2020 Defensive Personnel: Bills and Packers Nickel and Dime the League

Buffalo Bills LB Matt Milano
Buffalo Bills LB Matt Milano
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Yesterday, we looked at which personnel groupings were most popular on offense in 2020. Now, it's time to flip that around and look at how defenses responded.

The story of offensive personnel was the lack of story—the degree to which personnel usage did not change in 2020. That raises an interesting question defensively. With no significant change in the composition of opposing offenses, would we see any change in defensive personnel groups? After crunching the numbers, we can come with an absolute, unqualified … maybe. It's complicated.

In 2020, defenses played in nickel on 59.7% of all snaps, essentially erasing the dip we saw in 2019 and continuing the trend we have been following for a decade. Nickel remains the default defensive package in the league, by a margin that only seems to be getting larger as time goes by. It's not an enormous year-to-year jump, but it's certainly there.

Overall Numbers

Defensive Personnel Groupings, 2020
Personnel 2019 Pct 2020 Pct Difference 2020 DVOA
Nickel 55.9% 59.7% +3.8% 1.5%
Base 26.7% 23.8% -2.9% -5.6%
Dime+ 16.0% 14.9% -1.1% 2.9%
Goal line 0.8% 0.9% +0.1% 7.8%
Big 0.6% 0.7% 0.1% -11.0%

A few quick notes before we continue:

  • For the record, 51% of base snaps were in 4-3, and 45% were in 3-4; the two tend to bounce back and forth from year to year. That doesn't add up to 100%; there were 153 snaps of 2-5 (mostly from Arizona), 150 snaps of 5-2 (generally from Washington or Tampa Bay), three snaps of 1-6, and one each of 6-1 (Philadelphia) and 0-7 (New York Giants).
  • Fourteen teams stuck to either 3-4 or 4-3 at least 75% of the time, with the Colts notably running all 206 of their base defense snaps in a 4-3. That means that the majority of the league is more flexible, as the distinction between defensive ends and linebackers continues to diminish. In 2019, only 10 teams had less than a 3:1 ratio between 3-4 and 4-3, which was an increase from seven teams in 2018. We're now up to 18, and 12 of those teams saw neither 3-4 nor 4-3 hit two-thirds of their 2020 base snaps. Base is becoming less frequent, but it's becoming more flexible.
  • "Dime+" includes any package with more than five defensive backs. That includes all your dime packages, as well as the 278 snaps in quarter and 14 snaps with eight defensive backs on the field, including one snap where the Giants trotted out the half-dollar package in the red zone. They allowed a Mitchell Trubisky touchdown pass on the play, for the record.
  • "Big" defenses are 4-4 or 3-5 lineups, while "Goal Line" includes all other personnel groups with fewer than four defensive backs. Despite the name, there's no requirement for goal-line defenses to be played on the goal line; Dallas even had a snap of 6-4 against Washington with the Football Team facing a first-and-10 inside their own 20.

A 3.8% bump in nickel is significant, if not landscape-altering; we're talking an average of three extra snaps of nickel defense per team per game. An extra 1,500 snaps of nickel defense is nothing to scoff at, but it falls on the outer edge of what you might expect to see from scheduling differences and year-to-year variance. Some defensive playcallers attempt to heavily match personnel; others stick with one unit regardless of what the offense brings to the table. Get the right set of matchups, and you'll see nickel usage rise, especially if one or two teams are really driving the train.

But then again, you could make the argument that 2020 was evidence of the all-nickel trend continuing to increase, above and beyond year-to-year and situational fluctuations. This is the first year since 2016 when both base and dime+ usage have gone down at the same time. Nickel usage went up in every split—against 11, 12, and 21 personnel; against the pass and against the run; you name it. The average snap in 2020 had 4.89 defensive backs on the field, a new record in our data (going back to 2011). Nickel was everywhere.

Defenses Against Top Offensive Personnel Groups

Defensive Personnel DVOA Breakdown, 2020
Defense Base Nickel Dime+
Split % Used DVOA % Used DVOA % Used DVOA
11 personnel 2.4% 2.4% 76.6% 1.6% 20.9% 3.0%
12 personnel 53.5% -4.2% 42.4% 2.5% 3.5% -25.9%
21 personnel 69.2% -7.4% 27.7% -0.6% 1.7% 36.0%
All pass 16.1% 9.2% 62.1% 8.4% 21.0% 1.0%
All run 36.3% -15.5% 55.9% -9.3% 5.0% 13.5%
Overall 23.8% -5.6% 59.7% 1.5% 16.0% 3.0%

There are three main takeaways from this table.

