Big Nickel, Regular nickel, learn the difference: Football 201

big nickel formation

Coaching defense in the era of 11 personnel, the rewards of throwing the ball down field, and the proliferation of the fullback has forced defensive coordinators to make nickel defense as big a part of their game plan as their base defense.

For argument’s sake, nickel defense will line up in some sort of 4-2-5 look.  The 5 in back are who we should spend some time on, as well as touching on who the 4 and 2 are (as opposed to base defense).

big nickel formation
Teams that play “Regular Nickel” are playing with 2 safeties, and 3 corners.

This allows the defense gets its best “cover” guys out on the field while still being able to have 2 high safeties in the back end.  Every coverage a defense has in its playbook is in play with this personnel. The issue though is they have forsaken their run defense when they take the Sam linebacker out of the game and replace him with a corner.

Some teams have resorted to pulling the Mike out for a corner, and leaving the Sam in the game to hedge on the run game.

If Down and Distance indicates that a run play is a threat on 2nd & 4 with 11 personnel and a team likes their “regular nickel” against this particular matchup, a team may be tempted to hedge its bets and leave the Sam in and hope they can cover up his warts as a pass defender with their back 5.

big nickel formation

There has been a movement with teams to play “Big Nickel”.

Basically, instead of having 3 CB’s and 2 Safeties, teams flip it and have 2 CB’s and 3 Safeties on the field.  What this says to an opposing offensive coordinator is “we are gonna play nickel defense against your 11 personnel group, but we will not hand you the running game on a platter”.

The 2 positives of playing big nickel are

1: getting the Sam LB out of the game.  He is typically the worst pass defender, so he’s a liability in the pass game, and he can’t carry the TE (Y) on deep over routes unless he’s an All-Pro-caliber Sam LB.

2: This is hedging the bet against the run game by putting a 3rd safety in the game. This is a guy who does not mind becoming a box player if he reads run.  He also is a better candidate to blitz than a CB would be.

Teams that play “Big Nickel” will typically play it on normal Down & Distance (where the threat of the run is greater) and on 3rd & Long will look to play “Regular Nickel” or just straight up “Dime” (6 DB’s) defense.

However, there is a bit of a downside to playing “Big Nickel”. Typical 3rd Safeties are not going to be able to cover a regular S (slot) receiver man to man. They can get eaten alive by guys like Cole Beasley on shallow crosses and all the quick game routes these types of receivers will run.

To give the 3rd safety help, teams have to either help him with giving the LB’s some coverage responsibility so the 3rd safety can cheat and get deeper. They can also flip it and give him help by playing the Free Safety behind him, therefore allowing him to sit and squat on the short and intermediate routes.

Either way, a DC is really stressing out the coverage on other players to try to help the 3rd safety. In addition, the combination of coverages you can now play are reduced as opposed to when you’re playing “regular nickel”.

As with everything in defensive football, the game is to always hedge your bets and play the scouting report and film evaluation. There is no perfect defensive scheme, so there are times when teams just have to pick a poison and then make adjustments as each play happens.

Myles Jack switching from Outside Linebacker to Middle Linebacker isn’t simple.

Myles Jack switching to middle linebacker

With the retirement of Paul Posluszny, the Jaguars drafted Leon Jacobs and moved Myles Jack (wasn’t down) to middle linebacker. How he does could determine how Jax does on defense. Yes, it’s that big of a move.

Little is said about the nuances that come from switching from being a Sam to being a Mike. It’s manyfold. The first factor in this is the Jags must feel very confident that Jacobs can handle the SLB position.

Before getting into this, know that moving Jack to the MLB means they think they’ll be playing with a lead most the time. 65% of time, teams with leads play sub packages. Hence, the last thing a team would want would be Jack riding the pine 35% of the plays.

Often when teams go from base to nickel, they usually sub a DB for the SAM. Since Jack is a hell of an athlete and strong enough to hang with tight ends, plus stop the run, they want to keep him on the field as much a possible.

How will moving change how he plays?

If a player is the Sam or Elephant, not only does he have a different responsibility, but how he sees the field, reads the entire offense, changes. Not only is he viewing plays from a different perspective, but his timing is affected, as well.

