Category Archives: Packers Playbook

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July

Packers Playbook, Part 8: The Hippo Defense

Packers Playbook LogoIn our eighth part of this series, we are going to take a look at the Green Bay Packers’ heavy “Hippo” defense. This formation is obviously used in short-yardage situations, particularly on third and fourth down where a running play is expected. It adds an extra lineman by sacrificing a defensive back, usually a corner.

Explaining the Formation

So far we’ve been moving towards defensive packages with more and more defensive backs. With the Hippo defense, we are going to do a complete 180-degree turn and look at a personnel grouping with only three defensive backs. The Hippo is a 4-4-3 defense that aims to get more big bodies along the line of scrimmage to block up running lanes.

The front line of this heavy defense consists of two defensive tackles, two defensive ends, and two outside linebackers. That’s some serious beef for the offensive line to try to move. Behind them are the inside linebackers, and in the secondary are two safeties and a cornerback.

Without getting into any sort of complicated player technique and tactics, the primary goal of the front six is to disrupt the blocking lanes and prevent the offensive linemen and tight ends from getting to the second level. These guys are going to get as low as possible to control the point of attack and, in many cases, simply take out the legs of the opposition.

The inside linebackers and safeties are, in essence, the clean-up crew. They flow towards the ball and continue to clog up any running lanes left behind by the line. Their reaction has to be quick and their angles sure in order to get to the running back and make a successful stop. Let the ball carrier get past the linemen, and it’s probably going to end up being a conversion.

Obviously, the defensive assignments can vary depending on the tendencies of the opposing offense. The threat of a pass could tie up the cornerback and one of the safeties, preventing them from helping in run support. At that point, it’s up to the defensive coordinator and players to rely on their film study and opposition scouting to make the right call.

The Hippo Defense in Action

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July

Packers Playbook, Part 7: The Prevent Defenses

Packers Playbook LogoIn our seventh part of this series, we are going to take a look at the two types of “prevent” defenses used by the Green Bay Packers and other teams: the “Quarter” and “Half Dollar.” These obviously continue the naming sequence used by the Nickel and Dime packages. The prevent defenses boast seven or more defensive backs and, as its name implies, is used to prevent a quick score.

Explaining the Formation

Prevent defenses add extra defensive backs in an effort to keep the offense from getting behind them. In other words, they aim to keep the ball in front of them, avoid a deep completion, and make the offense eat up time. This means they’re often used when little time is left on the clock and the opposition is trailing in points.

The Quarter defense is composed of seven defensive backs – two or three safeties and four or five cornerbacks. Up front, you’ll generally see one defensive lineman and three linebackers from 3-4 defenses, creating a 1-3-7 personnel grouping. Most likely the defense will use two outside linebackers as pass rushers and an inside linebacker to cover the middle of the field.

When we get to the Half Dollar defense, the number of defensive backs rises to eight. (Obviously, this tends to be almost all of the cornerbacks and safeties on the active roster.) In maintaining a three-man rush, you will often see the inside linebacker come off the field to accommodate the enlarged secondary (1-2-8 personnel). The Half Dollar is rare and primarily used to defend the Hail Mary pass in the final seconds of the game or the half.

One really interesting thing to note at this juncture is that Dom Capers seemed to use the Half Dollar personnel more than the Quarter personnel in 2012. I don’t have any statistical data to back this up, but as I browsed through NFL Rewind looking for examples of each, I found it very difficult to find examples of the Quarter defense. In fact, Capers would often use a Bat package (1-4-6) in the early part of a prevent drive before switching to the Half Dollar. Those Bat packages would generally use Jerel Worthy as the linemen, Clay Matthews and Erik Walden as the rushing linebackers, and Brad Jones and Dezman Moses as the coverage linebackers.

29

June

Packers Playbook, Part 6: The Bat Defense

Packers Playbook LogoIn our sixth part of this series, we are going to take a look at the Green Bay Packers’ variation on their dime defense, the “Bat.” This seemed to become Dom Capers’ 2012 version of the Psycho, but with six defensive backs rather than five. He replaces a lineman with a linebacker, creating a level of confusion but maintaining the speed of the dime.

Explaining the Formation

The Bat is to the Dime as the Psycho is to the Nickel. It is a 1-4-6 personnel package that aims to create another level of confusion and flexibility. As we said with the Psycho package, the defense can hide their pass rush intentions a little bit better when any of the four linebackers can blitz or drop into coverage.