First, the reason why defensive DVOA in base is still better than DVOA in nickel is almost entirely play selection. Nearly 60% of snaps in base are running plays and running remains less efficient in general than passing, and an extra linebacker tends to help more against the run than a nickel corner or extra safety does. It's the inverse of the "don't run into loaded box" advice; on defense, you should load the box if you know they're gonna run.

Secondly, you can see why offenses may be interested in experimenting with 12 and 21 sets. Base defense performs better than nickel against these heavier sets regardless of the play call. It has a better DVOA against both the run and the pass from heavier sets (though you start running into selection bias with base being used more in short-yardage situations). As the league's defenses continue to zig towards using nickel more and more, the offensive zag might be to do what the Patriots are doing and grab a pair of pass-catching tight ends to try to take advantage of smaller defenses. Especially if, say, one of your division rivals is in nickel 90% of the time. More on that later.

Thirdly, base against 11 personnel has basically vanished. It has been going the way of the dodo for years, but there has usually been someone stubbornly trotting out third linebackers against slot receivers, most notably Gregg Williams and the 2017 Browns of 0-16 fame. 2019's base-on-11 champs, Seattle, saw their nickel rate increase significantly, in part because of more trust in their depth corners and in part because newly acquired Jamal Adams could slide up and play pseudo linebacker in nickel and dime formations.  More than half of Seattle's 'nickel' against 11 personnel had Adams in the box, with 2020 corner Ugo Amadi replacing 2019 safety Bradley McDougald in coverage; not exactly a massive paradigm shift from 2019. Your 2020 champs, the Steelers, ran just 116 snaps of base against 11; no one else had over 40.

In fact, it seemed like the league as a whole smartened up about base personnel in 2020, which lets us segue nicely into the team-specific table.

Team by Team Frequencies

Defensive Personnel Frequency, 2020
Team Base Rk Nickel Rk Dime+ Rk
JAX 39% 1 57% 19 3% 23
SEA 38% 2 54% 22 7% 20
ARI 36% 3 54% 23 1% 26
PIT 36% 4 40% 31 20% 11
HOU 36% 5 42% 29 21% 10
MIN 35% 6 63% 14 1% 27
TB 34% 7 63% 12 1% 30
CHI 33% 8 53% 25 13% 15
WAS 31% 9 65% 11 2% 25
SF 31% 10 67% 8 2% 24
CLE 27% 11 69% 7 4% 22
MIA 27% 12 48% 27 24% 9
PHI 26% 13 54% 21 15% 14
DEN 24% 14 66% 10 9% 18
ATL 24% 15 75% 4 0% 32
LV 24% 16 70% 6 5% 21
CIN 23% 17 63% 13 13% 16
KC 22% 18 42% 30 35% 4
GB 22% 19 27% 32 50% 1
BAL 21% 20 62% 15 16% 13
TEN 21% 21 52% 26 26% 7
LAC 21% 22 66% 9 13% 17
IND 21% 23 78% 3 0% 31
DET 19% 24 61% 16 20% 12
NYG 18% 25 54% 20 26% 6
DAL 18% 26 71% 5 9% 19
NYJ 16% 27 83% 2 1% 29
LAR 15% 28 59% 18 26% 8
NO 9% 29 60% 17 29% 5
BUF 7% 30 91% 1 1% 28
NE 5% 31 47% 28 47% 2
CAR 5% 32 54% 24 41% 3
AVG 24% -- 60% -- 15% --

Jacksonville led the league by using base 39% of the time. The previous low-water mark for a league leader was the 2018 Broncos at 45%, and there has been at least one team above 50% in every other year in our dataset. Not only did no team have a majority of snaps in base, but no team even had a plurality for the first time ever. The increasingly misnamed base is now a changeup defensive front throughout the league.

Abandon the Base

In 2019, the Ravens became the first team in our dataset to use base less than 10% of the time. In 2020, we had four such teams, with the Panthers and Patriots tying by playing just 46 snaps apiece in traditional fronts. For Carolina, a lot of that comes from Jeremy Chinn, who we have listed as a defensive back but really plays a hybrid linebacker/safety role. As a rookie, he was basically the player the Panthers hoped Shaq Thompson would be, and it's not like Thompson has gone anywhere; Carolina has arguably the most versatile linebacker-type players in the league.

