In 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.