Packers “Big Nickel” Defense Could Be Deadly This Year

Micah Hyde

The Green Bay Packers are morphing into a dangerously good defensive team. All they need now is for some of the stacked potential to finally develop into full-on talent. The components are there for Dom Capers to construct a dominant “Big Nickel” defense.

The Packers run a base 3-4 defense but with all the sub packages, nickel, and dime formations, the defense is rarely in that base formation. One formation that looks to over take most schemes this year will be the “Big Nickel”.

We saw last year the advancement of the Big Nickel in the NFL, but what exactly is the Big Nickel and how does it improve the Packers defense?

First off, the Big Nickel is used to disrupt the quarterback when making his reads. It makes it more difficult to read the defense because he has to account for what the third safety could possibly do. On top if disrupting the pass, since the nickel-back is so close to the line of scrimmage, he’s generally in good position to make a play on the run. We saw this last year when Green Bay played Morgan Burnett close to the line of scrimmage. Burnett was easily one of Green Bay’s best run defenders last season.

The Big Nickel is carried out like a regular nickel formation with a general 3-3-5 and more exotic 2-4-5 and 1-5-5 formations, something that Capers loves as a defensive coordinator. The main purpose of the big nickel is to have a bigger bodied defensive back who plays a hybrid safety/linebacker position.

The player in the big nickel, in Green Bay’s case, Micah Hyde and Sean Richardson, is suppose to line up against slot receivers and tight ends. The bigger body player is used to defend against the increasingly large numbers of NBA styled tight ends in the NFL while having the speed and agility to cover slot receivers.

On top of it, in certain blitz packages, the nickel-back will also take on a linebacker role and rush from the edge. We could see Hyde’s role as a pass rusher increase this year after taking just 24 snaps as a pass rusher last season.

On read option plays, the nickel-back can play contain on the outside to ensure the quarterback doesn’t rush out of the pocket willingly.

Generally, a Big Nickel will have played at cornerback at some point in his career before switching over to safety to have decent coverage skills off the line of scrimmage. Much like Micah Hyde did.

The other way the Big Nickel improves the Packers defense is that it utilizes the versatility with Micah Hyde and Sean Richardson. It’s another way to get some of that deep safety depth on the field.

With the return of B.J. Raji and emergence of Mike Daniels, the front line might be able to get penetration with just the help of a couple of linebackers. This could leave the window of opportunity to use the big nickel formation wide open for the Packers.

Expect an even bigger role than last year for Hyde–one that had him see 720 snaps on the field. It’s going to be a big year for the nickel-backs and defense as a whole.

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Kyle Engman attends the University of Wisconsin and is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @KyleEngmanNFL for more Packer news.

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