The Buffalo Bills went into Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers without several defensive players.
Their solution? Play Donte Whitner at several positions.
With cornerbacks Terrence McGee and Ashton Youboty sidelined with injuries, Whitner stepped in and played corner in the base and nickel packages. He also played a lot at free safety as well as his normal strong safety spot.
Whitner's versatility helped make up for some of the missing players and proved to be a key to the Bills' 23-14 victory.
"I moved around from the nickel to the strong to the free safety, played some corner, and we held them to 14 points, so that's a good thing," he said. "The coaches told me before the season that I would be used all over the field. I don't know if this is what they had in mind, but I definitely enjoyed the extra responsibility."
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said using Whitner as a roaming defender allowed the team to take full advantage of his athletic ability. Just as impressive as playing multiple positions was his memorizing the assignments for every role.
"It's a tribute to him because he learned all those positions," Fewell said. "I thought it was important for us to do that to break with some tendencies."
Fewell's defensive shake-up included using backup Bryan Scott at strong safety when Whitner was at free safety or cornerback. The move was not out of necessity because starting free safety Ko Simpson was available, but was part of the Bills' game plan to combat the Chargers' big receivers, especially All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates.
At 6-foot-1 and 219 pounds, Scott is much bigger than Whitner and Fewell felt Scott was better suited to muscle up on the 6-4, 260-pound Gates. Gates caught four passes for 55 yards, but wasn't a huge factor in the game.
"Antonio is a physical guy," said Scott, who is not known as a cover guy, but played cornerback at Penn State. "His game consists of getting his hands on whoever is on him, not pushing off where it's illegal, but giving you that extra oomph to create the separation.
"It's not my first time competing against Antonio. He's a hell of a player. My mind-set was re-route him, get a hand on him. I don't think he's faster than I am, so if I could just stay with him, stay in his pocket hopefully long enough the rush will get there and Philip will have to look somewhere else."
Conventional wisdom was the Bills would have a difficult time competing against the Chargers' passing game without two of their three best cornerbacks. But Whitner provided good support for healthy corners Jabari Greer and Leodis McKelvin.
"I'm not used to playing out there, but whenever you get out there you have to play your leverage rules," Whitner said. "On outside leverage, allow those guys inside and try to separate them from the football. We did a good job today."
Indeed. The Bills limited the Chargers to 191 net yards passing, well below their 240-yard season average.
"We had some trouble on third down [San Diego converted 7 of 11 times], but the guys kept fighting," Fewell said. "The Chargers are a very good team and we knew they would be a hell of a challenge for us. But the guys handled any adversity they faced."