To be honest, there really isn’t a lot of new information to add about the Bat that wasn’t covered in the previous Psycho and Dime posts. You’re generally going to see this package in long yardage situations and late downs. The defense is looking to force a quick throw (or sack) and prevent a long completion.

Capers probably started using this formation with more prevalence last year because of his group of defensive backs. The addition of Casey Hayward in conjunction with the hybrid abilities of Charles Woodson gave Capers reason to get them both on the field. He also didn’t quite have the strength of five linebackers that the Psycho requires.

The Bat Defense in Action

We’re going to return to the Week 5 game against the Indianapolis Colts, but this time we’re fast forwarding to the fourth quarter, when the Colts are up 22-21. (Sorry to open up old wounds.) There’s 5:03 left in regulation, but the Colts are backed up on their own 7-yard line with 3rd-and-9 to go.

Breaking Down the Play

Once again, the Colts come out in an 11 personnel grouping (1 RB–1 TE–3 WR), but this time with their receivers in a 2×2 set. Andrew Luck is in the shotgun, and it’s clear their intentions are to throw the ball for the first down.

Capers naturally responds with a speedy dime package, but goes with the Bat for some extra aggressiveness so close to the goal line. It’s a Cover 1 look with Morgan Burnett as the single high safety. Jerron McMillian plays the other safety role, while Tramon Williams and Sam Shields take the outside receivers. Charles Woodson and Casey Hayward are each in their most natural positions – close to the line and heads-up on the inside receivers.

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June

Packers Playbook, Part 5: The Dime Defense

Packers Playbook LogoIn our fifth part of this series, we are going to take a look at the Green Bay Packers’ basic dime defense. Adding another defensive back to the secondary, this formation is used in obvious passing situations and where speed is necessary. We’ve seen this more against teams like the Detroit Lions who employ a spread offense and are often in the shotgun.

Explaining the Formation

We move on from the nickel formations to the dime, which adds another defensive back to the secondary by sacrificing an inside linebacker. A little run support is given up to focus more on shutting down receivers in coverage. In Dom Capers’ defense, the basic dime package is a 2-3-6 formation.

Most teams don’t use their dime packages with a lot of frequency, but it is becoming more popular as the passing game grows. You won’t usually see a dime formation against offenses with less than three wide receivers on the field, because it’s not very effective against the running game. It’s meant to stop the passing attack, so defensive coordinators don’t want to put their players in situations where they can be left vulnerable.

The dime is generally only used in the more obvious passing situations, or where the offense is showing certain personnel groupings that try to take advantage of speed. Aside from four wide receiver sets, teams that often send their faster running backs and tight ends into passing routes will see more dime defenses used against them. Defenses don’t want to have a slower linebacker covering a faster back, so they replace him with a defensive back who can keep up.

In the Packers’ basic dime formation, the front four looks pretty much the same as the base nickel, where they have two defensive linemen and two outside linebackers. As a pass-stopping defense, the coordinator will generally put his best pass rushing linemen and linebackers onto the field. Similarly, the lone inside linebacker will need to be strong in coverage and quick on his feet. (This is why Brad Jones rather than A.J. Hawk was the dime linebacker in 2012.)

The common combination of the remaining six defensive backs is four cornerbacks and two safeties; however, sometimes you will see an even split of three each. This simply depends on the offensive personnel and how the defensive coordinator wants to utilize the strengths of his available players.

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June

Packers Playbook, Part 4: The Psycho Defense

Packers Playbook LogoIn our fourth part of this series, we are going to take a look at the Green Bay Packers’ variation on their nickel defense, the “Psycho.” Dom Capers first unveiled it against the Chicago Bears in 2009 to much success. As its name implies, the goal is to create mass confusion for the offensive linemen and the quarterback.

Explaining the Formation

The Psycho package is a nickel defense, and as we covered in the last part of this series, this means that there are five defensive backs on the field. Compared to the basic 2-4-5 nickel defense that the Packers like to use, this one adds an extra linebacker in place of a defensive lineman. Thus, you have a 1-5-5 formation that is significantly difference in nature.

While we all like to give Dom Capers credit for his “mad scientist” concoctions for the defense, it’s important to note that this is not a formation exclusive to him or the Packers. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been utilizing this type of package since before the Packers, and the NFL has also seen it with the New England Patriots defense and with Rob Ryan’s defenses (among others). I’m also sure many of you Madden NFL fans have come across it in the video game.

