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Bills should stick with the 4-3 defense

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The new hot topic around here is switching to the 3-4. Many Buffalo Bills fans believe that switching defensive schemes is a good idea, and that it will (eventually) fix the laundry list of problems on defense. I argue that it's change for change's sake, and it will actually hinder the Bills moving into 2010 and beyond.

"We can't think of a roster less suited to play a 3-4 defense in the league."
That quote, from Gregg Rosenthal of Pro Football Talk, sums up my thoughts on the transition in the easiest way possible. In their defensive front seven, the Bills have very few players that would transition well. Ends Aaron Schobel, Chris Kelsay, Aaron Maybin, and Chris Ellis are all too small to play 3-4 end. They would, in theory, transition to 3-4 OLBs and rush the passer. Aaron Kampman, Pro Bowl end for Green Bay in their 4-3 defense under Bob Sanders, made this move this past offseason. His numbers were the worst since he took over as a full-time starter in 2004. When Maybin was coming out of college, many draft experts pegged him as a 3-4 OLB, but it's a position he's never played. Maybin's progress in the scheme may be slow to develop.

Some have said defensive tackle Marcus Stroud could man the nose tackle position, a spot he's never played in his career. While he could play this position, his skill set is better suited to be a 3-4 end, and I don't think he's quick enough to play on the edge at this point in his career, particularly on his surgically repaired ankle. The short-armed Kyle Williams has the quickness, but not the physique, of a 3-4 DE.  While he might be successful at that spot, he certainly isn't the prototype. Backup Spencer Johnson might be the best DE on the roster after a transition. He has the long arms and quickness/size combination to help him be successful.

The majority of the current linebackers on our team - and there are a bunch of them - couldn't be further from ideal 3-4 fits. Marcus Buggs, Bryan Scott, and Nic Harris are too small to be able to shed defenders, a must in the 3-4 with fewer down linemen. The same can be said for Paul Posluszny. The biggest problem Poz has when he rushes is he gets engulfed by blockers. His skill set is best utilized in the same vein as Brian Urlacher, who was at his best when he was able to roam and make plays behind wide-bodied DTs. Kawika Mitchell would probably be able to move to an ILB position. He's big enough to blitz and shed blockers to make plays. Keith Ellison could transfer to OLB in a pinch, but again, he's not best utilized in a 3-4.

Finding 3-4 Players
Thirteen teams utilized the 3-4 defense this year, according to The Buffalo News. With more and more teams playing the 3-4 defense, it has become increasingly difficult to find the right players to fit the scheme. True 3-4 nose tackles in particular are hard to find - so much so, in fact, that the Chiefs, transitioning to the 3-4 this year, employed Bills castoff Ron Edwards and a player who hadn't played in six year, Kenny Smith, to be the centerpiece of their defense.

The argument many make is to look at the success of 3-4 teams in the league and point to the defensive front as the reasoning. It's true many recent Super Bowl winners, such as the Patriots, Steelers, and Ravens, have used this defensive scheme. But the Colts rode a Tampa 2 defense to the title, the Giants ran a 4-3 when they defeated the Patriots, and this year three of the four finalists all ran the 4-3. The lone exception is Rex Ryan's Jets defense. They had that stud NT in Kris Jenkins, until his injury against Buffalo forced him out of the lineup. The Vikings, Saints, and Colts all use a 4-3 front to great success.

It's true the Bills' rushing defense was atrocious last year, but moving to a 3-4 wouldn't fix that problem. With the problems on the offensive side of the ball, it would make more sense for the Bills to upgrade their defense as opposed to completely revamping it. If the Bills are to be competitive any time soon, they should hedge their bets on an aggressive 4-3 defense. Adding a linebacker, defensive end, and rotational defensive tackle is much easier than finding new players at virtually every position in the defensive front seven.