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Cory's Corner: Packers' hybrid defense is perfect

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Cory's Corner: Packers' hybrid defense is perfect

The inside linebackers aren’t exactly getting warm and fuzzy about losing snaps to safeties.

Training camp is only nine days old and the main story has been how impressive the safeties have played at inside linebacker.

“I think it’s just the fact that we have that versatility to bring guys like Morgan (Burnett) and guys into the box that can play that linebacker/hybrid role,” said outside linebacker Clay Matthews. “Which just allows us to have more DBs on the field, which is where this league is going.”

And the reason this league is going that way is because of what happened in 11 games last year. There were seven receiving touchdowns scored by running backs in the postseason alone. And that number could’ve been higher given how many times the Patriots and Falcons split their running backs out wide.

No matter how much you’re married to the old system, defensive coordinator Dom Capers didn’t have a choice. The inside linebackers were getting torched by speedy, versatile running backs. And when the opposing quarterback saw that a linebacker was on their shifty speedster, they kept attacking it — which is why James White became a household name after New England’s improbable Super Bowl win.

“Morgan has proven himself to be able to play in the box, to withstand the rigors of 300-plus pound linemen coming at him at the same time playing coverage,” said Matthews. “I think it just gives us another personnel we can matchup against when teams are spreading us out and trying to take advantage of mismatches against linebackers.”

Burnett will be the first one expected to step into the dual role but he’s not the only one that that has turned heads already in camp. Josh Jones is just a rookie but it looks like he’s drinking the same vinegar Mike Daniels is downing at water breaks. The second round pick out of N.C. State plowed over fellow rookie wideout Malachi Dupre on the first day of pads. Richard Rodgers stuck up for Dupre, but the Packers have been lacking nasty for awhile and Jones is bringing it.

“Be smart more than anything else,” said Packers safeties coach Darren Perry, who also said he liked it with a smile. “We know we’re not playing the Green Bay Packers and we don’t want to lose anybody.”

The inside linebackers can act like a bunch of teenage girls that weren’t asked to prom, but it’s time to face the facts. They cannot cover very well. And when you’ve got offenses that have been trying to unearth mismatches against defenders that cannot use their physicality to cover anymore, it’s a terrible cocktail. And one that usually ends up lopsided, which is what happened in January.

I applaud Capers for this switch. In fact, if Jones continues this path of punishing physicality, you have to start thinking about a full-time position switch. Jones may not play much as a safety right away behind Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, but he can poach snaps right now at inside linebacker.

It’s a faster and more athletic league and the Packers are better with Burnett and Jones roaming the box. That doesn’t mean that someone like Jake Ryan is useless but with the speed of today’s game, he has turned into a situational player that should be used on obvious running downs only.

This Packers defense is playing like a pack of wolves right now and I like it. 


Cory Jennerjohn is a graduate from UW-Oshkosh and has been in sports media for over 15 years. He was a co-host on "Clubhouse Live" and has also done various radio and TV work as well. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. He currently is a columnist for CHTV and also does various podcasts. He recently earned his Masters degree from the University of Iowa. He can be found on Twitter: @Coryjennerjohn

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (43) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Turophile's picture

Guys not at the top of the depth chart like Safety Brice, DT Price and higher tier prospects like Lowry, Rollins and J.Jones, these are guys that will see more and more playing time, if they keep on doing what they have been doing.

They have caught peoples eye already, and now the installs are done, coaches will be weighing up where they best fit in this years D. The next 20 days are key for them.

The TKstinator's picture

I think this also means the days of guys like Reggie Ragland getting picked early in the draft are over, at least for now.

In a few years, maybe teams will return to power running over the light but fast ILB's.

Or not. Keeps the sport interesting.

dobber's picture

"Or not..."

So long as the rules are tilted toward throwing the football, the power running teams will be few.

The TKstinator's picture

You may be right.

dobber's picture

I may be crazy...

The TKstinator's picture

But it just may be a lunatic you're looking for

Same page, amigo!

Savage57's picture

After about half a season of play, offenses will have figured out the hybrid and will have a counter for it.

But, credit to the Cardinals and Deone Bucannon for starting a thing.

The defensive variant of the Wildcat.

Zzzzzz. Next?

Turophile's picture

Snooze, you lose. You want to be ahead of the curve, not trailing behind, and it's a matchup league - don't see that part changing soon.

Finwiz's picture

There are SIMPLE solutions for a loaded DB secondary vs. 245 lbs LB's, and all it requires is a competent RB and a set of guards that can pull, and tackles that can Run block. There are no secrets in the NFL. I'm underwhelmed with what I'm seeing on paper. Add in the fact, when one of these inside DB's gets hammered in the box, and ends up staggering to the sidelines for six weeks, the 245 pounds will be back in the game and vaunted EXPERIMENT with 220 lb safeties playing MIDDLE LINEBACKER will be OVER post haste!


