Reasons For Optimism: Evolution Not Revolution Of Defensive Scheme

There is little debate about the fact that four defensive coordinators in four years generally doesn’t lead to success. Guys like Kyle Williams and Leodis McKelvin probably wonder what their careers would have been like to play for the same defensive coordinator for the majority of their respective careers.

(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Jim Schwartz will use multiple defensive schemes with the Bills in 2014. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Jairus Byrd may not have the same level of patience, and if I am reading the tea leaves right, he probably won’t be wearing a Bills uniform next season. First, let me be clear that I have nothing but deep respect for Byrd and would be extremely happy (and surprised) if he is re-signed. The fan base is understandably highly divided on whether or not it serves Buffalo’s best interests to pay Byrd his asking rate to remain with the Bills.

While I support re-signing players of Byrd’s caliber, I also understand that the NFL is a business. The dispute about what constitutes “fair value” for Byrd’s services is one of the hottest social media debates going among Bills fans. This same debate took place last season when the Bills decided to not pay Andy Levitre “tackle money” for playing left guard. Bills fans remain rightfully sensitive about talented players who have been lost to free agency over the last decade or more.

Retaining a Pro Bowl safety into the Schwartz era is certainly a laudable goal. However, if a player wants a change of scenery, there is little that can be done within reason to retain that player. There is little doubt what Byrd would offer in terms of ball-hawking experience to bring continuity to Schwartz’s defense. However, if it involves sticker shock, it might be more prudent to use that money to fill another position or two along an offensive line in desperate need of added talent.

Many fans think the defensive scheme must be defined as either a 3-4, 4-3, 46, amoeba, wide-nine, or whatever, but most defenses today are a hybrid of various types of these approaches and others as well. It seems silly to obsess about how difficult the transition might be to go from Pettine’s defense to Schwartz’s.

Somehow, the Bills managed to improve a great deal with basically the same defensive players over the last two years with two different schemes. Have we as a fan base become so “empty” with the half-glass of water that we can no longer see the possibility that perhaps Schwartz might actually improve this defense even more than Pettine did?

Obviously, this defense has improved 110% from two years ago (removing tongue from cheek). Since Schwartz has been anointed Buffalo’s defensive coordinator, he bristles whenever anyone tries to fit his defensive scheme into a “prototype.” Kudos to him for not letting the media define him! Furthermore, Coach Marrone stated that most of the terminology would be kept the same in order to make the ‘transition’ seamless to a different coordinator. He also emphasized this was part of the reason for keeping Donnie Henderson on the staff as well.

Besides, isn’t February supposed to be about creating irrational thoughts about the Bills? Or are we only supposed to be dreaming about tropical blue water, and sipping on a beverage that contains a small umbrella? Nah, throw in the NFL combine and Valentine’s Day and we can make this February thing work!

I digress, but my point is that as Bills fans we should not allow ourselves to fall into the trap of woefulness because the first decent defensive coordinator in decades left for a head-coaching gig. The one real advantage of having Schwartz’s experience as a head coach is that he completely understands both roles very well. He understands more than ever how difficult it can be to bring in different systems and make them work for the overall team, as well as the defense.

Coach Schwartz has a great deal of wisdom about how much compromise has to take place for each coordinator to get who they believe they need to win games. So I tend to believe him and take him at his word when he says this defense will not require being completely revamped. I respect him even more when he bristles at the media trying to pin him down to defining an exact scheme.

The bottom line is that Bills fans should be comfortable that this defense is not going to require a complete remake. It will be an evolutionary change, not a revolutionary change. Furthermore, if this defense can stop opponents from running down the Bills’ throat, as Schwartz’s defenses have been known for in the past, it would be the icing on the cake.

Coach Marrone did indicate in a recent interview that he sees significant strides in terms of where this team sits compared to where they were a year ago. This off-season is about shoring up the offensive line, the linebackers and sorting out the quarterback situation. There simply isn’t going to be an overhaul on the defensive side of the ball.

The holes on the team that were not filled through the draft will hopefully be filled by the same type of free agents and trade acquisitions the Bills landed last year. The additions of Alan Branch, Manny Lawson, and Jerry Hughes were huge for the Bills. These players all played significant time and were certainly valuable additions to the defense.

Let’s hope the Bills brass will have as good an off-season as last year. Maybe this evolutionary approach will finally help the Bills get over the mountain and back to the playoffs. Nothing short of that goal will suffice any longer.

About Robyn Mundy

Robyn Mundy is Editor-in-Chief of the BillsMafia blog at She's a retired oncology nurse & psychotherapist who loves to write about her life-long passion for the Buffalo Bills, and occasionally something of clinical or social relevance. Robyn lives with her husband Gary and their dogs in the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. Robyn is also a proud founding sponsor. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynMundyWYO.