Breaking Down The Buffalo Bills’ Defensive Fronts

Updated: August 20, 2013
Christian Ponder

With the regular season just over two weeks away, Bills fans have seen a revitalized team on both sides of the ball. However, the most notable difference is on defense, where defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has installed an aggressive, hybrid scheme designed to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.

Throughout the first two games of the preseason, the Bills have displayed a wide variety of defensive looks, with influence from numerous defensive schemes. Here at BuddyNixon, we’ll explain the concepts behind some of these fronts so you know what to look for when the regular season rolls around!

4-3 Under (4-2-5)

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While the Bills have personnel that would typically be utilized in a 3-4 defensive scheme, the 4-3 “Under” is a variation of the 3-4 defense. In the 4-3 Under, there are three down linemen and one pass rusher, or “LEO” as Seattle Seahawks’ head coach Pete Carroll calls it.

The 4-3 Under has proven successful when defenses have the correct personnel needed to effectively run it. The Baltimore Ravens are a prime example of a team that effectively runs the 4-3 Under.

The most notable feature of the Under front is the five-technique defensive end, which Alex Carrington is playing. The five technique is still an “interior” defensive lineman, as he’s lined up over the offensive tackle. However, with three beefy defensive tackles occupying gaps, this front is designed to have a pass rusher lined up in the seven or nine technique, outside the shoulder of a tackle or directly over a tight end.

By lining up the pass rusher wide, the player (Jerry Hughes in this situation) is given the ability to move in space and use his athleticism to get into the backfield, while the majority of the offensive line is focusing on the three down linemen.

Nickel Front: Two Down Linemen (2-4-5)


Mike Pettine made it clear that the Bills would be playing the majority of their defensive snaps out of the nickel package. In this particular defensive front, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams are lined up at the one technique, on the outside shoulders of the center.

The Bills substitute out a defensive end for an extra cornerback, while SAM linebacker Manny Lawson and defensive end/outside linebacker Jerry Hughes are in two-point stances to rush the passer.

Dareus and Williams’ responsibility at the snap is to occupy each “A” gap, essentially removing the guards and center out of the play, allowing the two pass rushers to engage in one-on-one with the offensive tackles.

“Psycho” Front (1-4-6)


The “Psycho” defensive front was introduced by Dom Capers’ Packer defense just a few years ago and it is one of the most confusing alignments in football.  With seven defenders within one yard of the line of scrimmage, there are literally countless different blitz packages for opposing quarterbacks to account for.

In this alignment, there is a nose tackle (Marcell Dareus), who plays the zero technique, lined up directly over the center and the rest of the defensive linemen are replaced by linebackers. The “Psycho” defense is a variation of Dick Lebeau’s zone blitz, as five defenders rush the passer and six drop into coverage.

This is an extremely difficult defense to diagnose pre-snap, as there is only one down lineman, and the remaining four-to-five linebackers are roaming along the line of scrimmage. Additionally, because there are only four rushers, the defense’s chances of creating a turnover are far greater, as the quarterback will likely have to get rid of the ball very quickly.

“Bear” Front (3-4-4)

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While the “Bear” front is operated out of 3-4 personnel, it is an extremely effective alignment in short yardage and rushing situations. The “Bear” is a variation of Buddy Ryan’s “46” defense that established the 1985 Chicago Bears as one of the most dominant defenses of all time.

The “Bear” is an eight-man front, with three down linemen, four linebackers, two cornerbacks and two safeties. For this alignment to be effective, having a dependable nose tackle is crucial. The formation is centered around the “3-0-3”, meaning that the two down defensive ends are playing the three technique, on the outside shoulder of the guards, while the nose tackle is head up over the center.

The weakside defensive end lines up in the five technique, on the outside shoulder of the tackle. The SAM linebacker walks up to the line of scrimmage and lines up in the “Wide Nine” technique, on the inside shoulder of the tight end, while another linebacker lines up next to him, on the outside shoulder of the tight end.

On the opposite side of the formation, the strong safety lines up at seven technique, about 1-3 yards wide of the tackle. The two remaining linebackers position themselves over the offensive tackles.

As this is primarily a run-stopping alignment, the defense is generally in “Cover 3” or “Cover 1” with the cornerbacks playing man-to-man on the boundaries with the free safety playing center field.


As you can see, the 2013 Buffalo Bills’ defense will be aggressive and attacking, while staying true to the theme of “multiplicity.” As long as the play calling doesn’t get too confusing or complex for the relatively young defensive players to grasp, the team has a real shot at being a top 10 defense in the National Football League.