Xs and Os: Do the Packers Have an Elephant in the Room?

Julius Peppers hopes to be a disruptive force for the Green Bay Packers defense.

Julius Peppers hopes to be a disruptive force for the Green Bay Packers defense.

When the Green Bay Packers signed defensive end Julius Peppers in free agency, lots of speculation about his future role with the team erupted.

We heard rumors circulating about a possible deployment of a “hybrid defense” and the “elephant end” position.

The reason for this speculation is Packers’ defensive Dom Capers employs a base 3-4 defense, which utilizes 3 defensive linemen and 4 linebackers.

However, Peppers is a 4-3 defensive end. The 4-3 defense utilizes 4 defensive linemen and 3 linebackers.

Because of this alignment difference, the defensive ends between both schemes have different body types and responsibilities.

Typically, 4-3 defensive ends are usually between 260-285 pounds and are long, fluid athletes. On the other hand, 3-4 defensive ends are between 300-340 pounds and are more of the wrecking ball type.

The reason for these different body types has to do with defensive gap control.

Gap control is how the defense puts its players in proper position, mainly for stopping the running game, but also secondarily when establishing pass rushing lanes.

The 3-4 defense typically uses a double gap system, meaning that each defender in the front 7 is responsible for defending 2 gaps in the offensive formation.

This is very much a read and react system where each player anticipates where the ball will go and move to that location as the play develops. At the snap of the ball, the defensive linemen stand up their blockers, clog the position, and move to the lane where the ball is.

Linebackers also have double control and flow to the ball as the runner hits the lane.

Legend: T = Tackle G = Guard C = Center TE = Tight end DE = Defensive end NT = Nose tackle S = Sam (strong side linebacker) M = Mike (middle linebacker) W = Will (weak side linebacker) J = Jack linebacker

T = Tackle, G = Guard, C = Center, TE = Tight end, DE = Defensive end, NT = Nose tackle, S = Sam (strong side linebacker), M = Mike (middle linebacker), W = Will (weak side linebacker), J = Jack linebacker

The 3-4 defense relies on strength to control the gaps, which is why the defensive linemen are large. However, the Jack linebacker, such as Clay Matthews, is free to roam and do damage over a large portion of the field, including rushing the passer.

In contrast, the 4-3 defense is traditionally a single gap defense, which means each front 7 defender controls only 1 lane.

Legend: DT = Defensive tackle

DT = Defensive tackle



According to Hobbes: Packers Offseason Primer on the NFL Combine: Outside Linebackers

Outside Linebackers: Here’s the eighth of a series of articles, looking specifically at the NFL combine and the Packers’ drafting tendencies. (Read here for the rationale for this serieshere for quarterbackshere for running backs, here for wide receivershere for tight endshere for offensive tackleshere for offensive interior linemen and here for defensive ends).  This article will use the combine numbers from previous players drafted by GM Ted Thompson as a guide for what outside linebackers are likely to fit into the Packers’ scheme.

Again, this is merely an attempt to make a best guess based on statistics at which players the Packers might be interested in, game tape naturally trumps combine numbers, so take all of this with a grain of salt.  But I believe it will make for some interesting discussion.  Also listed below are also two outside linebackers in this year’s draft who I think fit the Packers scheme the best, based on their combine numbers.

Statistics of outside linebackers linemen drafted by the Packers:

Name Height Weight 40-Yard 3-Cone Shuttle Vertical Broad Bench
Brady Poppinga 6’3” 259.00 4.59 7.29 4.39 35.50 110.00 26.00
Dave Tollefson 6’4” 263.00 4.74 6.98 4.48 34.50 114.00 27.00
Jeremy Thompson 6’4” 262.00 4.75 6.97 4.23 32.00 117.00 25.00
Clay Matthews 6’3” 246.00 4.59 6.90 4.18 35.50 23.00
Brad Jones 6’3” 230.00 4.54 6.75 4.21 33.00 119.00 19.00
Average 6’3” 252.00 4.64 6.98 4.30 34.10 115.00 24.00
StDev 0.55 14.05 0.10 0.20 0.13 1.56 3.92 3.16


What the Packers are looking for: Again one of the biggest discrepancies with this analysis is the fact that the Packers switch to the 3-4 in 2009 under Dom Capers.  Just like with my previous article on defensive ends, I have projected players who were drafted before 2009 into their most likely positions in a 3-4 defense.  Luckily this isn’t as big of a challenge as it was for defensive end players as only one player, Dave Tollesfon, had to be projected to a 3-4 outside linebacker.