As for the Patriots, well, those 46 base snaps don't get across the extreme efforts the Patriots used to avoid base defense. 23 of those 46 snaps came in Week 7 in a blowout loss to a run-heavy 49ers team; those were the only base snaps New England had in the first nine weeks of the season. The average snap of base for the Patriots came with a league-low 6.7 yards to go. When the Patriots did use base, opponents ran the ball 70% of the time; Bill Belichick did not want his base defense out there unless he was damn sure you were going to run. The loss of personnel last season likely dictated some of that; you can expect the Patriots' base percentage to go up with the additions of Dont'a Hightower, Matt Judon, Kyle Van Noy, and others. But the Patriots have been among the vanguards of abandoning the seven-man front, ranking in the bottom three in base percentage in each of the past four years.

The Patriots ran 458 snaps of dime+ and 456 snaps of nickel. So, by the thinnest of margins, they're one of only two teams to not have nickel be their primary defensive formation in 2020. The Packers are the other; they're the first team to be over 50% dime in back-to-back seasons and have been either first or second in dime usage in each of the past four years. It hasn't paid great dividends; they haven't had a top-10 defense since 2015. They used dime+ 15% of the time that season, a rate that has risen every year since, but only really entered hyperdrive when Mike Pettine took control. Well, Pettine is gone, replaced by Joe Barry. Barry worked with Brandon Staley with the Rams last year, and Staley comes out of Vic Fangio's system currently in use in Denver; both of those teams had significantly lower rates of dime usage, and I would expect the Packers to go the same way in 2021. It's an interesting clash of personnel and style; Green Bay now has former Arizona/Atlanta linebacker De'Vondre Campbell but if the Packers want to go with two inside linebackers, that puts Krys Barnes or Kamal Martin on the field, so we'll see to what degree talent pushes Barry to use extra defensive backs in 2021.

Changes from 2020

The two teams that saw the most dramatic personnel changes in 2020 saw new defensive playcallers. In Carolina, Matt Rhule and Phil Snow took over for Ron Rivera, and the Panthers went from a nickel-first 32/66/1 base-nickel-dime split to a dime-heavy 5/54/41; the Baylor boys came in and radically altered how Carolina played defense. A similar transformation happened in Los Angeles, where Staley replaced Wade Phillips. The Rams' base percentage dropped from 34% to 15%, and they went from last in the league in nickel usage to firmly middle-of-the-pack. With Staley now across town with the Chargers, you can likely expect a similar transformation, which would mean a heavier dose of dime in 2021.

Personnel changes explain some other moves. The Seahawks still played more snaps in base than most other defenses, but after the acquisition of Jamal Adams -- as noted a few paragraphs above -- they started to use more defensive backs from time to time, with their base percentage falling from 69% to 38%. If you're going to spend multiple first-round picks on a guy, he'd better alter your defense. Meanwhile, the Ravens backtracked from their base-light 2019 season, shooting up from 9% in 2019 to 21% in 2020. Slot corner Tavon Young tore his ACL in Week 2 and Earl Thomas was let go before the season began, so Don Martindale's crew had to adjust on the fly; we saw plenty more snaps from Tyus Bowser, Yannick Ngakoue, and first-round pick Patrick Queen alongside Matt Judon and a returning Pernell McPhee in 2020. I imagine the Ravens will be looking to use more nickel and dime packages in 2021 with Judon and Ngakoue out of town, but we'll see.

Buffalo Nickels

The final two teams we have to mention both play in the AFC East. Both the Bills and Jets played more than 80% of their snaps in nickel, with Buffalo setting a new high-water mark at 91%. We'll somewhat set the Jets aside as A) they were bad and B) they'll almost assuredly be playing more base with Robert Saleh taking over the reins, but the Bills are really interesting. They only had four games all season where they played double-digit snaps in something other than nickel, and at least three of those can be chalked up to injuries to Matt Milano, Tremaine Edmunds, and Micah Hyde. Over the back half of the season, with Milano healthy and playing every week, those numbers only rose. When Milano started, Buffalo averaged 4.3 snaps of base defense, 0.4 snaps of goal line defense, and zero snaps of dime+ or big per game—and nearly all of those base snaps came in Week 8 when Milano was injured and Week 16 where the Bills ran out to a huge lead and basically rested everyone for the fourth quarter.

