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.



Packers Playbook, Part 1: The Okie (Base) Defense

Packers Playbook LogoIn our first part of this series, we are going to take a look at the Green Bay Packers’ base defense, the “Okie.” The overarching 3-4 defensive philosophy is derived from this formation, as it was the one originally developed in the 1950’s by Coach Bud Wilkinson of Oklahoma. Of course, it all started out as a 5-2 formation, which will make sense later.

Explaining the Formation

You could call the Okie an “old school” formation, because it is the true alignment of a two-gap system. In this 3-4-4 defense, there is a nose tackle, two defensive ends, two outside linebackers, two inside linebackers, a pair of cornerbacks, and a pair of safeties. What is most important here is the alignment of the front seven, as they will control the line of scrimmage against running plays.

Before we go any farther, let’s quickly discuss defensive line technique and gap responsibilities. It can be a little confusing, but the following diagram should help:

Defensive Line Gap and Technique Diagram

The offensive linemen are displayed in the black circles, from the center out to the tight ends. Each “gap” is labeled above the circles, and they use letters as designations. The “A” gaps are between the center and guards, the “B” gaps are between the guards and tackles, and so forth.

The numbers underneath the circles represent the “technique” that is played by the defensive linemen. For example, if the nose tackle is lined up directly across from center, he is said to play a “0-technique.” If a defensive end is playing across from the outside shoulder of the guard, then he is said to play a “3-technique.”

These concepts are not unique to the 3-4 defense and are employed by 4-3 linemen, as well. However, 3-4 linemen are more apt to play certain positions along the line, which leads to different gap responsibilities. In the Okie defense, the nose tackle lines up across from center in a 0-technique, while the two ends line up directly across from the tackles, each in a 5-technique.

In this alignment, they are all going to be responsible for two gaps. The nose tackle will take the two A gaps, while the ends will each take their respective B and C gaps.



Packers Playbook Introduction: Basic Defensive Formations

Packers Playbook LogoWelcome to the offseason, where news runs as slow as molasses in northern Wisconsin during winter. As a way to pass the time and still get a healthy dose of Green Bay Packers football, we’ve put together a series detailing some defensive formations utilized by Dom Capers.

Every day this week we’ll bring you a breakdown of a particular Packers’ defensive formation. Hopefully it will help you build a better eye for the game and get you to see things you might never have noticed before.

When the Packers fired Bob Sanders and hired Dom Capers in 2009, it signified a fundamental shift in defensive philosophy. Mike McCarthy wanted to transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense, and Capers had a history of making these changes work, as well as being a founding father of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ legendary scheme.

“I’m big believer in the 3-4 defense for a number of different reasons,” McCarthy explained after hiring Capers.  “From an offensive standpoint, it gives you targeting problems and allows you as a defense to [better] use your personnel.  It really cuts the menu of the offense in half of what you would normally do against a 4-man front.”

But as we’ve seen, games are not merely played in 4-3 or 3-4 fronts. In fact, the Green Bay Packers have mostly used “nickel” formations the past few seasons, which primarily consist of two defensive linemen and four linebackers. It’s a response to the modern NFL and its pass-heavy tendencies. However, it also shows that there is more to a defense than just its “base” formation.

Below is a basic list of the defensive packages employed by Dom Capers and the Packers:

  • Okie and Eagle (3-4-4)
  • Nickel (2-4-5)
  • Psycho (1-5-5)
  • Dime (2-3-6)
  • Bat (1-4-6)
  • Prevent (1-3-7, 1-2-8)
  • Hippo (4-4-3)

Many fans should have an understanding of what those numbers mean following each formation, but as a point of reference, I’ll explain them briefly.

The first number in the set refers to the number of defensive linemen on the field. The second number represents the number of linebackers (inside and outside), and the third number represents the number of defensive backs (cornerbacks and safeties). Obviously, these three numbers will add up to eleven, since that’s how many players are allowed on the field for a play. That said, you can also omit the third number, which would then be implied based on the sum of the first two numbers.



Colin Kaepernick: Revisiting the Packers’ defensive debacle

Colin Kaepernick rushed for a quarterback-record 181 yards against the Packers in the playoffs.

