Flexibility the Key to Bills Coordinator Search

The Bills reportedly are set to interview former New York Jets Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine for the same position (Photo: US Presswire)

BBD Editor Anthony D. Macari

Now that the Bills have selected Doug Marrone to coach the Bills, fans have begun to speculate on what system and coordinators will be brought in to Buffalo. With word that former Syracuse defensive coordinator Scott Shafer being named Head Coach that removes him from the list of potential candidates to choose from. The first name that the Bills have reportedly had interest in is with former New York Jets defensive coordinator position is Mike Pettine. That may suggest a shift to a Hybrid defense.

Buffalo has an interview scheduled with the former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine for Tuesday. Since the Jets a run a base 34 the natural assumption is if he comes here the Bills will once again switch things up and go back to a 34. This despite the fact Syracuse was known to run a base 43. However, clues can be taken from that Syracuse Defense to project that Marrone will be more tied to an attitude and an aggressive style of play more than he will be tied to any one system or scheme. The Syracuse defense down the stretch morphed into a hybrid similar to that run by the Jets and Ravens. Prior to playing Louisville, Syracuse ran primarily a base 43. However down the stretch as they faced more spread attacks, they morphed into primarily 3 man fronts. Against West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl they went almost exclusively with a Jets/Ravens style blitzing 34 attack.

Not all 34 defenses are alike. The Jets/Ravens version is really similar to a 4 man front. The main difference is one of the ends stands up in a 2 point stance. His primary role is still to rush the passer not drop into coverage. Think Terrell Suggs in Baltimore. It adopted many of its principles from the Buddy Ryan 46 defense, which utilized a four man front. Basically, it’s an attacking defense meant to create havoc in the backfield.

The alignment is very similar to Dick Lebeau’s Blitzburgh defense but the 2 DE’s have single gap responsibility instead of 2 gap in the Jets version. Syracuse ran a variation of this down the stretch, probably closer to the Steelers version than Jets with the ends having only single gap responsibility. The 2 ends lined up in the gap. LB’s and safeties were moved up and back to the line pre-snap to create confusion and typically one was also sent on a blitz. The common denominator between a LeBeau 34 and a Bears or Ravens style 46 despite the different alignments used is that they are both attacking styles meant to move the line of scrimmage and wreak havoc in the backfield. The Cuse attack, like LeBeau’s D, has a lot of pre-snap movement to try to confuse the offense. Blitzes came from anywhere and often sent more than 4 rushers.

Both attacks tend to use press man coverage, which Gilmore is well suited for. Aaron Williams needs to come back healthy and take a big step in man coverage or he will need to be replaced. Having a ball hawking Safety like Byrd will help if they can retain him. Finding a SS/LB hybrid player will be a top offseason priority. Don’t be surprised if Syracuse SS Shamarko Thomas is a possible Day 2 draft target. Mario Williams, Marcel Dareus and Kyle Williams all have the flexibility to play any of the 3 primary down line positions. Mario also could handle the SLB like he did his last season in Houston. What is missing is the big, spacing eating NT for a pure 34, but again, flexibility is the key. Both Dareus and Kyle Williams could move to the 1 or 0 technique.

The biggest area of concern moving forward would be a concern no matter what system is run. The Bills need to upgrade the linebacker position. The linebacker or two they bring in will be key factors in what base defense is ultimately used, but it would not surprise me to see scheme diverse, multi-skilled players brought in. Guys like Manti T’eo, Kevin Minter or Arthur Brown would seem to be athletic, scheme diverse linebackers that would fit.

For a coach known as being an offensive guy, Marrone delegated a lot of authority to his offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett. The offense was completely revamped days before the season began and an up tempo, spread attack was implemented. The offense borrowed from the Saints pro attack but mixed in zone read and west coast routes and timing.

Again, like the defensive approach it was more about an attitude than a scheme. Quick strike, up tempo spread the ball all over. They utilized a zone stretch blocking scheme, but if needed they would line up and put a helmet on a helmet. Flexibility within a framework seems to be a Marrone calling card.

He’s been described by former players as a student of the game who takes great pleasure in talking about the history of schemes and formations. In that vein, I think Marrone prefers crafting a game plan by borrowing from the best of all schemes without a slavish devotion to one or the other.

This approach is not unlike what Belichick has done at New England. He drafts players that have multiple skills and are able to adapt and adjust week to week and play to play. With that in mind it is not surprising to see Mike Pettine at the top of the list of defensive coordinator candidates and Pete Carmichael at the head of the offensive coordinators wish list.

What Belichick does best is getting his players to buy into the system. They understand one week they may be featured in an attack and the next barely get a look. Likewise, Marrone has shown an ability to get multiple players involved in an offensive attack and understands how to take advantage of weapons.

The amazing thing to consider about Marrone is how he was willing to change both the offensive and defensive systems basically in season. That shows a coach who is open minded and willing to listen to the advice of staff. Finding coordinators who he trust but who also bring the same kind of open mindedness is more important than finding a coach who is married to any one system.

Editor’s Note: Despite previous reports of Syracuse Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett staying at Syracuse, reports are now surfacing that he may have been offered the Bills Offensive Coordinator job. This is still an unconfirmed report at this time. Follow @BillsDraft for all the latest breaking info.

One Response to “Flexibility the Key to Bills Coordinator Search”

  1. Steven says:

    Great write up. Relly nice read, especially now that he has been confirmed as Bills new DC. Wonder what Mario Williams is thinking?

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