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What will Buffalo's defense look like? This, that and the other

By Tim Graham

Despite the urge to slap a label on the he Buffalo Bills' new defense, Mike Pettine's general system can't be categorized definitively as a 3-4 or a 4-3.

What's the difference?

The point is nobody's supposed to know.

"I think they make things confusing," Bills defensive lineman Kyle Williams said after Tuesday's voluntary practice at One Bills Drive. "They can show blitz. They can get out of blitz. They can blitz outside, inside.

"There's just a lot of different things that they do it out of. And they do it out of multiple personnels, multiple formations. You can show a base look and you can blitz everybody out of it, or you can bring one."

Last year's defense was static under coordinator Dave Wannstedt. The Bills lined up in their 4-3 base and weren't too clever before the snap. Or after.

Buffalo's philosophy was to be masterful in its base and dare opponents to beat it. That didn't work. Buffalo ranked 26th in scoring defense, 22nd in total defense, 31st in run defense and 23rd in pass defense.

"With us playing Tom Brady twice a year, you have to do different things to him," Williams said, "because if you're going to get in your defense, and 'This is what we're going to stay in, and we're going to play it well,' no matter how well you play, he's eventually going to figure out how to spin the top on you.

"That's one of the great things about what we're doing now."

Williams has been watching voluntary workouts while he recovers from February bone-spur surgery on his right heel. He said he expected to be ready for practice by training camp.

In the meantime, he has been a keen observer of Pettine's plans and how they follow the league-wide trend rather than present a 1990s retro look.

"If you look around the league, everybody's like they're a 3-4 team," Williams said. "Kansas City did it last year where they'd line up in a zero and two fours. Dallas did it some with Rob Ryan.

"Other than that, now some teams might do it as a look, blitz out of it, do it once or twice a game. But nobody gets in that and stays in it. Even teams that are classified as 3-4, they're in under, they're in over, they get in odd looks, they get in bear looks.

"The way of, 'We're going to play 3-4 or 4-3 for the most part is kind of moot, and it's kind of dead at this point. You look on film, and there's so many teams that are so multiple. They do so many different things because you have to adapt to offenses. You have to adapt to Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings."


Dave Wannstedt | Kyle Williams | Mike Pettine | Tom Brady
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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |