clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Is a defensive shift imminent with Buffalo Bills HC Sean McDermott?

A tumultuous offseason of change on defense could signal the need — or perhaps desire — for a new approach on defense

Buffalo Bills v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Every NFL offseason, football fans are often overly optimistic about their favorite team winning the Super Bowl at the conclusion of the upcoming season. Since drafting quarterback Josh Allen in 2018, there’s been a consistent upswing in excitement, expectations, and media attention surrounding the Buffalo Bills. Yet the Bills have come up short each year despite Allen’s rise to superstardom.

Last offseason, fans were excited about the addition of Von Miller to an already dominant defense. But that excitement ended prematurely when Miller tore his ACL on Thanksgiving Day against the Detroit Lions. The Bills went from pressuring the quarterback at a top-five rate to near the bottom of the league. With Miller tearing his ACL so late in the season, I wouldn’t expect to see him for at least the first month and a half of the season. So what do we have to provide optimism in Western New York?

To most of Bills Mafia, this offseason could be described as chaotic for the team. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds left in free agency for a bigger pay day than the Bills could offer.

Assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier decided to take some time away from the game and the team, leaving head coach Sean McDermott to hold down the fort and step in as the defensive play caller for the 2023 season.

And you know what? That’s exactly where I get excited! Every Bills fan knows McDermott served as the defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers prior to becoming the best head coach the Bills have seen since Marv Levy. The question frequently asked among the NFL community is whether he was a good defensive coordinator during his tenure with the Panthers.

The answer to this question is an unequivocal “yes.” During his tenure with Carolina, McDermott reinvigorated the team’s defense by implementing innovative strategies that led to their becoming one of the most productive defenses in the NFL. In the 2015-2016 season, the Panthers led the league in interceptions with 24, and they finished sixth overall in total defense. One of the main reasons for McDermott’s success as a coordinator was his expert ability to adapt to different situations.

So why does this excite me? The combination of Tremaine Edmunds leaving in free agency and Sean McDermott taking over the defensive play calling gives me reason to believe that the team is preparing for a change in philosophy on that side of the ball. The Bills chose not to sign a MLB to replace Edmunds, nor draft his replacement. Instead, they bolstered an already dominant secondary that boasts three All-Pro players in Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer and Tre’Davious White. Taylor Rapp was probably signed for depth purposes after missing Hyde for the majority of the last season but, if they remain healthy, it appears the Bills field a top-five secondary in the NFL.

That brings me to the potential change in philosophy. Out with Frazier’s “bend but don’t break” nickel defense, in with a potential 4-1-6 coverage. This defense is a variation of the nickel defense, which is a formation that utilizes five defensive backs. The 4-1-6 defense replaces one of the linebackers with a defensive back, creating a four-man defensive line, one linebacker, and six defensive backs. This defense is becoming increasingly popular due to its ability to stop pass-heavy offenses. But is it effective?

Yes, the 4-1-6 defense can be incredibly effective. As the NFL has become more pass-heavy over the years, defenses have had to adapt to be able to stop high-powered offenses so prevalent in today’s game. The 4-1-6 defense is designed to defend against the pass more effectively compared to more traditional defenses that have a heavier focus on stopping the run. Going up against quarterbacks like Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, you’d want to make sure you were effective against the pass.

The 4-1-6 defense is particularly effective against teams that rely heavily on the passing game and have a weak running game. The extra defensive back allows for more coverage options, making it difficult for quarterbacks to find open receivers. Additionally, the six defensive backs provide greater flexibility to adjust to various offensive formations and personnel groupings. This can create confusion for opposing offenses and allow the defense to disguise their intentions, making it difficult for the offense to predict their next move.

Another advantage of the 4-1-6 defense is its ability to create turnovers. A greater emphasis on pass coverage allows for more interceptions, as defensive backs can be in the right position to make a play on the ball. Additionally, the smaller defensive line can allow for more penetration in the backfield — increasing the chance to create fumbles and force quarterbacks into errant throws.

However, know that the 4-1-6 defense is not without its weaknesses. Of course, it can struggle against teams that have a strong running game — as the defensive line may not be able to hold up against a heavy rushing attack. If an offense can establish the run effectively, it can draw the defense in and create opportunities for big plays downfield. The Bills have shown a past weakness in defending the run. But the addition of defensive tackle Poona Ford to a defensive line group of Jordan Phillips, Ed Oliver and Tim Settle should make it a bit more difficult for opposing offenses to find success at the line of scrimmage.

A lot can be said about the shortcomings of the Buffalo Bills’ defense over the past few years. Everyone still talks about “13 seconds,” and the loss to the Houston Texans in the playoffs where the Bills held the lead for the majority of the game. Moving forward, there’ll be no excuses for McDermott. Leslie Frazier isn’t around to take the fall as the defensive scapegoat. The success of Buffalo’s defense lies in the hands of the head coach. What do you think, Bills Mafia — will we take a step forward or backwards, defensively, this season?