Sean-Luc Shanahan's picture

This game is headed toward simply getting your fastest players out on the field. I don't see that being countered any time soon.

Since '61's picture

To say that the hybrid defense is perfect is probably a little premature since they have yet to play a down in a real NFL game. The flexibility and additional speed it brings to the defense are good things but NFL coaches are smart people and I'm confident that many are already working on ways to exploit it. In fact I wonder what MM is doing with the Packers offense to attack a hybrid defense which I am sure the Packers will face during the season. Even with all of our weapons on offense we may not see as many mismatches as we expect if other teams are preparing their own versions of a hybrid defense. For now it's good to know that Burnett and Jones are doing well. The key is to keep everyone healthy and translate the practices to on the field effectiveness. Thanks, Since '61

The TKstinator's picture

Yes, "perfect" is stretching it, but "adapting with better suited personnel" doesn't make for a catchy headline.

Since '61's picture

Good point TK, click bait counts. Thanks, Since '61

DThomas's picture

Since '61: "Even with all of our weapons on offense we may not see as many mismatches as we expect if other teams are preparing their own versions of a hybrid defense."

With the acquisition of two TEs who can block, get open and catch the ball, the Packers ability to create mismatches should cause opponents all kinds of problems. Add Rodgers' ability to catch defenses trying to substitute and the headaches of opposing DCs should only get worse. Consider the personnel group of Nelson, Adams, Bennett, Kendricks, and Montgomery. They could line up with the TEs tight, with one of the WRs just off one of the TE's hip and with Montgomery at RB. Pre-snap the WRs both shift out wide, the TEs split wider and Montgomery exits the backfield. Rodgers picks the best mismatch. They have the ability to go from a run-first formation to empty backfield and the blocking TEs in the former and all the receivers in the latter have to be taken seriously. Go no huddle preventing the D from substituting and hammer what works. Obviously nothing in football is perfect but my point is the Packers offense should be particularly good at creating mismatches this season.

You are right, other teams will have versions of a hybrid defense too. But the key is the personnel to do it. If they don't have a Bucannon or Burnett or Josh Jones type player they'll struggle to implement the scheme.

carusotrap's picture

This may seem "new," but actually, it's just a variation of the old "put your best athletes on the field." And to be honest, we haven't always done that.

Anything that improves this D - arguably a low bar at times - is a good thing, and if other teams figure us out half way through the season, I'll still take those eight games.

The TKstinator's picture

Maybe GB could draft some decathletes.
Ok, forget that. I don't know what I was thinking.

Nick Perry's picture

IMO the Packers are set up better at the ILB position than they have been since Bishop was here. With Josh Jones and Burnett the Packers have the versatility to be able to play and match up with any offense they face. But they also have Blake Martinez who I've heard absolutely nothing about all summer and Ryan who I absolutely love. They still have to face teams like Dallas or the Seahags for example who are going to run the ball down your throat if they can. Throw in Joe Thomas and the Packers have a nice blend of Inside Linebackers.

Bottom line is it's great to see Capers is getting with the times. The Packers NEED him to.

4thand1's picture

You forgot CMIII inside.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

I've said a bunch in the past moving Clay inside and having an even slower ILB is the wrong direction. I'm very happy to agree with Capers plan for smaller faster ILBs.

4thand1's picture

Teams don't study game film of practices. Bellicheck says we won't really know until week 4 of regular season. It all comes down to players making plays, what ever package they're running. With all these smaller players the running back may make a big comeback in the NFL.

Mr.Bigg's picture

smaller mlb is countered by larger rb. you gain in the covering of the pass- you loose in covering of the run. i admit i am no expert, but this has always been the "problem" with going small on defense. so teams like the titans should be very tough to stop with a hybrid defense.

The TKstinator's picture

Sure, but the defenses scheme vs offensive personnel and tendencies. Unless the Titans have a versatile RB who can provide both power running and shifty receiving, I don't think defenses will line up too often with light but fast personnel.
That's one of the reasons LeVeon Bell, David Johnson, and Ty Montgomery are valuable!

jeremyjjbrown's picture

Which is why Ryan and Martinez are still going to have roster spots.

The TKstinator's picture


Bearmeat's picture

A few articles I'd REALLY like to see plastered all over the internet:

"Packers backup OLBs winning 1 on 1s with Packers starting OTs"

"Packers pass rush looking nasty"

"Perry thinks injury woes behind him."

"CM3 looking like CM3 of old"


Did I make my point? Without a pass rush, the D will struggle. Period.

That said, I'm really liking the play of the DL, ILBs and secondary. This has the makings of an improved unit from last year. (Which isn't saying much).