In a 4-3 defense, the SAM is a bit slower, but stronger. They time their first step, their tilt to arrive at the quarterback or whomever is on the edge to hit him with maximum force and the right height. With so many rules in place, they’re like a pitcher trying to throw a strike in a small area.

What they think, how they react is stems from the C gap. Quick twitch guys.

Moving inside changes everything. Besides making them cover Y’s/TE’s requiring them to cover more area, they also have to stop the run up the middle if the back gets past the tackles.

OLB in a 4-3 predominately tackle backs around the edge where speed is a big factor. When backs power up the middle, one arm tackles won’t get it. Their shoulders need to be squared up. They’re also looking at the play with more bodies in front of them.

4-3 defense (under)

The first step they take instead of barreling toward their target, is now one that requires a different technique and the ILB is who quarterbacks are looking to exploit with ins, slants, etc. Hence, he needs to be smart.

The short passing game goes through the ILB. Stink at stopping them and it’s going to be a long day. While a Mike has the DL to help stop runs up the middle, they’re often alone in the passing game. Sure, the safeties can and do move up, but if they’re involved, often it means the ILB didn’t do his job.

Fans should understand that it will take Jack a little while to nail this position because he needs to retrain his muscle memory on how to react to each play. Most likely, quarterbacks will throw in his area to challenge this. Don’t be surprised if he’s a little inconsistent until he’s had a few games under his belt.

Rugby tackling techniques could help NFL players adjust to new helmet rules

rugby style tackling for the nfl

As most know, the NFL changed the rules on how players may tackle each other – a player can’t lower his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. rugby tackling techniques help NFL players adjust to new helmet rules
Not sure about y’all, but I’m wondering how it will affect the players and the game from beyond the LOS. We know the linemen will have issues, but what’s the ripple out affect? From reffing to the play level. I asked a coach (who wants to remain anonymous, like the scout) what he thought about the change.

“I think everybody who has listened to football and interested in football needs to understand that things are changing right now,” Carroll

Jules: Could how the linemen play increase, rather than decease, injuries because they’ll now be playing differently. Could see them standing more up and less squatting.
Coach:  don’t know how this will effect injuries. I couldn’t even speculate about head injuries. What I can say is that I’m concerned about making players think, especially defensively.

The league and this stupid competition committee that is run like a political party with the stark difference being that there’s never any changes as to who’s on the committee have made playing both offensively and defensively very difficult. The head rules are going to make guys think. And if they’re thinking about it, they’re gonna get hurt.

They’ve now changed the kickoff rules to where you have to have 8 guys up front on KOR. All this will do will increase returns because most teams are going to kick it to the 5 yard line and bet that with not enough blockers in the back end of the return, they’ll be tackled inside the 25.

The change to the catch rule leaves some pretty large loops. There are going to be an increase in fumbles that were immediately ruled last season as incomplete passes. Defensive coaches are now more than ever telling their guys ‘dive on the ball if it’s even close’. What does diving include? It includes your head! The exact thing that they’re trying to protect, they’re now exposing!

Jules: With the O-line spending more time thinking, could sacks increase? That split second making the difference?

Coach: I don’t know that this will allow more sacks, because the defense is also put at such a disadvantage as well. From a competition standpoint, it pretty much evens out, especially on the line of scrimmage. If they’re going to call it the way they’ve talked about.

I think that the passing game has become so much geared towards the offense regarding rules (and there will be a re-emphasis on calling pass interference this season) that it’s pretty difficult to play in the back end of the defense. Yes, as football players, the first thing you’re taught is to keep your head up.

A form tackle is made with the core and middle of your body, not your head. But players are so good now and so elusive that it’s almost impossible to bring down a skill player using a ‘form tackle’. That’s where the head becomes involved. This is where the league has totally contradicted itself and is going to turn the helmet rule into another edition of the catch rule.

The helmet rule could affect every single position on the field. It will absolutely affect how a tackle sets, it will put a premium on more athletic lineman, which isn’t exactly a bad thing, but it really makes being a 6’2’’ Left Guard a pretty hard position because if shorter than either the 3 or 1 techniques, his head will be highlighted in the block whether he wants it to be or not.