Milano doesn't jump out as someone you build a defense around, but he has ranked third, second, and second in pass coverage success rate over the past three seasons. When you have a linebacker who can cover well, it frees playcallers up to do so much more with their defense—or so much less in Buffalo's case, as they were content to just sit back in Cover-3 with the same basic personnel on the field at all times, counting on their ability to play their scheme better than an offense's ability to scheme against them. With Milano healthy over the last six weeks of the season, the Bills had the sixth-ranked defense in the league. A nickel rate of 90% or more still feels very, very high, and the Bills drafted a couple of edge rushers who could push that number down in 2021, but you can see why Sean McDermott was comfortable rarely going to sub packages last season.


20 comments, Last at 30 Jul 2021, 10:10am

#1 by Joseph // Jul 27, 2021 - 1:08pm

I am not saying that it is the best way to go or anything, but didn't the Seahawks do the same thing 5-8 years ago? They had a pretty good defense during that time.

My guess is that it simplifies things to such a degree as to let players get really comfortable in the scheme, figure out lots of nuances, and even know how to counter route combinations and such that would try to take advantage of their scheme. 

Points: 0

#12 by IlluminatusUIUC // Jul 28, 2021 - 3:07pm

The Seahawks did do this, but to my eyes I see two critical differences. First, the Legion of Boom was better individually at most key positions. Arguably White and Milano are on par with Sherman and KJ Wright, but Hyde, Poyer, and Edmunds are a step down from Thomas, Chancellor, and Wagner. 


Second, the Seahawks defense was much cheaper - their peak came when most of the names were still on rookie deals. Buffalo had their time with their big guys being below market, but virtually everyone has been paid now. So instead of being able to plug holes with FAs, we are having to do so with draft picks like Rousseau and Basham. 


It does seem like there's an upper limit on this sort of defense. If you have all-world defenders then you can win with a simplified defense. But if you don't have the physical edge then a top offense can exploit that predictability, like we saw with the Tennessee, Rams, and Chiefs games.

Points: 0

#2 by justanothersteve // Jul 27, 2021 - 2:41pm

Some of the Packers dime use last year is attributable to Rodgers as teams were frequently playing catch-up against an offense scoring 30+ points/game. However, most of it is because of the alluded-to giant hole of suck in the interior front of the Packers defense, a bunch of JAGs other than Kenny Clark. The second reason is the only reason for 2019 though as the offense was average. The Packers have ignored both the DL and ILB for most of Rodgers career and in 2010 ran a "Psycho" package with one DL, 3 OLBs, and 7 DBs. 

Points: 0

#3 by RickD // Jul 27, 2021 - 3:00pm

As we saw vs. the 49ers, the Pats' base D was seriously bad last year.  I'm sure that's a huge part of why the coaches used nickel and dime as much as they did.  But by the end of the season, this weakness had been exposed, and the Pats' D was the worst it's been in quite a long time.

There's good reason to think the personnel should be much better this season: not only Hightower, Van Noy, and Judon, but also the rookie Barmore is highly touted and very big.  The Pats' D has always been at its best with a giant immovable object at NT/DT.  Let's see if Barmore can follow in Vince Wilfork's big shoes.

Points: 0

#4 by Scott P. // Jul 27, 2021 - 3:14pm

Buffalo and the Jets going nickle so often may be a hidden reason Belichick has moved towards a more run-heavy power offense (losing Brady and having no WRs is presumably a contributing factor, natch).

Points: 0

#16 by RobotBoy // Jul 29, 2021 - 1:25am

Belichick has been building toward the DB heavy D and the power O for at least the past three years, although he's almost always wanted methodical offenses (short passing game with Brady) - wear down opposing D's and keep the hotshot QBs and WRs off the field. Last season they simply didn't have the players. Looking at both sides of the ball last season, it's hard to believe that they won 7 games, and were a few egregious Newton blunders away from winning 2 or 3 more. This year the Pats will certainly be better equipped to execute the plan. 

