So your best player doesn't fit the traditional form of your defensive scheme. What do you do?
This was the question many Buffalo Bills fans asked themselves last year around this time. Options such as trading Kyle Williams came up. That seems folly now, as Williams emerged as a Pro Bowl defensive tackle and the only impact player on Buffalo's defense. Could the Bills survive with a 306-pound nose tackle? Is he long enough to play five-technique defensive end?
As the season wore on, defensive coordinator George Edwards shifted to a 4-3 defense, which played to Williams' strength: shooting gaps. GM Buddy Nix re-signed 3-4 outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, and Chan Gailey affirmed the Bills' plan to play a multiple defense, featuring both the 30 front and the 40 front.
Back to the top. How do the Bills fit their best defender into a classic Bullough-Fairbanks 30 front? After watching the Bills this season, and tinkering with scheme, what follows may be an answer. Before beginning, it's important to note that Buffalo's multiple defense should be designed like Baltimore's, where the same players stay on the field, and the defense just changes formation. Buffalo played two primary defenses this season: the Bullough-Fairbanks 3-4, and the 46, which Edwards learned from Marvin Lewis in Washington.
Modern 46 Defense
Let's discuss how Williams fits into both of these defensive schemes.
Definition of Terms
Before diving into specifics, let's take a look and some of the positioning that Williams can have in each of these defenses.
Gaps. When talking about defensive responsibility, the defense assigns each space between offensive players a letter, and calls the space a "gap." Gaps are also references as strong side or weak side, depending on which side of the defense the offense lines up more players. Normally, if the offense lines up balanced, strong-side is the offensive right side.
In this technique, the nose tackle lines up the center of his body over the ball. Once the ball is snapped, the nose tackle engages the center, and is responsible for any run play in the A gaps. This technique normally requires a large defensive tackle capable of shedding the block of the center as the ball carrier approaches either A gap. Torell Troup was drafted specifically to play this technique.
In this technique, the nose tackle centers his body over the shoulder of the center. At the snap, the nose tackle penetrates into the A gap directly in front of him, since it's fairly difficult to control both A gaps from this position, though it can be done. One technique can be played in both 30 and 40 fronts. Bigger and smaller defensive tackles can play this technique, though it benefits a smaller, quicker defensive tackle by positioning them where they can burst into space at the snap.
Three technique is a lot like one technique. The defensive tackle centers his body on the outside shoulder of the guard, positioning himself to penetrate into the B gap. This technique was made a household term by Warren Sapp while playing in the Tampa 2 defense for the Buccaneers. This is the technique Williams plays best.
The defensive end in the five technique centers his body on the offensive tackle, positioning himself to make plays in both the B gap and C gap. These defensive ends typically are taller with long arms that allow them to keep blockers off them. They also have to be able to anchor against the offensive tackle and not be pushed back, and must shed the block as the runner approaches either the B or C gap. Alex Carrington is a perfect fit physically for this technique.
How Kyle Williams fits
Note: each position in the diagram is assigned a number of the current Bills player likely to start in that position. This is for clarity, and is not intended to make free agent assumptions, or anything like that.
Base Bullough-Fairbanks 3-4 with Williams at Nose Tackle
This is what Buffalo attempted at the beginning of the season. Williams can play the nose tackle position, playing zero technique, but this defense should be used sparingly. As fans saw early this season, Buffalo cannot stop the run out of this formation. It also negates Williams' best asset, as he is forced to muscle the center and deal with double teams instead of penetrating.
Base Bullough-Fairbanks 3-4 with Williams at Defensive End
In this formation, Troup plays his natural zero technique nose tackle, with Williams at weak-side defensive end. Whether Williams plays strong-side or weak-side defensive end, his limitations are apparent in this technique. He would be manhandled hand fighting against offensive tackles with longer arms, and this formation also limits his ability to penetrate. That is, unless they tweak the scheme. See below.
