clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Packers Film Room: Packers nickel front run defense remains a weakness

The Packers’ run defense gave up close to 200 yards to the Steelers’ running backs in Week 10. One formation is of primary fault.

Green Bay Packers v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers’ run defense surrendered over 200 yards rushing in their Week 10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers by a score of 23-19. The exact number is 205 yards. Excluding the quarterback scrambles, the defense gave up 190 rushing on 33 carries, 5.7 yards per carry. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur summed up the issues on Monday in his press conference, saying, “It was a combination of missed tackles and missed assignments.”

Per Pro Football Focus, the defense had 10 missed tackles. They gave up seven explosive runs of 10 or more yards, too. The Steelers played the majority of the game in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) so the Packers stayed in their nickel package 2-4-5 defense for the majority of the game as well.

Their nickel front is the most vulnerable personnel grouping versus the run due to the wide edges played by outside linebackers and two defensive tackles in the interior. As a result, just as LaFleur said, the defense missed tackles and got washed out of their gaps.

It’s a mystery why Barry didn’t adjust and use their “penny” front consisting of a five-down front out of a 3-3-5 personnel grouping. As a result, the Packers were out-gapped all game long.

The defense played 39 snaps of their 2-4-5 nickel defense, eight snaps in their 3-4 base, and just five snaps in their 3-3-5 per Sports Info Solutions. The Steelers played 55 snaps of 11 personnel.

They played 37 snaps of single high coverage, giving them eight in the box a majority of the time and 17 snaps of split safety coverages. Split safety coverages are a little riskier against the run due to being out-gapped/down a defender in the box, but they only faced seven run snaps versus two-high coverage.

However, they did get gashed for an 11-yard run while playing a hybrid half-quarter-quarter coverage on the back end early in the first quarter in a snap of cover-8.

Cover-8 is the reverse of cover-6 where cover-8 sends the nickel defender to the cover-2 side and quarters is played on the back side. The nickel aligns to the passing strength. Generally, he is the C-gap run fitter but with the alignment of the receivers to the left, he’s put in a bad position.

The play is a run-pass option with a bubble tag to the left and gap scheme power run blocking up front versus the Packers' light box.

The Packers were worried about the pass here due to the alignment so quarterback Kenny Pickett just read the leverage outside and handed the ball off to the running back. Nickel defender Keisean Nixon is too far out of the run fit and linebacker Isaiah McDuffie (No. 58) hammers the puller’s outside shoulder.

Devonte Wyatt, playing gap-and-half, is unable to spill the ball carrier outside. In gap-and-half, you can see him peek inside while maintaining leverage in the B-gap. He doesn’t flash in the B-gap and the defense is unable to spill the ball carrier outside. With no nickel run defender filling inside, the running back is able to fight through arm tackles and gain 11.

The Packers remained in two-high coverage here in the red zone on a touchdown play given up early in the second quarter.

The Steelers are running a nearly identical RPO to the first play above but this time the defense is playing cover-6 with quarters coverage to the weak side and cover-2 to the closed/nub side of the offensive formation.

The Steelers align in trips and motion a receiver across to get two lead blockers to the run side instead of one.

The defensive line slants toward the pass side of the RPO. This allows the defensive end to act as a deterrent unblocked in the throwing window, forcing the give read. However, if the line is going to slant, the linebackers have gap/scrape exchange responsibility to the gaps to their left. Since the defense is out-gapped, a safety has to fill inside.

De’Vondre Campbell is unable to get over the top. Rudy Ford takes a poor angle downhill as the fitter in the new C-gap, misses the tackle, while Carrington Valentine also makes a poor attempt at a tackle too.

Even while playing single-high coverage to get an extra defender in the box, the defense managed to take itself right out of the play with defenders plugging the same gap.

Campbell and McDuffie both end up in the gap here and it looks like Wyatt goes in the wrong direction as everyone else. There’s a clear miscommunication here about assignments and if Wyatt was supposed to end up slanting inside, then Campbell would be the defender who needs to gap exchange with Wyatt up front in the B-gap.

These kinds of interior slants were by design as they happened a few times. It just seems like the second-level players were unable to get themselves into position to fit the run in the opposite gaps.

Same thing here again, with a gap exchange from T.J. Slaton (No. 93) and Campbell. The run hits the A-gap and there is no defender there. It’s unclear who should be in the playside A-gap but if Slaton is correct, then that player is supposed to be Campbell and he is supposed to be on the outside shoulder of the center (No. 61). It doesn’t help that Valentine takes himself right out of the play as well as the alley defender.

Midway through the 4th quarter, the defense gave up two chunk runs that sealed their fate.

In both clips, you can see missed tackles, defenders unable to keep their feet along the interior, and bad run fits/defenders out of position.


The common theme in all of this? 2-4-5 nickel front defense where spacing is an issue. They do not have the bigger bodies commonly associated with the Fangio defenses in the interior to play gap-and-half defense. It’s pick your poison though, if they were to play more 3-3-5 penny front defenses, the secondary would be vulnerable to chunk plays in the passing game. In this game, there was no threat of that happening but Joe Barry apparently didn’t make the strategic assessment that this was necessary. And it hurt them.