Your Green Bay Packers’ defense is lined up with their backs against their own goal line. It’s third and goal from the two-yard line. Time to load the box and stop that run attempt, right? Apparently if you’re Packers Defensive Coordinator, Joe Barry, wrong. Instead, you’re going to put in two down linemen and pray for a miracle. Those off-ball linebackers should be able to do the trick and plug the middle, right? Yeah, no. So far this season, there hasn’t been a single moment where this has worked out. It always results in the opposing running back waltzing into the endzone, and it’s getting old.
Okay, let’s look at the offense. Singleback formation, tight end tight to the right, slot receiver, two receivers split wide. You’re going to call a nickel defense to account for the three receivers in the event of a pass. That’s a given. But in short yardage, you’re going to need some strength up front against the offensive line to defend the run. In my opinion, the best formation would be a nickel 3-3-5. Three down linemen to plug lanes in the trenches, your two edges, the inside linebacker, and your five defensive backs. But instead, the Packers are rolling out each time in this situation a nickel 2-4-5 with only two down linemen, two edges, two inside LB’s, and five DB’s. And they’re continually getting gashed.
When asked about this on Monday, Matt LaFleur found it “baffling and comical” when people say they only have two down linemen in nickel defense. He proceeded to state that the outside linebackers in nickel defense become defensive ends. Listen to LaFleur’s response below:
“They are Defensive Linemen”
Alright, he’s right, the Packers OLB’s are actually bigger than some defensive ends on 4-3 defenses. Could he qualify them as Defensive Linemen? Yes, he could probably. But here’s my gripe. You look at most defensive ends in a 4-3 on 3rd and short, and they are likely lined up a little more inside over the offensive tackle with their hand in the dirt. They’re in tighter to take away running lanes between the tackles. You look at the Packers lined up in a 2-4 and where are those supposed defensive ends/outside linebackers? They’re lined up off the tackles outside arm standing up. Basically, it seems like they’re there to seal the edges, and that’s it.
The minute the ball is snapped, it’s like it’s five on two up the middle. The offense salivates at those odds and walks the ball right into the end zone. Could the inside linebackers be a bit at fault for not picking up on the play soon enough to get to the line and plug these lanes? Sure maybe. But I think a good amount of the fault falls on setting up those supposed defensive ends for failure.
If we’re going to call them defensive ends, maybe on those short yardage downs they should at least line up over the tackles to help eliminate those running lanes. Or we could just put in defensive linemen.
Let the True Down Linemen Work or Pull the Edges Tighter
If it’s third and short, what do you lose by calling a nickel 3-3-5? An off-ball linebacker. What do you gain? A 290+ pound defensive linemen to plug the inside. It’s their job to make plays in the trenches every down. That never changes. The linemen can do what they’re paid to do and take away those inside lanes while the OLB’s take the edges much easier.
But if it isn’t that easy, I have one request, pull those edges in tighter. If Rashan Gary and Preston Smith are defensive ends in a 2-4-5, then line them up tighter to the center. Third and short is likely going in between the tackles if it’s a handoff. Having your defensive ends lined up wide on the edges is counter intuitive.
Let’s stop giving the offense all the room they want up the middle in short yardage and start taking away some real estate.
Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to PackersTalk as well as CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter at @gmeinholz. for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.