As previously stated, the goal of this formation is to create confusion. By that definition, it could be considered a natural extension of the 3-4 philosophy – creating flexibility and unpredictability. Replacing one of the linemen with a linebacker allows the defense to more effectively hide where the pressure is coming from and where it is going to.

When you see the Psycho package on the field, you will notice the linebackers all mingling in front of the line of the scrimmage. They don’t line up in a specific point and will continue to roam until the ball is snapped. Even the lone defensive linemen will take a two-point stance rather than putting his hand in the dirt. This creates problems for the quarterback and offensive line when setting their protections, and if they are unprepared, it will cause them a lot of heartache.

26

June

Packers Playbook, Part 3: The Nickel Defense

Packers Playbook LogoIn our third part of this series, we are going to take a look at the Green Bay Packers’ basic nickel defense. According to the Football Outsiders Almanac from last year, the Packers used their nickel formation on 61% of their plays in 2011. This fact has led some fans to refer to it as their “base package” rather than the Okie, since they use it the most.

Explaining the Formation

Dom Caper’s basic nickel package is a 2-4-5 formation. In comparison to the base 3-4-4 defense, it removes one of the offensive linemen and adds a third cornerback. This setup is ideal for single back sets with two or three wide receivers. By putting another defensive back on the field, an extra element of speed is added.

Any formation with five defensive backs is considered a “nickel” package, but the primary one used by the Packers has two defensive linemen and two outside linebackers as the front four. At first glance, some might wonder why they don’t simply use a 4-2-5 package with four linemen, replacing the two linebackers. The answer is that this is part of the overall 3-4 philosophy.

By using more versatile outside linebackers, the 3-4 defense aims to create flexibility and confusion. The OLBs can drop into coverage, spy the quarterback, or (as is often the case) pass rush off the edge. Combined with creative zone blitzes, it leaves the opposing offense guessing. In your standard 4-3 defense, the defensive ends will drop into coverage significantly less than the 3-4 linebackers.

In contrast to the base defense, we are not going to get caught up in how the front four lines up with regard to their technique and gap assignments. For one, we’re mostly concerned with the passing game in the nickel, and secondly, there are a number of different fronts that can be called in this defense and I don’t want to complicate this analysis too much. That said, you will often see the defensive linemen across from the guards in a 1-, 3-, or occasionally 2-technique. The outside and inside linebackers will generally maintain their common positioning.

25

June

Packers Playbook, Part 2: The Eagle Defense

Packers Playbook LogoIn our second part of this series, we are going to take a look at the Green Bay Packers’ variation on its base defense, the “Eagle.” This mostly highlights a shift in how the defensive linemen position themselves – what technique they play and which gaps they are responsible for. The Packers have been known to use this more than their “Okie” formation in an attempt to play to their linemen’s strengths.

Explaining the Formation

Just like the Okie, this is a 3-4-4 formation generally used to counter offenses with two wide receivers or less. You’ll see it against potential running plays, but it’s also a little more equipped to attack and counter passing plays.

Before going into more detail, let’s quickly revisit our gap and technique diagram for the defense:

Defensive Line Gap and Technique Diagram

In the Eagle front, the nose tackle will still line up across from the center in a 0-technique, but he will “shade” himself towards the strong side shoulder. He will read the center and the ball on the snap and will be responsible for both of the A gaps.

The defensive end on the strong side of the formation will play the normal 5-technique, which is heads up over the tackle, yet his read will be the guard. Like the nose tackle, he remains a two-gap player. On the weak side of the formation, however, the other defensive end will play a 3-technique on the outside shoulder of the guard. The big change here is that this end can now become a one-gap player.

Cullen Jenkins used to be weak side end in this front, since it allowed him to shoot the B gap as a pass rusher. Dom Capers has since used B.J. Raji in this role, since he is a better one-gap than two-gap player. And as you will note in the example below, Jerel Worthy has also been called upon to play the weak side 3-technique in the Eagle.

By adding one-gap techniques into the front, the defensive lineman can also be used to “eat up” two offensive linemen. In both run and pass blitzing situations, this helps linebackers get past those otherwise occupied blockers.

It’s challenging to find a really good nose tackle in the NFL these days, and it’s even harder to find three defensive linemen who can consistently be two-gap players. The Eagle front helps to address this problem, since you can use a mixture of one-gap and two-gap assignments.