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



Packers Defense Will Utilize Best Players Available

Oh yeah. I've got this.

Let’s get this out of the way first: I couldn’t be more excited about the 2012 Green Bay Packers draft class. I thought Ted Thompson did a great job targeting needed position players and acquiring them at a good value. For a GM who has scraped the bottom of the barrel for outside linebackers the past two years, it’s refreshing to see him pick a prospect like Nick Perry in the first round.

Of course, draft picks usually come with some baggage, and Perry is definitely no exception. Draftniks have identified a couple question marks when it comes to Perry’s future as an outside linebacker for the Packers:

1. Is he the right fit for a 3-4 OLB, or should he be playing as a DE in a 4-3 system? His body size seems to be large for an OLB, and he has expressed minimal enthusiasm about switching positions.

2. Does his motor run consistently enough for the professional level? Scouts have called him “a little soft” and noted that he has a tendency to take plays off.

These are valid concerns, but I would challenge you to find an NFL draft pick (or even current player!) with no flaws or uncertainties about them. The question becomes how the coaches work to correct these deficiencies and implement the player in the defensive scheme.

The Packers’ second pick of the draft, DL Jerel Worthy, was also questioned about his fit into a 3-4 system. His trouble shedding blocks and projection as merely a one-gap type lineman gave cause for some reservations about the selection. But again, the draft is not an exact science. Players who are expected to thrive in the NFL can fail just as easily as a questionable prospect can succeed. Nobody ever gets it 100% right.

What we all really have to remember, though, is that Mike McCarthy, Dom Capers, and the rest of the Green Bay coaching staff will find a way to get their best players onto the field and in the most effective way.

The 3-4 defensive philosophy is based on versatility and confusion. In fact, even the term “3-4” is a bit of a misnomer these days, as the teams who run such systems are outside of their base personnel more often than not. Teams like the Patriots, Dolphins, and Ravens have shifted towards the so-called “hybrid defense,” where the base lineman can change between 3 and 4 players, depending on the play, and gap responsibilities aren’t dictated in the traditional manners.