Monday, February 7, 2011

Exploring Caper’s Nickel

Something that has intrigued me this past year is how more and more teams have been using untraditional personnel groupings (nickel/dime). Now what they do out of these packages isn’t all that mind-blowing. What I do intend to learn from this trend is
  1. how the front integrity remains sound (how the gaps are accounted for) and
  2. how their proliferation relates to teaching methodology (it remains consistent with everything they already do).
Now this post won’t contain any answers – I’m just passing along some things that have piqued my curiosity. Be sure to check out blitzology if you’re interested in getting practical insight now.
I am certainly open to any insight. I am most intrigued by how Dom Capers has been using this (loved his work with the Panthers, plus he was with Saban in Miami) and in particular, the use/technique of the 2 defensive linemen (not ‘Psycho’). I am more intrigued by this because of how the DTs handle the interior gaps as well as the use of standup linebackers on the edge (that puts you in a real 42 because that is how personnel is used, anyway, with no true defensive ends in great supply). TCU has been doing this more and more against 1-back gun offenses because there is little threat of being 'blown off the ball' or out-leveraged when standing up (to the field).

I feel there are certain known factors that provide clues towards what is actually taking place and that would be as follows;

  1. The offensive personnel groupings have no bearing on when these are used. 21 / 11, pro, double-tights……it makes no difference.
  2. I am not quite certain how much ‘field’ and ‘boundary’ has any true relevance concerning the tendency with these groupings. The NFL hashes only give you a little over 9 feet of difference between the area of the field, so I don’t believe there would be a true game plan based on this
  3. Because of the assumption of #2, I would believe that pressure is designated by formation splits and/or back set, as this would be the better indicator of protection.
  4. #3 gives credence to the effectiveness of fire zone/blitz pressure (catch man) coverage, where it can provide ‘unbreakable’ answers, rather than playing double coverage calls (pro/twins).
  5. The modular approach to the fire zone (hot 3, SCIF, deep hole, etc) means you can plug-and-play any defender into a role to come up with a myriad of options to cover 5 receiving threats. It is this approach that I feel will be what most of us (coaches) can use to improve how we teach the game and include more players in the game.
  6. With only 2 defensive linemen in the front and the center never being covered (usually double 3 techniques) , my completely unfounded assumption would be that these guys are playing a heavy (2 gap) technique (which is really becoming prevalent). This also aides in muddying the Mike declaration for 5 and 6 man protection. Though this initial thought may be incorrect or their reads have become incredibly effective in controlling the playside gap. Actually, it is how the 2 DL contribute to controlling the front that has me the most intrigued because it doesn't appear that the 5-7 technique backers are that integral to gap-integrity (as in, they are either controlling the gaps with the pirate stunts associated with fire zone or are looking to spill everything to the SCIF or sideline in man).
Of course, any or all of these assumptions may be incorrect, but if I can find anything we can take away from this I’ll pass it along. It goes without saying that the NFL (game) is primarily about key players that allow you to do things most every other team cannot. Meaning, a good portion of this could be just the by-product of having freaks on your defense.

The constant at the lower levels (particularly high school) is that :
  1. Your best personnel IS your best personnel, meaning your ‘base’ defense is usually your only defense and if you can sub with considerable competent depth on defense, you are in the minority.
  2. Your effectiveness on defense is relative to the quality of opponent you face. If you face offenses that are relatively 1-dimensional and/or do not vary much on down and distance, then situational game planning with personnel groupings like these can be hit or miss.

Additional thoughts....
Semi- related to the Capers nickel exploration, is just an empty adjustment Capers used with Saban at Miami, “Rain”, that follows the same principles. This is a 5-man check-blitz premised out of 0 coverage, but could be used with fire zone 3-deep / 3-under coverage.

The beauty of this is that you’re going to get 5-man protection with no back, so how you declare the mike (extra rusher) is crucial. With the double-3 techs and no real Mike to be found, you give a lose-lose situation to the offensive line with no clear picture to where the pressure will come from.

By presenting a rush of 4, the quarterback would either check to the most dangerous threat or away from the hot. Either way, the defense will be sending two bandits to each B gap, having the blitzer to the side the center does turn his shoulders to (the slide side) pop out and become the “hot 3” player in the hole. This leaves the away side B-gap blitzer a free pass to the quarterback against the man-protection side of the formation (G & T vs edge rusher and DT in A).

Addendum to the Additional Thoughts...
ahem......actually nothing to do with Capers, but following the same meme and how it is used elsewhere. While I really don't have problems 'controlling the front' with the standard 5-man fire zones because it remains sound. I just know that many DCs have been teaching their interior defensive linemen with a variety of techniques over the past 5 years (bridging the gap between 1 gap and 2 gap read) creating more versatile possibilities in what you can pull off in situational defense.


Chris Brown said...

Broph, I share your same interest with these different personnel packages to your 1st point... maintaining gap integrity is my most important issue. Sometimes, I cant understand given a particular front, why a QB wouldn't check to IZ if both A gaps are open and the ILB is more then 2 gaps away. To me, thats just not sound. Granted the NFL is its own animal...

ScoWes said...

I was surprised at the amount of Cover 1 the Packers played & the use of Matthews as the 'rat'. This was seen on Collin's INT.

I agree with Chris leaving 2 consecutive gaps uncovered is a BAD idea for most schemes - I heard a CFL guy refer to this as the "2-Gap Rule". Something we instinctively know but don't articulate. It just looks wrong when we see it

But I think the NFL is so situation/personnel group driven its possible to guess correct.

Plus there may be LB's or DL accounting for those gaps. I sat in the endzone for the NFC championship and there were times Matthews was in a 7/9 Tech & stunting to an OPPOSITE B-gap... ON RUN DOWNS, and making tackles.