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Comparing base defenses: Jim Schwartz vs. Dave Wannstedt

After a year of Mike Pettine, the Buffalo Bills will be moving back to a 4-3 defense under Jim Schwartz. How similar will his defense be to the 4-3 defense run by Dave Wannstedt in 2012?

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Schwartz is the new defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills, a development that saddens me greatly. If you were not aware, I am a huge fan of Mike Pettine, and am not happy he is no longer in Buffalo. Alas, another year, another new defense. We hear about it all the time with offenses regarding taking time to get used to a new scheme, but here we have our fifth defensive coordinator in six years.

  • 2009: Perry Fewell
  • 2010-11: George Edwards
  • 2012: Dave Wannstedt
  • 2013: Mike Pettine
  • 2014: Jim Schwartz

I have watched a lot of the Detroit Lions defense on All-22 in the past weeks, and it immediately reminded me of the 2012 Bills. There is very little blitzing, and it is has a 4-3 over type look.

Allow me a quick aside here: there are lots of buzz words out there right now, and I want to take a quick break for football terms. I am sure a lot of you have heard the terms "under," "over," "even," "odd," and others. What do they actually mean? It's actually pretty simple. Here is a quick term sheet as they were taught to me.

  • Under: Weak side guard covered, center covered.
  • Over: Strong side guard covered, center covered.
  • Bear: All three interior linemen covered
  • Okie: Center covered, both guards uncovered
  • Even: Both guards covered, center uncovered
  • Odd: Tackles and center covered

Even though the Bills and Lions were similar defensively in 2012, as base 4-3 defenses with little to no blitzing, there were differences worth noting.

Wannstedt lined his front seven up with four defensive linemen and three linebackers in an over look. His ends played out the outside shoulder of the tackles, his strong-side defensive tackle lined up on the outside shoulder of the strong-side guard, and his weak-side tackle played outside shoulder of the center to that side of the alignment. If there was a tight end in-line, then the strong-side end would shift outside him (9-tech). The three linebackers were generally lined up as follows: outside 'backers over the two tackles, and the middle linebacker over the center.

What Detroit did differently is that they took the over front and spread it out more. Schwartz moved their nose tackle over the weak-side guard. The strong-side tackle still played the outside shade of the strong-side guard (3-tech). And then, as you all know, their ends played wide.

I chose this play for a certain reason, because it highlights one specific thing Detroit sometimes did differently this past year, and I think it helped their run defense a lot. Compare and contrast the two pictures below.

In the first picture, Detroit is playing a one-gap defense. Look at how everyone has their own gap. Specifically, look at the weak-side defensive tackle. In the first picture, he is clearly in the weak-side A gap, playing on the inside shoulder of the guard. However, in the second picture, the weak-side tackle is lined up basically head-up on the weak-side guard. He is playing two gaps here; by playing the guard instead of the gap, he is hopefully going to free up the Will linebacker to make plays. Who had a huge year last year for the Lions? Will linebacker DeAndre Levy.

I wrote this article because I wanted to pick out a specific wrinkle in a defense that I thought made a difference. You hear all the buzz words - 4-3, Wide 9, etc. - but coaching is so much more than that. It is technique work, attention to detail and small little tweaks that can make huge differences.