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Buffalo Bills a plurality Cover 3 team under Sean McDermott

Bills’ scheme shares trait with most of the league

Denver Broncos v Buffalo Bills Photo by Perry Knotts/Getty Images

What type of defense do the Bills run? From a schematic point of view, it’s a plurality Cover 3 scheme. What might be surprising to you is that a large portion of the league is similar.

Cody Alexander (@The_Coach_A on Twitter) compiled a listing of the percentages that different coverage schemes get called by each team in the NFL prior to Week 12 using data from Pro Football Focus.

The Bills run Cover 3 28.1% of the time, which represents their single most-called coverage and a plurality of their defensive calls. Twenty-eight NFL defenses call Cover 3 as their base coverage more than any other, and the Buffalo Bills are one of them. Only the Cleveland Browns (Cover 1), the Kansas City Chiefs (Cover 1), the New Orleans Saints (Cover 1), and the New York Jets (Quarters) call a base coverage other than Cover 3 the plurality of the time. Not a single NFL defense calls a base man coverage (Cover 1 and Cover 0) more often than zone coverage (Cover 2, Cover 3, Quarters, and Cover 6).

Overall, Buffalo isn’t a significant outlier in any of the coverages, calling them markedly more or markedly less than any of the other teams. There are no insane departures from “normal” like the Browns calling cover 1 41.9% of the time (expected with Jim Schwartz) or the Minnesota Vikings calling Cover 0 11.2% of the time (expected with Brian Flores). In fact, the Bills most called coverage (cover 3) is still the choice less than it is for most of the other 27 teams that have it as their most-called coverage. It’s a balanced scheme in regards to calling coverages on the back end.

Obviously there are a lot more nuanced conversations to be had about the sub coverages, timing, and intricacies of each coverage call. Cover 1, as an example, always ends up with one free man (typically a safety) and the sub-call is based on this man’s responsibility (Cover 1 Robber, Cover 1 Spy, Cover 1 Rat, etc) and these sub-calls aren’t captured in this data. But as an overall look at scheme, it can be directionally valuable to get a sense of the type of defense your team is running and where the Bills currently fall under head coach Sean McDermott.


...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!