Jules: Or like a Barry Church vs a Rob Gronkowski, it’s often tough for a “fair” match-up and flags can go both ways.

Coach. Exactly, there’s a 1,000 examples. These aren’t robots. They’re human bodies with brains. Something the competition committee still can’t grasp.

I think offenses will have some adjustments for the quick passing game that will help the OL out. I would be more concerned about the run game, especially the old G scheme runs if I was an OC.

Which could mean you’re going to see more zone type run actions (which is already happening anyway) because that’s what college players are more used to as it is. But I certainly think that your short yardage/GL game plan is absolutely in a different place this year than it was last year.

Jules: what happens if a team’s run game gets stifled, will that change a team like Denver’s run-first scheme in a bad way? Put more on the shoulders of the QB to carry the offense? If so, would that help a type who relies on the quick release?

Coach: You’ll see more zone scheme stuff, which plays to more to that kind of QB’s ability. Teams won’t abandon the run game, it will be a slow shift towards getting the ball in your best athletes’ hands as fast as you can. I also think the NFL is entering the age where teams are absolutely going to have to cross train their RB’s to also be able to line up in the slot and play at the very least as an inside receiver, and be a threat.

I’m not saying LF is going there, but I do believe that the Patriots are on to something with that, have been on to it for a while now, and I think the league is now trending that way.

For years and years we’ve cross trained all OL so a lot of them have position versatility. We’ve done it with TE’s lining up as WR’s. The defense answered that by playing big Nickel. Now the offense is throwing the versatile backs out there, and it causes the defense to hesitate as to what personnel to line up in.

Jules: Some coaches have said they’re not going to worry about the helmet rules until they see how they’re called. While Carroll says it’s a very big deal.

Coach: With limited practice time in pads actually hitting each other, it’s not helping young players with some of their bad habits, especially tackling habits. If teams can’t get pads on guys to block and hit, it’s really hard to change much at all.

Dan Quinn and Pete Carroll are visionary because they have talked about getting all the defensive coaches in the league together to make a teach tape on how to use the rugby style tackles. I don’t know that it will happen, but I think it would be beneficial for everyone involved on the defensive side of the ball.

Jules: Pete had a rugby coach come in years ago to help the Seahawks, could we see more of that? The Jaguars’ defense was built by a Carroll disciple in Gus Bradley and now he’s in LA with the Chargers. I don’t recall either D-Lines taking big injury hits last season.

Coach: Other teams have introduced it. They just don’t broadcasted it. I know it’s something they do without pads on during OTA’s, which inherently means it’s a less violent type of hit. So yeah, I guess that is a possible answer to the helmet rules, but like Vance said, we don’t know yet.


rugby tackling techniques help NFL players adjust to new helmet rules

rugby tackling techniques help NFL players adjust to new helmet rules
rugby tackling techniques help NFL players adjust to new helmet rules
rugby tackling techniques help NFL players adjust to new helmet rules

Tight Ends-big engines that drive offensive trains:Football 101

Tight Ends are my weakness. You can have the quarterback, give me a Y-ISO and I’m weak in the knees. They block for quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. Plus, they run routes and provide a security blanket for the QB, too. They’re the perfect football player who does the most of any position group. The Jack of All Trades.

Good ones disrupt defenses and change formations because they key around where the TE is. He gives the SAM a job, he takes away one or two players because they don’t know if he’s blocking or running a route. If a team has an Y-ISO player like Travis Kelce or Rob Gronkowski, defenses plan as much around them as they do the quarterback.

If it’s trips left and the tight end is split out right, who do you cover?

Most TE’s are a catcher or blocker. If a team can have two good TE’s, their offense is going to kick some serious booty. 12 personnel is a real threat; teams are using this more because it lessens the need for three killer wide receivers. Not to mention, if one of those guys is a real threat, the run game is helped. Play action, RPO’s, you name it.

When defenses double team this big guy, it leaves an open receiver downfield for a bomb.

Some break the TE position into three groups. The “Y,” the “F” and the “U”. The TE position has 100% evolved (thanks to Don Coryell).  Now we have a few different types of TE’s, and typically a team has different bodies for the different tight end types.