Colin Kaepernick rushed for a quarterback-record 181 yards against the Packers in the playoffs.

Football is the ultimate team sport, so crediting just one player for a win in the NFL is foolish.

But in the divisional round of last year’s NFC Playoffs, the Green Bay Packers fell victim to a dominant performance by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In his first career playoff sart, the second-year quarterback put up video game-like numbers.

Kaepernick was sharp as a passer and electric as a runner, racking up 181 yards on the ground — a new NFL record for a quarterback.

Kaepernick may have been the NFL’s biggest breakout star throughout the entirety of the 2012 season. To start the year, Kaepernick carried the ball just once for 17 yards against the Packers in Week 1 at Lambeau Field. Four months later in the playoffs, Kaepernick accounted for 444 total yards and four scores.

After flexing his biceps in the end zone and drawing a 15-yard first-quarter penalty for taunting, it’s almost as if Kaepernick is now to Packers fans what Lord Voldemort is to Harry Potter.

He’s the archenemy. Don’t even speak his name in Packers country.

The Packers, again, will open up the season against the 49ers, so they’ll get an early look at the quarterback who dominated their playoff matchup. The effects from Kaepernick’s performance against the Packers, specifically, have been evident throughout the offseason in Green Bay.

For the second consecutive year, the Packers have focused on the defense early in the NFL Draft.

After being selected with the 26th overall pick in April’s draft, Datone Jones weighed in on Kaepernick’s playoff performance. “I thought he was pretty good,” Jones told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “But I don’t think they’re going to be able to run him like that. He takes one good hit, there goes their season.”

But while plenty of Kaepernick’s production against the Packers came on designed run plays out of the read-option, the fleet-footed quarterback continually escaped the pocket and caught the Packers out of position on designed pass plays.

Facing a third down early in the first quarter, Kaepernick eluded the pressure and found running back Frank Gore, who got behind Charles Woodson, gaining 45 yards down the left sideline. With the exception of a first-quarter pick-six by Sam Shields, Kaepernick torched the Packers through the air.



NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Markus Wheaton, WR Oregon State

Oregon State WR Markus Wheaton

Oregon State WR Markus Wheaton

Green Bay Packers NFL Draft prospect profile: WR Markus Wheaton

Player Information:

Markus Wheaton, WR Oregon State
5-11, 189 pounds
Hometown: Chandler, AZ


NFL Combine:

40 time: 4.45
Vertical: 37″
225-pound bench: 20 reps
20-yard shuttle: 4.02
60-yard shuttle: 11.16

News and Notes:

Three-year starter … Holds the Oregon State school record for career receptions … During his four-year career, Wheaton caught 227 passes for 2,994 yards and 16 touchdowns … Also in the running game on jet sweeps and end arounds … Was a first-team All-Pac 12 selection as a senior in 2012 … Caught 91 passes for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior … Carried the ball 83 times during his college career … Sprinter on the track team … Beat Oregon speedster De’Anthony Thomas in the 100m dash in May 2012 with a time of 10.58

 What they’re saying about him: 

  • NFL.com: ”His quickness is blatant and dangerous. Whether taking off from the slot or outside, his feet are literally a step ahead of his defender on everything from speed outs, crossers, to jerk routes. Displays the flexibility to grab throws behind him or over his shoulder when running deep. He’ll also extend away from his body to bring in high or wide throws, and will stutter on the sideline to ensure he makes the catch in-bounds. Possesses some thickness to his frame, and is willing to lower his shoulder to get the extra yard – often diving under defenders to get as many as possible. Wheaton also dabbled in track while at OSU, reminding scouts of his elite speed.”
  • eDraft.com: “Wheaton’s biggest asset is definitely his speed. Though he only ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at the combine, he has elite football speed. He was often used on jet sweeps and bubble screens where the Beavers just gave him the ball and let him do the rest. He can eat up cushion off the line in a heartbeat, and he can pull away from defensive backs in the open field. Often players with Wheaton’s speed are just track stars who get lost on the gridiron … He has smart and quick in his route running, showing an understanding of most of the routes on the route tree. He sets defensive backs up with head fakes and route angles, and sinks his hips well, exploding out of his breaks … In the games I viewed, he faced press a few times and showed great quickness and technical ability to overcome it.”


