Donte Whitner and Bryan Scott are injured, and for the moment, the Bills have quality depth. When they return, however, a logjam at the safety position will ensue. Scott is a bonafide run stopper and has shown he is extremely competent at covering opposing tight ends. Whitner is a solid tackler with cornerback speed and . Jairus Byrd, simply put, is THE WORD. Great instincts, eyes on the quarterback, and presence around the ball, though his run defense could use work.
Our linebacking corps has been shattered by injury, and, well, by incompetence. With Veek and Digi out for the year, and Keith Ellison performing yeoman's if unpolished work, Chris Draft seems to have replaced Ashlee Palmer as the third starting LB. Easily the weakest sector of the Bills defense, the linebacking corps has been largely at fault for allowing big run plays to develop, whether by overpursuing their gaps, allowing runners around the corner, or just poor tackling in general.
How can the Bills maximize the talent and manpower of their secondary, minimize the weakness of their linebacking corps?
First of all, I am not talking about changing scheme. I am talking about the inclusion of more 4-2-5 sets within the Bills' Cover 2 defense. The 4-2-5 is a nickel formation of sorts that, by using four linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs, can sustain an amount of flexibility without compromising strength. The 4-2-5 nickel can be used in a number of ways.
I'm not advocating benching Reggie Corner as the nickelback. Personnel being as it is, Reggie Corner will be on the field, just not in this particular package. The Back 7 personnel would look like this:
Poz and Ellison/Draft at LB (ideally Kawika). McGee and Florence at CB. Byrd, Whitner, and Scott at S.
In the 4-2-5, the position of the safety relies upon the read. Jairus Byrd would likely man the traditional FS spot in any case. This does some great things for our defense. Try to visualize these scenarios:
On perceived running plays or double tight end formations, Whitner would man the SS while Bryan Scott would line up in the box. It would be Scott's job to play run as a first read. In a 2 TE set, Scott would key on the TE opposite Whitner's position to give minimum yardage in case of a playaction pass pattern. In a 1-TE set, Scott roves to the weakside, playing run first, to provide cutback gap support.
On perceived passing plays or multiple wide receiver formations, Whitner adjusts to the slot while Scott settles into the SS position. This gives multiple WRs safety help from the Cover 2 while allowing someone like Whitner to guard a Wes Welker.
That planning might seem sensible, but a little rigid. True, but here's the equalizer: With two linebackers being slightly off from their traditional gaps, and a roving "safety" lined up anywhere from the strongside of the box or the weakside (Scott), to the slot (Whitner), I believe this is a formation built for the zone blitz, if there ever was one. Zone blitzes out of this package, with the linemen dropping into coverage as they do in a zone blitz, could be downright disorienting to interpret from the QB position. Flood blitzes, iso blitzes, stunts, decoys, and fake pressures can come in any number, from any direction. That would keep the 4-2-5 unpredictable and hard to attack consistently.
Some potential weaknesses of the subpackage:
- Successful downhill running teams can attack it by punching right at it. If the defense is kept on the field, this has the effect of wearing out the safeties while Corner and Youboty get cold on the sideline. Not a big issue, because it's just a subpackage.
- During two-minute drills, this is not an ideal defense because the time it may take to read and react to the offensive formation may not be readily available. So it might not be smart to use at the end of halves.
- Playaction and misdirection plays may be the bane of the set, as they can punish undisciplined defenders. Ehh, but this is true of any defensive set. Be disciplined, make good tackles, and follow your reads. No formation is a replacement for good football fundamentals.
The 4-2-5 could be something the Bills would do well to think about, at least going forward, if we would like to both use our safeties and keep our linebacker weakness controlled. As a spice, not a main course, it could keep our defense unpredictable, still solid, and able to throw in wrinkles (not stay so basic all the time).