Sean-Luc Shanahan's picture

There is really no good way to evaluate a pass rush right now. Nobody in practice can actually go back and sack the QB who is mainly focusing on timing with quick passes (not realistic). The pass rush evaluation during training camp is far too subjective to get anything of value. Wait till preseason games.

Also, Perry and Matthews are fine in terms of skill. They just need tostay healthy.

The TKstinator's picture

And then of course we'd be worried about our OT's.

JohnnyLogan's picture

Capers... we still have Capers. He's been behind the curve his entire life. Offensive Coordinators lick their chops preparing for him. It took forever to get rid of Hawk. Taking even longer for Capers. But someday... soon I hope.

Finwiz's picture

Yes Johnny - there's so much delusion with packernation, you wonder if any of these people have been watching the games the last 3-4 years?

stockholder's picture

if you can't get the job done. Get Out! No excuse now.

Oppy's picture

He's been behind the league his entire life?

Quite the contrary.

Sean-Luc Shanahan's picture

The digs on the ILBs was unnecessary: "The inside linebackers can act like a bunch of teenage girls that weren’t asked to prom, but it’s time to face the facts."

Give it about 5-6 games. The Safety to ILB converts will all be on the sidelines with small bang up injuries for playing a position that is too harsh for them and the more stout Ryan and Martinez will reclaim their roles. There's a purpose for every defensive player on the team.

Finwiz's picture

Oh yeah Cory - it all looks PERFECT on paper and practice without pads. Then the regular season starts and it's torch city for 400+ yards on a weekly basis. Fine, you cover our backs and slot receivers with a 220 lb safety, we'll run right at you with beast mode types, and flatten you with the run, as the back slips between the non-existent resistance of 2 down lineman. Joke.

This is Dom Capers - an antique ready for the retirement sofa.

dobber's picture

I read the comment above about James White (and his type of RB) and needing fast hybrid types to cover him, but the Falcons have the likes of Deion Jones who can run and cover playing ILB (and he's an ILB not a hybrid) and they still couldn't stop White.

James White is a good, but not great RB. They found ways to get him the ball in space 14 times. He wasn't chewing up big chunks of yardage, he was averaging 7.9 yd/catch. He was Mr. Dumpoff, and, if you take away his longest reception (28 yards), he averaged just a hair over 6 yd/catch. The game DICTATED that he catch those balls because the Falcons were up 28-3 until almost the end of the 3rd and playing soft to protect a lead.

We can talk about the hybrids and what they are and how they help a defense, but it's still about recognition, adjustments and execution. With the rules skewed the way they are in favor of passing offenses, having skilled cover guys is a must. But I'd take a 6'2", 235 lb. ILB who can play all three downs proficiently over a 6'1", 215 lb, SS convert, any day.

flackcatcher's picture

And this is why fans hate the prevent defense. Giving up big chunks of yardage while not grinding the clock down is bad coaching and clock management 101. The hoodie likes a vampire. Unless you put a stake into him, he always, ALWAYS come back and bites you. Falcons still look a bit pale today.

dobber's picture

"Falcons still look a bit pale today."

I wonder what kind of hangover they'll be dealing with...

sonomaca's picture

No one mentioned Joe Thomas in all of this. He's the closest to hybrid of the ILB's. I think Martinez is at risk here.

flackcatcher's picture

The Packers offense package and player pickups seem to have been designed to defeat the hybrid packages in the league this year. If the packers keep a second FB on the 53, along with three TE, the MM will be able to go run heavy while splitting out either his backs or TE on the smaller DBs. What is interesting is Capers has wanted bigger DB in his safety group since 2011, now he's got it. We fans take this coaching staff and front office for granted a bit too often. Then they pull this personal coup off. It's way too early, but the uncommon depth on both sides of the ball is not something that is seen in this league.

badaxed's picture

If the NFL today calls for more pass coverage either the linebacker position will go away or the linebackers will have to adapt and become more like DB's for speed and coverage if they want to play.

Packer Fan's picture

The Pack needs flexibility. Ryan and Martinez in running situations and Burnett and Jones in obvious passing. And if a player like Jones keeps making play

badaxed's picture

If I saw Ryan and Martinez in there I would audible and pass to the running back every time. wait!!! Other teams have already figured this out. well they can always play special teams.

marcopo's picture

A number of comments stress the "either-or". It doesn't work that way. Like always, it's a match up problem. Simply, you try and have the right players on the field for any given situation. If Rodgers has the team up, you can't play catch-up with a brute RB. It's a dance. But having players with flexibility to handle more then one situation will always be preferred.

The TKstinator's picture

George Cumby.
Johnny Holland.
Nick Barnett.

ILB's who could run and play all three downs.

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