Packers Film Study: B.J. Raji peaking late in the season

Packers DL B.J. Raji

Packers DL B.J. Raji

When looking at the box score of a given football game, it can be easy to overlook some of the unsung heroes.

Sometimes it’s the offensive line paving the way for a 100-yard rusher and going largely unnoticed. Other times it’s a cornerback shutting down an opposing receiver, only to be ignored because he never got his hands on the ball.

On Sunday, defensive tackle B.J. Raji may have been the best player on the field for the Packers.

From his pick-six that sent the Packers to Super Bowl XLV in 2010 to his dominant performance on Sunday, it sure seems like Raji enjoys playing in the Windy City. Raji played what was likely his best game of the season with the NFC North championship on the line.

Pro Football Focus credited Raji with a +4.4 grade against the Bears–his best PFF grade since the NFC Championship during the 2010 season.

The box score only gives Raji credit for one solo tackle. No sacks, no forced fumbles. Just one tackle.

But looking beyond the numbers and watching the tape, it’s impossible to ignore Raji’s impact on Sunday’s win over the Bears.

Let’s take a look at four plays this past Sunday in which Raji made his presence felt.

1) Situation: 2nd and 9, 5:09 remaining – Q1

Breakdown: Raji lines up at right defensive end alongside Clay Matthews. Left guard James Brown is supposed to chip on Raji and block inside linebacker Brad Jones, but Raji blows the play up before even got started. Left tackle J’Marcus Webb is a split-second late getting to Raji.

Raji’s penetration single-handedly made this play, although Clay Matthews and Morgan Burnett were credited for the tackle in the box score. This was a drive-killer for the Bears, as they were ultimately forced to punt.

2) Situation: 2nd and 10, 1:05 remaining – Q1

Breakdown: Raji is lined up across from Bears right guard Gabe Carimi. As soon as the ball is snapped, Raji is in the backfield and the play is doomed.

Carimi is forced to lunge at Raji and is called for a 10-yard holding penalty. This play set up a 2nd-and-long situation for the Bears, and they didn’t score on the drive. Again, this is another play that won’t show up on the stat sheet, but it will certainly catch the eye of the coaching staff.



Packers Film Study: Cedric Benson Boosts Play Action Game

Cedric Benson Preseason Debut

Packers RB Cedric Benson could provide a boost to the Packers play action game.

In the Green Bay Packers’ 27-13 preseason victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday, Cedric Benson proved some of his worth to the offense. Though he didn’t see the field until the Packers’ second series, his influence on the defense was immediate, especially when it came to the play action fake.

In fact, the Packers went with a play action pass on the first three consecutive downs played by Benson. The first down resulted in an incompletion deep to Jordy Nelson, who probably should have drawn a defensive pass interference flag for getting knocked down when going for the ball. Greg Jennings hauled in the next two play action passes for 19- and 18-yard gains respectively.

Here is a video of the 18-yard completion to Jennings:

You’ll immediately notice that Bengals safety Reggie Nelson (#20) makes a nice fake at the line as if dropping into coverage before coming on a blitz. He even almost tips the pass intended for Jennings.

But go back again and this time keep your eyes on Bengals cornerback Leon Hall (#29), who is lined up across from Jennings in what appears to be a zone coverage. What the play action fake does here is draw him in to the center of the field, not only keeping Jennings wide open but also giving him room to run. (I particularly love how Jennings makes Hall completely whiff on the tackle.)

In the wake of two play action passes, the defense still bites on the fake for a third time. Even the blitzing safety had to adjust his target from Benson to Rodgers.

On the start of the third series, Benson remains in the game, and the Packers immediately lead off with a play action pass. It’s called incomplete on a tip-toe catch from Nelson along the sideline (though I would argue he was able to keep his feet in). But what I want to focus on now is the play that immediately follows:

Benson gets a good 8-yard run here in part due to the play action game. Keep your eyes on Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson (#93) here. He stops his pass rush when he identifies the offensive line run blocking, but his attention hesitates on Rodgers just long enough after the handoff to allow Benson some driving room inside the tackle.