Points: 0

#17 by RobotBoy // Jul 29, 2021 - 1:25am

Belichick has been building toward the DB heavy D and the power O for at least the past three years, although he's almost always wanted methodical offenses (short passing game with Brady) - wear down opposing D's and keep the hotshot QBs and WRs off the field. Last season they simply didn't have the players. Looking at both sides of the ball last season, it's hard to believe that they won 7 games, and were a few egregious Newton blunders away from winning 2 or 3 more. This year the Pats will certainly be better equipped to execute the plan. 

Points: 0

#5 by Pat // Jul 27, 2021 - 4:50pm

I always love seeing the small-sample size "backwards logic" breakdowns: dime versus 21 personnel is super-awesome! Do it all the time! But my god, swap a RB for a TE and it's epic doom!

And those tables just continue to make it obvious to me that the ancient "run/pass" definition split is just pointless. Base doesn't look that much worse than nickel at passing, so why play it so much less than nickel? Dime looks way better versus the pass, so why is it played so little (relative to nickel)?

Pretty obvious to me there's hidden qualifiers in there: the "base" pass success are probably heavily shorter passes, which really should be lumped with rushing plays (or "try to bring the back 7 closer" plays), and dime's extreme success is likely because many of them are deep shots in plus situations (or "this is really a two-play sequence so only one of them has to work" plays). Same effect both times, offense isn't necessarily optimizing for single-play performance.

Points: 0

#7 by Bryan Knowles // Jul 27, 2021 - 6:48pm

Well, we can break that down some.

Against base, successful pass plays average an 8.4 aDOT, and a gain of 13.9 yards.

Against nickel, successful pass plays average a 7.9 aDOT and a gain of 13.1 yards

Against dime+, successful pass plays average a 9.1 aDOT and a gain of 14.0 yards.

I think you're more or less spot on about passing performance against dime+ packages; there's a lot of deep shots affected by game situation there, and you only need one out of two or three of those to hit for it to pay dividends.  Offenses have a 219.0% DVOA on successful pass plays against dime, compared to the 170s for both base and nickel; if you're passing against dime, it's generally because you have to and the relative benefits of a big play outweigh the negatives of a failure, considering your situation.

But successful base plays are not heavily shorter passes -- in fact, they're not shorter passes at all, compared to nickel at least.  And it's not just a matter of successful plays naturally being deeper throws; the aDOT against base on all plays is 8.5 compared to nickel's 7.7.  If I had to theorize, I'd suggest fewer big bodies in the middle leaves more space for quick crossing routes and slants and the like.


Points: 0

#9 by Pat // Jul 27, 2021 - 7:26pm

We're actually saying the same thing: you just flipped the definition of "success" - I meant successful from the defense's point of view, not offense. As in, both nickel and base do roughly the same versus passing, and base does way better versus rushing, so why is base used so much less? Because with base, the available part of the field open is deep vs shallow, like you noted. The only time base wins (on defense) is if the throws are short, whereas nickel wins (on defense) when the throws are deeper.

So dime beats deep (but offenses do it anyway because they're likely free plays), nickel beats midrange but gets hurt shallow and deep (but relatively good all around), and base beats short (run or pass) but gets hurt midrange and deep (and obviously offenses target deep in those situations). Of course, this is all super-simplistic because just lumping into base/nickel/dime is just a proxy for the overall defensive positioning, which offenses try to manipulate. If they can, it's not like defenses want to be caught in the wrong package. It's just that sometimes they can't avoid it.

I mean, for all that we say "rushing is less efficient," if you're an offense and you somehow get an offense into dime with two tight ends on the field, holy crap should you run the ball. That's literally the best performing element in that table.

Points: 0

#6 by Raiderfan // Jul 27, 2021 - 5:06pm

“Dime looks way better versus the pass, so why is it played so little (relative to nickel)?”

maybe when you get down to the sixth—and further—DB, the quality drops to such a degree that some/many defensive coordinators would rather trust a starting LB, instead.

Points: 0

#8 by jheidelberg // Jul 27, 2021 - 7:00pm

It appears from this chart that it is time to use dime defense much more frequently against Mahomes, Rodgers, Brady, Watson, Herbert and more (of course subject to down and distance and weather conditions).

Anything I can do to encourage these teams to run more would help my defense.  Allowing 13.5 DVOA on average against the run is better than letting these guys throw.



Points: 0

#10 by Pat // Jul 28, 2021 - 9:54am

 Allowing 13.5 DVOA on average against the run is better than letting these guys throw.

