Two Defensive Schemes that Worked Well for the Packers in 2014

Robert Olson breaks down two Packers defensive schemes that gave offenses a different look in 2014.

In the 2014 season, Dom Capers employed a multitude of personnel packages, fronts, and coverages. There were two defensive schemes, one coverage and one front, that were unique and gave offenses a different look. These were “Cover 3 Buzz” and a Nickel “Bear” front.

Cover 3 Buzz

In its most basic form, Cover 3 consists of three deep defenders (both outside cornerbacks and a deep middle safety) who cover the outside thirds and middle third of the field and four underneath defenders (two “curl to flat” defenders and two “hook zone” defenders). The only aspect that makes “Cover 3 Buzz” different from regular Cover 3 is that a safety “buzzes” down from his deep position to have hook zone responsibility. If you want any additional information or diagrams on Cover 3 or Cover 3 Buzz, check out the article that I wrote prior to the Week 1 Packers-Seahawks game last season.

Dom Capers utilized Cover 3 Buzz in the nickel and dime packages often in 2014. It generally worked well against the pass and the run.

When pass occurs, Cover 3 Buzz is a great change-up for two reasons. First, it’s great for disguise and it’s simple to rotate to. Pre-snap, it looks like a two-deep safety coverage to a quarterback since both safeties are back. Post-snap, however, a quarterback sees a totally different look since one safety rotates to the deep middle third while the other safety buzzes down to have a hook zone. Secondly, having a safety buzz down to have a hook zone as opposed to another linebacker having a hook zone (like in regular Cover 3) gives a defense a greater ability to defend intermediate routes and be less vulnerable to play action.

Two examples of plays when the Packers played Cover 3 Buzz are the Week 6 game at Miami and the Week 13 game against the Patriots.

On this 3rd & 12 play, the Dolphins lined up in a 3x1 (Trips) formation, and the Packers played Cover 3 Buzz out of their dime package. Pre-snap, it looked like the Packers were playing a two-deep coverage, but post-snap, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix buzzed down to have a hook zone, and Morgan Burnett rotated to the deep middle third. This was an outstanding play by Casey Hayward, who was the “curl to flat” defender. He demonstrated his instincts in zone coverage from the slot here. The Dolphins ran a route combination, similar to the “Sail” concept, designed to flood his and Tramon Williams’ zones. However, instead of biting on the first receiver in the flat, Hayward kept sinking because he had a feel for the routes that were developing, and he knew the down and distance situation. He executed his curl to flat responsibility perfectly, and undercut the corner route for the interception:

In the Patriots game, there was a play where the Packers ran Cover 3 Buzz out of nickel against one of New England’s favorite play action pass plays. This play action pass is designed to look like a “One-Back Power” run (with the guard pulling) in order to make the linebackers bite hard and open up the intermediate area of the field for Rob Gronkowski. This is a well-designed play that has worked many times in the past, but the Packers defended it well.

First, it’s important to point out the pressure that this play puts on the center. The center’s job is to block the backside defensive tackle, which is difficult to do on a pass like this, especially when that backside defensive tackle is Mike Daniels. So, Daniels provided good pressure on Tom Brady. Even though Sam Barrington bit hard on the fake/pulling guard, he recovered nicely and had assistance from Morgan Burnett, who buzzed down. Barrington recovered and made a great pass breakup in his hook zone, but it was Burnett who prevented the possibility of any quick throw to Gronkowski over Barrington and squeezed Gronkowski’s route. This was great overall defense in Cover 3 Buzz by the Packers against one of New England’s favorite play action passes:

In terms of defending the run with Cover 3 Buzz, Morgan Burnett made some really good plays. It’s a great way to get an extra defender in the box to stop the run because it’s difficult for the offense to account for the safety buzzing down from depth. As the “buzz” defender versus the pass, Burnett has a hook zone, but versus the run, he comes down to fill the A gap (between the center and guard) like a linebacker would if it were regular Cover 3. Two examples of this were in the Week 11 game versus the Eagles and in the Week 16 game at Tampa Bay.

In the Eagles game, Burnett did this in the nickel. The Eagles ran an Inside Zone run, and Burnett made a nice tackle on the ball carrier, LeSean McCoy:

On the play at Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers ran a draw play with a lead blocker. Again in the nickel, once Burnett recognized run, he buzzed down in Cover 3 Buzz and aggressively filled the A gap. He evaded the lead blocker and made a perfect tackle in the backfield:

 

Nickel “Bear” Front

First off, a basic characteristic of every “bear” front is this: three defenders lining up over (“covering”) both guards and the center. More specifically, it consists of two defenders lined up on the outside shoulder of each guard (3-technique) and one defender lined up over the center (0-technique). There have been many bear defenses/fronts that have been run in the past, and there are some defenses that still run it on an occasional basis. Buddy Ryan’s “46 Bear” defense and Fritz Shurmur’s “Eagle Five Linebacker Defense” from the 1980s are probably the most well-known examples of base bear defenses.

