The new rage in the AFC East is the 4-3 defense. The New England Patriots began showing 4-3 looks last season with mixed results, and now the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and even the New York Jets are getting in on the action.
Buffalo and Miami have new defensive coordinators who believe in the 4-3 scheme. So it’s no surprise Dave Wannstedt for the Bills and Kevin Coyle for the Dolphins are implementing a 4-3 scheme with their respective teams this offseason. Buffalo, particularly, has great personnel to run a 4-3 thanks to their strong defensive line led by $100 million free-agent pickup Mario Williams.
But the Jets have been a heavy 3-4 base defense for years under head coach Rex Ryan. That's why I was surprised how often New York lined up with four down linemen during my visit to minicamp. The first team was Muhammad Wilkerson and rookie Quinton Coples at defensive end and Mike DeVito and Sione Pouha at defensive tackle. The group is young and athletic on the outside and stout and experienced on the inside.
Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine told the New York Daily News that the goal is to fix their struggling pass rush, which was 17th in the NFL last year with 35 sacks. That’s not acceptable for the Jets, who still finished with a top-five defense.
Pettine brought up an astute point about facing spread offenses within the division. The Patriots and Bills run spread-based offenses, while the Dolphins also will run multiple-receiver packages in rookie head coach Joe Philbin’s West Coast offense. It's a tough matchup for linebackers to cover slot receivers and athletic tight ends. The key is bringing in extra defensive backs for coverage and getting pressure with your front four. That's been the New York Giants' key to success against New England, for example.
There was a time not long ago when no one in the AFC East ran a 4-3 defense. Now, every team will use it to some degree in 2012. Some will have more success with it than others.