after lots of press during the off season about the bills' transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4, it appears head coach chan gailey has made a strategic decision. when asked after the lions' game about the frequent use of the 4-3 by the bills, he made it clear he expected to be using it quite a bit going forward. below, we talk about what this means for the bills, especially in light of the need to cut 22 players from the preseason roster saturday night.
it seems there was a broad consensus at one bills drive that the 4-3 was dead, and the 3-4 was the solution going forward. but with the regular season opener less than 10 days away, chan gailey has clearly had second thoughts about what seemed obvious just a few months ago.
one of the biggest question marks for the bills becoming a 3-4 defense has been their lack of linebacking depth and quality. there is tremendous pressure on the linebackers to take the bull by the horns in a 3-4 defense, as well as on the nose tackle to be a massive and disruptive force in the middle of the line. but as has been noted by many, the bills neither have a true nose tackle in the classic 3-4 style, nor a stellar set of big linebackers to fill the gaps that get created with only three down lineman.
after watching several preseason series of poor run defense among both first and second defensive units, it appears coach gailey had seen enough, and realized that putting the best players on the field for as many plays as possible made more sense than attempting to convert on the fly to the 3-4 in this his first season in charge.
interestingly, the bills now have much more depth upfront on the line than they do in the linebacking core, in no small part because they drafted two players as defensive lineman with the second and third round picks, and picked up a 3rd from the baltimore ravens, dwan edwards, who is actually a veteran defensive end in the 3-4.
with the strength of the bills run defense now appearing to be more on the line than in the middle of the field, and with the defensive backfield remaining solid, it appears the bills will be willing to give the 4-3 another go round. it may also mean we see lots of hybrid defenses, mixing 4 lineman with five defense backs and just two linebackers on the field, one form of the nickel defense (the other being 3-3-5).
perhaps the bills also seem to be recognizing the strength of their defensive backfield, as a source of run support.
as noted by others previously, it is not clear what percentage of plays will occur in the 3-4, but for now, from what we gathered from gailey's comments after the preseason finale, expect to see a lot less of it than anyone would have anticipated just a short while ago.
and when it comes to final cuts, there is no question that this should mean the bills will keep seven down lineman, and perhaps only go with six or seven linebackers to start the season. if the 3-4 is going to be used sparingly, the bills are unlikely to want to keep eight linebackers on the team.
all in all, it seems gailey is quite flexible in his strategic approach: if the glove doesn't fit.......try another....