Really think it's just a selection effect. If you've got, say, 2nd and short, it makes total sense to, say, go 4 wide and take a deep shot. And when the defense responds with dime, the throw goes incomplete, you look awesome. But the only reason they went 4 wide is because they didn't care about maximizing success on that play, since they knew they had another one.

Whereas nickel gets fewer of those "throwaway" plays, so nominally it looks worse, whereas in actuality if you went dime all the time you'd get murdered by shorter-range stuff.

Allowing 13.5 DVOA on average against the run is better than letting these guys throw.

Uh, why? Even at 70% completion you'll eventually stop them. Let them run for 4.8 yards/carry (which is roughly what 13.5% DVOA would get you!) and you'll never stop them.

Look at the top table: against 11 personnel (the most common in the league) dime is the worst option of the three. The success against passing's just a mirage: it's like looking at completion percentage on plays where there's an offsides penalty thrown.

Points: 0

#11 by Bryan Knowles // Jul 28, 2021 - 12:55pm

Another way to look at things:

On average, teams playing base defense were trailing by 0.7 points.

Teams playing nickel were leading by 2.1 points

Teams playing dime+ were leading by 4.6 points.

Or, to put it another way: 33.1% of snaps in dime came with the defense leading by double-digit points, compared to 22.2% for nickel and 13.3% in base.  Nickel is still the most used personnel grouping even when defending a 10+ point lead (61.5% to dime's 22.8%), but a disproportionally high percentage of dime+'s snaps come against teams that either have to throw because they're trailing, or have more or less given up because the game's out of reach.

Points: 0

#13 by jheidelberg // Jul 28, 2021 - 5:46pm

I guess you find the 2008 NYJ unstoppable at 13.1 run DVOA (which was 4th that year).  Why did they ever let Brett Favre throw?

You stop Mahomes and Rodgers when they reach the end zone, when you have a 50 DVOA passing game, that is rarely being stopped.  When Herbert and Watson are awesome with historically awful running games, why would you not encourage their team to run?

How on earth is it better to allow 7 yards per pass play than 4.8 yards per run play?  Yes we must factor sacks and turnovers into the pass game, but we also must account for the countless number of penalties in the pass game that result in first downs and the fact that the run game leads to more holding penalties.

I am just suggesting that maybe dime will become more popular.  Seeing Bryan's comments above, dime tends to be used situationally to protect leads.  I am suggesting that it will be used more in other situations as time goes on.  I think the numbers justify this against great passing games such as KC and GB and teams that have enormously better passing games as opposed to run games such as HOU and SD.

Points: 0

#14 by Pat // Jul 28, 2021 - 7:35pm

How on earth is it better to allow 7 yards per pass play than 4.8 yards per run play? 

Even in the dumb view of "all passes are the same", at a 70% completion clip you'll eventually get 3 incompletions in a row. At 4.8 yards/run play you'd never stop them. But the sane answer is that they're not all the same. Try to stop Mahomes from throwing deep and he'll just toss a slant or screen to Hill or an RB coming out of the backfield. Or just freaking run it himself.

I think the numbers justify this against great passing games such as KC and GB

That's way too much of a simplification. KC and GB only had 4 WRs on the field for like, two plays last year. They aren't trucking out WRs like crazy. They've got great pass catchers all over the roster, of all types. To beat them you don't need "dime," you need great pass defenders and great pass rushers, period. What you call them doesn't matter.

Just lumping things as "dime" is just way too much of a simplification at that point. I mean, I'll agree with you that the numbers justify having as many guys who can manage in coverage as possible on the field. But Tampa spent almost the entire game against KC - and had the best success of any team all year - in what you'd call a "traditional" nickel: 2 deep guys, 3 faster guys near the line, 2 coverage guys in the middle and 4 rushers. And that's what you'd expect, given that KC's passing threats come from all over the formation, but they're definitely not "shove four guys deep." Maybe the coverage guys in the middle drop a bit of weight over time and they look more like safeties than linebackers. But that just depends on the receivers, and if a guy spends all his time in coverage near the middle of the field, I'm callin' him a linebacker.

But the "dime" that's in that formation table is just "these guys are just hoping for a deep shot, screw the short stuff." And that stuff's not going to increase.