Hybrid Bullough-Fairbanks 3-4 Defense with Gap Shooting Weak-side End
This defensive formation looks exactly like the base defense - except that on the snap, Williams penetrates into the weak-side B gap. This defense would stress the offense in a couple ways. Williams would have to be blocked while penetrating; not an easy task. If the left guard blocks Williams, that eliminates any double team that Troup might see from the weak-side, which itself could stop an offense from executing any weak-side runs. If the tackle blocks Williams, it leaves a running back to block Merriman, a clear mismatch. Don't forget that behind the line, Paul Posluszny would remain unblocked and free to take on the fullback in the hole, or flow directly to the running back.
Hybrid Bullough-Fairbanks 3-4 with Weak-side End as Three Technique
In this defense, Williams moves a yard toward the center, and plays three technique. The schematic advantages are the same as when Williams was lined up as a five technique, but puts Williams into the position that he plays best.
Hybrid Bullough-Fairbanks Defense with Strong-side End Playing One Gap
This is the least preferred of the hybrid defenses, as it forces the Mike (strong-side) inside linebacker to play a gap. This defense could be used to allow a weak-side blitz, where both Dwan Edwards and Merriman have C gap responsibility, and Posluszny also does not have a specific gap responsibility.
This is the Bum Phillips 3-4 defense that his son and current Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips runs. The Cowboys and Chargers also play this defense. This is a good variation off of the base Buffalo defense, and plays to Williams' strengths. He can play zero technique, as shown, or play one technique. This defense requires a lot of talent to execute, and until Buffalo acquires better players or they develop internally, this defense should be run as a change of pace only.
3-4 Over with Williams at DE
Another change of pace defense that has Williams, and the rest of the defense, penetrating and responsible for a single gap.
Hybrid 3-4 Over with Williams at Three Technique
Another change of pace look with Williams lined up at three technique.
This defense should be used sparingly, as it puts Williams into a position where he's not penetrating. Instead, Buffalo should modify and go with this defense...
This 46 lines up the same way, with the only change coming with Williams penetrating into the strongside A gap. Williams can line up head up on the guard, or at three technique. If Williams lines up as a three technique, then Williams plays the B Gap, with Posluszny or Andra Davis picking up responsibility for the weakside A gap. A potential downfall is that if the center blocks Williams, the guard is free to block Posluszny, who also has B gap responsibility.
One Gap 46
Much like the 3-4 Over, the entire front seven has a gap responsibility and is penetrating. The one gap 46 was used heavily by Buffalo this past season, and like the 3-4 Over, requires talent to execute well.
Williams fits the scheme in a lot of ways. First, Williams should cede his nose tackle duties to Troup, who is better able to anchor the defense. This also frees Williams to be the defensive wild card: lining up in normal spots, but able to do a couple techniques from each spot.
Williams should primarily play weakside defensive end. I say weakside instead of right or left for a reason. Playing Williams on the weakside puts the offense at a huge disadvantage. The weakside blockers all have one-on-one blocks to make, including on Williams. The offense also has to choose between forgoing weakside runs, or gambling by blocking Merriman or Kelsay with a running back. Don't forget the space this creates for Posluszny.
From this weakside defensive end, Williams can alternate between lining up over the tackle and penetrating the weakside B gap, or lining up at three technique and doing the same thing.
In order of frequency, Edwards can mix things up by occasionally having Williams play nose tackle and have the entire defense play a 3-4 Over, play Williams at end and have him play two gaps, or play Williams at nose tackle and play two gaps. Now and again, Williams could play the strongside end, but not often, as it exposes the Mike linebacker.
In the 46 defense, Williams should normally play three technique in a hybrid look, with changes-ups coming with occasional calls to have the entire defense play one gap, or have Williams play two gaps.
There's really no reason to trade Williams or move away from the current defensive scheme, as he fits into a 3-4 and 46 nicely if properly positioned and playing the proper technique. If Williams is used in a variety of hybrid fronts, or allowed to shoot gaps from normal fronts, he should be just as effective in a 3-4 and 46 as a 4-3.