including Brian Dawkins, Michael Lewis, Quentin Mikell, Sheldon Brown and Lito Shepard. These were guys that weren’t necessarily drafted high, but were coached up by McDermott and the staff.

While with the Eagles, McDermott worked with the uber aggressive Jim Johnson. Johnson was known for his 4-3 blitz heavy scheme. The late Jim Johnson was one of the most respected defensive minds in the game. He and that staff played more man coverage than zone, but his ability to disguise coverages was amazing.

McDermott took over for Johnson in 2009 and ran that defense until 2011. During that time the Eagles defense was really good. In 2009 and 2010 they finished 3rd and 11th in Football Outsiders DVOA statistic. The tutelage by Johnson in disguising coverages carried over into McDermott’s defense to the point that they ranked 4th and 3rd, respectively, in interceptions in those years.

When he took over as the defensive coordinator in Carolina, the defense was bad. But it was after that season that the front office began to draft players that would fit Head Coach Ron Rivera and McDermott’s defense. Rivera, McDermott and the front office believed that you draft your front seven high and address the other positions in the mid rounds, which is also an Andy Reid philosophy.

In 2012, the Panthers set the foundation by drafting linebacker Luke Kuechly, then addressing the defensive line the following season by adding defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short.

So, based on his prior organizations he comes from, it seems like McDermott will want to build from the inside out. But I think that he will be quite happy with the front seven he will have in Buffalo.

In today’s motion oriented, pass happy league, You have to keep things as simple as possible so that players can play fast. McDermott will let his athletes in the front seven get after the QB and play coverage on the back end. This mindset plays to McDermott’s strengths, as he is particularly good at scheming coverages.

While under Rivera, McDermott tweaked his philosophy. Instead of playing man coverage, he used more zone concepts. Reason being, Rivera is an avid cover two defensive mind, so they had to mesh their defensive philosophies. It ended up working quite well.

In four out of his five years in Carolina, McDermott engineered a top ten defense. The exception was last season. They dropped from 6th overall in 2015, to 21st overall this year. That steep drop off can be attributed to the loss of corner Josh Norman. In the first season without Norman, the Panthers defense was forced to play two rookie defensive backs in Daryl Worley and James Bradberry. Worley played 862 snaps, Bradberry played 799 snaps, and the pass defense fell from 11th in 2015 to 29th in 2016, and was bad in several other major passing statistics. But what was encouraging was the fact that McDermott and that staff were still able to generate interceptions.

They were able to do that by pressuring the quarterback, often with just their front four. Here is a brief dive into the Mcdermott scheme. On this play, McDermott dials up a high/low pressure between his defensive ends.


Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei occupies the double team, putting the defensive ends in one on one situations. Right defensive end Mario Addison spins inside, forcing Rivers to move to his left. Left defensive end Kony Ealy is running the hoop wide to attack Rivers at the climax of his drop, but ends up chasing Rivers to the left. This high/low plan of attack has been perfected by teams like the Broncos and Raiders over the last couple of years. It is prevalent with teams that want to only rush four, but still collapse the pocket at top of the QB’s drop. The pressure causes an interception down field by Daryl Worley. The Panthers caused 27 total turnovers last season, which tied them for the 5th most with Denver and Minnesota.

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McDermott’s scheme is impressive because it is simple, yet still very good at confusing quarterbacks. Check out this play from the Falcons game. The Falcons come out in an empty set, 12 personnel grouping, so the Panthers match with their base defense. Quarterbacks are taught to first check the safeties to get an idea on the coverage. However, their depth is confusing, sort of looking like they are going to drop into a cover 2 defense, but still close enough to run a single high defense. The coverage isn’t the only concern, either. Calling the right protection is, too.

The Falcons have five offensive lineman and an in-line tight end to block a possible six rushers. But if the tight end goes into a route, the defense will be +1. With the possible blitz coming, Ryan knows he has to get the ball out. He wants to get it to the boundary side flats, so he has to find the flats defender. If Thomas Davis is blitzing from the boundary and it’s man coverage, then the safety (#20) has a long way to go.

But it isn’t man coverage. It’s cover 3 cloud, and the boundary corner (flats defender) is watching Ryan’s drop closely. He is watching the drop through the route of the #2 WR. If Ryan sets quickly, then the defender can trap the route combination and pick it off.

Post snap the Panthers drop into a cover 3 cloud.

That’s exactly what happens. Ryan one steps out of the shotgun, then the corner plants and drives on the out route. Ryan realizes he read the coverage incorrectly so he doesn’t make the throw and is forced to take a sack. McDermott’s scheme put Ryan between a rock and a hard place.

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Getting to the QB last season was not an issue. The Panthers sacked the QB 47 times, which was #2 in the NFL, and they compiled a total of 322 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.

That’s why I believe hiring Sean McDermott is a great decision. Most fans will think, “Oh, not another Dick Jauron cover 2 defense.” However, this is a different version of a cover 2 shell. McDermott’s first hand knowledge of playing in the secondary, exposure to blitz heavy schemes while in Philadelphia, and exposure to the traditional cover 2 scheme have combined for a wealth of knowledge. He shows several different types of defensive surfaces with the aim of getting his defenders one on one rushes.

Double A gap pressure video courtesy of @BillyM_91 on Twitter–j-zYf4

McDermott boasts defensive knowledge and schemes that he can adjust to the personnel, but also to the times. The NFL is a pass heavy league, and defenses are always adjusting to the offense. As a result, coordinators that keep it simple and teach their players well are having the most success.

McDermott is able to disguise coverages that cause turnovers and/or sacks. When you can cause quarterbacks to hold the ball for a split-second longer because the pre to post snap picture changes, you have a chance of being very successful on defense.

The defensive side of the ball will have a considerable amount of turnover, so this is a good time to bring on a defensive mind and scheme that can repair what Rex Ryan undid. The next questions are these: Who will be his coordinators? Specifically, who will run the show on the offensive side?