Points: 0

#15 by jheidelberg // Jul 28, 2021 - 8:30pm

There are plenty of zero, 1 or 2 yard gains and negative run plays (equivalent of incomplete passes) so clearly it is WAY better to average 7.0 yards per pass play than 4.8 yards per run play.  At 4.8 yards per run you will have at least 30 percent of these failed plays (I am sure way more than 30 percent).  The writers on this site have endlessly shown that passing is more effective than running.

I will flip the tables, even in the "dumb view" of all runs are the same, you are simplifying 4.8 yards per carry and not figuring in variance.  Look at Barkley on the Giants (4.7 per carry in career), he is an inefficient runner that has a good average because of his long gainers.  

Who needs these superior QB's?  With your logic, it is better to have O.J. Simpson of yesteryear at 4.7 yards per career carry.  Maybe you prefer an endless dose of Barry Sanders at 5.0 yards per carry in his career.  Unstoppable Detroit Lions offense?  That sentence has never been used in history.

What you call does not matter?  Then why do teams bother to have a defensive game play against KC or GB?  The idea is to slow down these guys, you will rarely stop them.

Some guy named Bill Belichick figured out that to slow down an offense, make them run.



Points: 0

#18 by Pat // Jul 29, 2021 - 9:36am

Okay, given that I've said multiple times that this is an incredibly silly way to look at things, there's no point to take a horrible analogy and stretch it to insanity. Calling something a "run" and calling something a "pass" is an arbitrary distinction from 100 years ago that has absolutely no point whatsoever, and pretending that a deep post and a screen are the same kind of plays is just pointless.

Calling a defense base, nickel, or dime is just a horrendous proxy for where your players are positioned. Whether a player is a linebacker, a safety, or a corner is just a made up designation that primarily affects their salary demands. What I call "dime" (which I realize is not what 'dime' is in the table, but it's a close proxy for) is actually at least 3 or 4 guys deep at the snap, and that's not a good defense against a passing game. If a few years from now the linebackers are lighter and some people start calling them "safeties" and claim that a guy hanging out 7-8 yards from the line is a safety in dime, they're welcome to their craziness, but they're still a linebacker.

I don't know why you think I'm trying to like, defend running or something. I'm not. Putting guys deep will just open up slants and crossing routes underneath, which is what happened all year with KC and GB. Again: these guys aren't sending like, four guys deep.

Points: 0

#19 by Joseph // Jul 29, 2021 - 6:04pm

I think there are two BIG distinction of snaps in dime versus nickel versus base. One--who are the pass catchers that need to be defended? Two--which players do you choose to defend them? (The inverse is true for offenses--"skill-position" players that are good on running and passing plays can cause matchup problems--a few of whom are mentioned in the next paragraph.)

For the first, Kelce, Kittle, Gronk, and a few other TE's need more coverage, where other TE's can be adequately defended by most any defender. There are RB's like Kamara, McCaffrey, and Ekeler that merit extra attention as well. Teams need to plan on covering these players as if they are the WR3, no matter how many "WR's" are in the huddle.

For the second, this is very team specific. There are very good coverage LB's that can hang with an above average TE/RB, and there are DB's that are bigger/heavier and can play similar to a traditional LB as well. Their positional designation is not as important as being able to trust 5-6 guys in coverage, with the other 5-6 trying to stop the run/screen/touch pass. Very probably, the 4 best players to cover receivers are the 4 traditional secondary players. The fifth is probably also a DB; who is the 6th? Is it a WLB like Lavonte David? Is it a 3rd safety? The 4th CB? This influences whether you play a little more base, nickel, or dime.

For most every snap, you are going to have 2 DL + 2 Edge on the field, and 1-2 LB's that don't normally rush the passer, + 5-6 cover guys. [Not including blitzes for this.] If one of your "LB's" is a good cover guy, OR if one of your coverage guys is a good pass rusher (Jamal Adams), this gives you so much more flexibility to keep your best 11 defenders on the field, no matter who the offense brings out. On the flip side, that is what made Gronk the GOAT TE--being a great blocker and a great receiver. 


Points: 0

#20 by Pat // Jul 30, 2021 - 10:10am

Yeah, I totally agree. That's the downside - with snap data you can try to group defenses by who they have on the field, but without formation information and post-snap player tracking you don't know if one team's "dime" is just "nickel with a guy who they call a DB but seriously he's just a light LB."

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