TE (Y) Position – the Knight

He’s the big boy, the blocker more than catcher. Everybody reading this has heard the saying, “The running game is the QB’s best friend”, right? If the running game is his best friend that drinks with him, the TE is the one who picks them both up when they’re leaving the bar.

Y’s line up next to the tackle, predominately on the right side (making it the strong side). That’s a good way to know what type he is: where he most often lines up and how often he gets the ball.

F or H Tight End – the Queen

He’s usually smaller than the big 6’6″ 260 Y, the F/H are more in the 6’3-4″ range. Too big for a wide receiver, but acts like one. He’ll block, but he’s not great at it. However, there’s always exceptions, when Julius Thomas was in Denver he was a ball catching fool and he was 6’5″, right on the edge.

These Tight ends will often line up farther out and are red zone threats. In your mind’s eye, think of a guy like Jimmy Graham or Trey Burton. They don’t really want to be an inline Tight End. They will stand in as a blocking threat, but lack of strength is going to mean they won’t be taking on 5 Techniques alone….think of them as more of a chipper, like a running back.

What the Queen TE lacks in run blocking ability, he absolutely makes up for it in the ability to create mismatches on the perimeter. This TE will now become a massive headache to Defensive Coordinators.

How do defenses treat him? Nickel? Base? Big Nickel? TE’s like Graham make the DC start to really think that if he’s out there and it’s 11 personnel, at the very least they’re going to need to line up in Big Nickel Defense. How does this affect the running game? Doing that takes the run stoppers out of the game to go to a smaller package.

Instead of blocking with sheer brawn and numbers, they block with space. A Queen TE is too big for a CB or FS to line up on and jam, and is far too fast to let a LB handle him in coverage. This position is about versatility, both schematically and personnel grouping-wise.

U are the one for me – the King

U’s, Y-ISO, Kings, call them what you want, but think about a guy like Travis Kelce today or Shannon Sharpe from yesteryear. He is more than a willing to be a blocker in both the zone and G run schemes, is willing to stay in to protect in base protection schemes, but also has the ability to line up displaced from the LOS and be effective in space as a route runner.

He will run some vertical clearing routes, such as the dig, the over and the vertical seam route (all routes run to death in the WCO).

Kings have the ability to help block a 5 technique with the Tackle and can seal the edge on a 7 technique. King TE’s don’t need to be 40 fast because he is a QB’s security blanket in the pass game. Quick (different from fast) and strong in the box. He needs to be able to beat the SLB in man coverage.

This is why older king TE’s are so valuable. What they lack in physical prowess, they make up for in understanding tactics and nuance. If he sees the SLB taking away the inside of his vertical curl route, he’ll break it outside to where the defense isn’t. The value of having a strong and savvy King TE cannot be overstated.

A healthy Gronk is the Mack Daddy of the Kings, ruler of the world. He is more than a willing blocker in the run game, but there isn’t a thing he can’t do in the pass game.
He can run screens, he can run every route on both the TE tree and most of the routes on the WR tree.  He is the ultimate offensive fail-safe. He’s impossible to both scheme against and also match up against. He drives opposing defensive staffs insane trying to figure out how they want to play the matchups.

Most teams carry both a King and a Queen TE. It’s now en vogue to bring both of them out and line up in 12 personnel, and use the Queen as a 3rd WR. That is the ultimate “screw you” personnel group that an offense can throw at a defense. It causes a lot of DC’s to stick in their base defense, or find a way to get into big Nickel (but that 3rd safety better be Honey Badger-like, otherwise it’s 10 on 11).

Having multiple tight end types helps all offensives

In the ever-changing chess match between opposing offensive and defensive coordinators, the 12 personnel (King/Queen TE) vs. Base/Nickel/Big Nickel is a fascinating match to watch.

Why use four receivers if you’ve got two good TE’s? I’d live in the 12 personnel, make it my base offense, especially in a WCO run-first scheme. You’re killing three birds with one stone. Or five with two. Want to see winning teams? Follow the tight end stats. Let’s all hope Jacksonville has its King and Queen and a Knight, too.
tight end types
tight end types
tight end types