Dom Capers has used the bear front some out of the base 3-4 personnel in the past. However, in 2014, the Packers used a bear front with their nickel personnel as a change-up. This front is advantageous for two main reasons: 1) it creates one-on-one blocks for each of the offensive linemen in pass protection and 2) it can be beneficial versus the read option and some one-back runs. Typically, the coverage that works best with this front is Cover 1 (man-to-man underneath with a single-high safety), and that is mainly what the Packers did. Also, it’s important to point out how easy it was for the Packers to “stem” to this bear look from their normal 2-4-5 nickel alignment. This means that the Packers could easily shift the basic nickel front four over to make that bear look and shift Matthews down from his inside linebacker spot to an outside linebacker position (which usually makes it a five-man rush).

Below are three examples of the Packers nickel “bear” front. The first two examples will be the front with Cover 1 behind it. The third example will be the front with Cover 3 behind it.

Here is a 2nd & 5 play in the Week 16 game at Tampa Bay when the Packers used their nickel bear front. As you can see below, the Packers played Cover 1 behind it. Julius Peppers and Mike Daniels lined up on the outside shoulder of each guard, Datone Jones lined up over the center, and Clay Matthews and Nick Perry were lined up outside of each tackle as the outside linebackers. Peppers, who was a 3-technique defensive tackle, used a quick move to win his one-on-one matchup against the right guard, and forced a fumble. The Packers dictated to the Buccaneers’ offense and offensive line with this front because there was nothing the Buccaneers could do to avoid the five one-on-one matchups across the line:

The second example is a 2nd & 10 play from the Week 17 game against the Lions. At the very beginning of the video below, notice how easy it was for the Packers to shift/stem to the bear front pre-snap. Also, focus on Sam Barrington in the middle at linebacker. This looked like a designed six-man blitz with Barrington blitzing through the A gap. The Packers played Cover 1 behind it just like the first example above. Since the bear front forces one-on-one blocks up front along the offensive line, if a linebacker blitzes through the A gap, the only way the offense can pick him up is if the running back stays in to block. However, the Lions “scatted” their running back (Reggie Bush), which means that Bush ran a flare route to the flat and that it was a five-man protection. This allowed Barrington to come untouched through the A gap to disrupt Stafford’s throw, and Nick Perry “peeled” off to take Reggie Bush:

The third and final play that involves the nickel bear front comes from the Week 11 game against the Eagles. On this 2nd & 10 play, the Eagles presented a 3x1 (Trips) formation. Something that made this play different from the other bear front plays is that the Packers only rushed three and played Cover 3 behind it (instead of Cover 1). They dropped both outside linebackers (Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers) and A.J. Hawk back into hook zones. Micah Hyde and Clinton-Dix had curl to flat, and Tramon Williams and Sam Shields had the outside thirds, while Burnett had the deep middle third. Pre-snap, it looked like the Packers were going to rush five, but post-snap, the Packers dropped eight.

The Eagles were running a “Stick” concept out of Trips, and Mark Sanchez’s intended receiver was tight end Brent Celek, who ran a “Stick” route. Sanchez either did not see Peppers or he thought that Peppers couldn’t affect the out-breaking “Stick” route. Either way, Peppers made a nice play, and this was a clever design and call by Dom Capers:

Thanks for reading, Packers fans. Follow me on Twitter at @RobertOlson92 for daily analysis on the Packers.

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Comments (11)

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

May 22, 2015 at 06:56 am

Its going to take a couple readings to digest this all. Thanks for the great analysis.

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Chazman's picture

May 22, 2015 at 07:14 am

Thanks Robert for the before and after scenarios. It really makes a difference in understanding the concepts. Well done sir.

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Marcos Parodi's picture

May 22, 2015 at 10:34 am

This is great. The last example v the Eagles is fantastic. You can see that the Eagles faked a screen to the weak side and their play still didn't work. Awesome!

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PackerAaron's picture

May 22, 2015 at 01:21 pm

It may not have been a "fake" actually. Pretty sure that's a packaged play where Sanchez has the option to throw to either side.

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The TKstinator's picture

May 22, 2015 at 09:47 pm

Have always loved the X's and O's aspect of football.
Next thing is having our X's be better than their O's.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

May 22, 2015 at 10:23 pm

I've learned more about football from reading these X's and O's articles for the last 5 years than I did watching it on TV for decades.

No comments on it, but it is interesting that Daniels and Peppers played 3 technique, with Datone! playing 0 in the first Bear example. Seems an interesting choice of personnel, but there might be various reasons for Jones at the 0 technique. Another great article, Mr. Olson.

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Tundraboy's picture

May 25, 2015 at 09:28 am

See what you mean, Learned a lot from a great article, simply explained and of course having the tape there helps. I have always simply watched for the enjoyment of looking for the athletic difference maker, player who sees it and reacts, but it still does come down to execution. The Bear scheme is a perfect example. Looks beautiful when everyone executes together,Football is fun to play and is athletics that relies on reaction at its best,in a team scheme. Solid individual knowledge used collectively that becomes a players instinct, Reaction and execution. As much as I love basketball. Footfall is truly THE team sport, If everyone is not on the same page ....

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barutanseijin's picture

May 22, 2015 at 10:28 pm

Good stuff. Thanks.

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lanceh55's picture

May 23, 2015 at 12:59 am

A good article. My experience is similar to Thegreatreynoldo. I learn more from article like this then watching TV. Keep up the great work.

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Vrog's picture

May 23, 2015 at 01:57 am

Agreed, keep it coming

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