Inside Mike Pettine’s Playbook Part Two: The 3-4 as a Personnel Group

Bills DC Mike Pettine (AP Photo/David Duprey)
Bills DC Mike Pettine (AP Photo/David Duprey)

When the Buffalo Bills hired former New York jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to the same position, there were rumblings among fans regarding what type of defense the team would operate in 2013.

Pettine has been coaching in the National Football League since 2005, where he joined the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coaching staff and has learned the ins and outs of Rex Ryan’s 3-4/ 4-3 “Under” defense.

Upon researching the various defensive formations that Pettine has utilized throughout his coaching career, I came across a clinic in which he delivered information on his personal defensive philosophies, plays, coverages, etc.

Over the next week or so, will be exploring Pettine’s defense in an 8-10 post series. Enjoy!

Click here to read Part One of the Inside Mike Pettine’s Playbook series, regarding his defensive philosophy.

While Pettine has stated that the 2013 Buffalo Bills’ defense will be “multiple,” he has operated out of 3-4 defenses throughout the entirety of his career.

When Pettine says “multiple” he means two things. He describes one 3-4 defense as a personnel group that would play nearly 100% of base downs against opposing offenses’ personnel.

When I heard that the Bills would be a “multiple” defense, I’m assuming that he meant operating the 3-4 as an alignment, in which he stated to be an ”Odd Front” that would play approximately 10-15% of base downs against the base offensive personnel.

Why the 3-4?

With the depth on the Bills’ defensive line (Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Alan Branch, Alex Carrington and DE/OLBs Manny Lawson and Mark Anderson) Pettine can utilize his exotic blitz schemes very well.

Potential Coverage With Linebacker Pressure

Odd Coverages

This “Odd Coverage” play based out of a Cover 2 base personnel, is an example of how Pettine could attack an opposing quarterback while still having reliable coverage.

“Odd Coverages” mean there is an odd number of players on line of scrimmage (typically three or five)

The five-technique left defensive end (Marcell Dareus) would shoot the B (between offensive tackle and guard) gap, nose tackle Alan Branch, who would be playing the zero technique (directly over the center) would occupy both the center and left guard while attacking the A (between the center and guard) gap. Kyle Williams, who presumably would be the five-technique right defensive end would shoot the C (between offensive tackle and tight end) gap.

As Mario Williams has proven to be effective rushing the passer from the left side, he would presumably be the weakside pass rusher, as Dareus would likely have the right tackle/guard occupied.

Manny Lawson would likely be the strongside linebacker that drops into the curl/intermediate zone, while the two inside linebackers drop in coverage.

The basis of this play is making sure that the five players on the line of scrimmage execute their assignments, because there will be two cornerbacks left on an island with two safeties playing halves (Cover 2).

Defending The Run

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Mike Pettine’s defenses have performed particularly well against the run, due to the variety of sub-packages he utilizes. In this play, Pettine utilizes a 3-2 front, meaning that there are three defensive linemen, two linebackers and six defensive backs.

This is a “nickel” formation that holds up especially well against the run and can still provide pressure with a three-man rush.

The left defensive end plays the five-technique (over the right tackle), the nose guard plays the zero-technique (over the center) and the right defensive end also plays the five-technique (over the left tackle.

The two linebackers used would likely be Kelvin Sheppard, the “Mike” or inside linebacker, with Nigel Bradham, the strong side linebacker or “Ted” playing aside him.

By utilizing six defensive backs, or a nickel linebacker (Bryan Scott?), this sub-package provides great versatility that should shut down the run. Pettine’s 2011 defense utilized seven defensive backs approximately 17% of the time, more than any team in the National Football League, which is why a run-defending safety is important to operate this defense.


This second post in the Inside Mike Pettine’s Playbook series highlighted why Coach Pettine likes the utilize the 3-4 defensive scheme, but also shows that he’s versatile with how he uses it. The third installment will be covering how he defends the spread, an offense taking the league by storm, with multiple play descriptions and player responsibilities.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to stay tuned for the third installment!