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GGN Chalkboard: The Nickel Defense and why I see the light on Sheldon Richardson

In this edition: we look at how the Jets decide to play the Nickel Defenses. Hint: it isn't what you usually expect. And even more scary, I might make sense of the Richardson pick.

Al Bello

So continuing with the last post about defense, I figured this is a good time to discuss a totally different type of defense. Mainly the substitute packages known as the Nickel defense. The concept of the nickel to to substitute one front seven man and use a secondary player instead. This extra speedster covers an additional WR or TE. Rather than have a slower, bigger player against a speedy guy, the defense would instead use an extra corner to help cover.

The Nickel got it's start in the 4-3, when teams would instead take out a linebacker and substitute a safety or third corner. That would leave a 4-2-5 instead of the usual 4-3-4 defense. The dime takes out another player and substitutes another member of the secondary. Now it becomes a 4-1-6 defense. That's the simple version

But what about in a 3-4? Who gets subbed and why... well I'll try to do my best to explain it. Let's get down and dirty with the Jets Nickel package..

Well use an example from 2012: First game against the Bills on a third and long. (perfect situation by the way for a Nickel package.)


(click to embiggen)

So looking at the set up: we have four players at the line of scrimmage in a three point stance. Two guys 5 yards off the line of scrimmage near where linebackers would play and then 5 players playing either wideouts or playing deep.

So typical 4-2-5 set up we'd expect right? Correct. Typical personnel? Not what you'd think.

I'm going to color code everything in the same picture for you just so you can see what I'm talking about. Yellow is the secondary (Revis, Cro, Wilson, Bell, and Landry). Blue is the middle LB corps(e) of Harris and Scott. (That Corpse joke is going to be used every time I see Bart Scott in on a passing down, just because) That's the base of the nickel package, that you have 7 guys all supposedly with speed. (Again, why Scott is out there... we will try to explain why it's so bad.)

And then it comes down to the four lineman. This is where the NYJ get creative about where the player they substitute out a player. Looking at that you'd think it's a DE-DT-DT-DE alignment but it's not. In fact, there's only two true lineman playing on this down.

It's actually two OLB's on the outside (Pace and Thomas for those keeping score) and two interior lineman. That's right interior, meaning big and strong. Not the quick DE types we would expect in this package. Just to round out whose actually on the field it's Devito on one side and Wilkerson on the other.


So what the Jets did in fact do was take out a DE (probably taking out K Ellis and moving Wilk to the inside) and went with a 2-4-5 set up. Very interesting to see how Rex substitutes his players in 3rd and long situations.

Another play (this time second down and long) and the same personnel groups and once again it's a 2-4-5.


Still two interior guys inside. Then you have Thomas and Pace the OLB's on the outside (This time Pace is standing up). Wilson seems to be the go to guy to come in as the 5th secondary member.

One last example: Now we get into some real interesting stuff. Notice the front seven on this one. Still the same personnel just offset.


Aaron Maybin, ladies and gentlemen, is on your right playing the OLB (and taking himself out of the play). Next to him on the inside (and getting manhandled) is Coples... Also even though he's playing over the tackle it's still Wilkerson manning the inside lineamn (also gets manhandled.) And Pace on the left OLB rounds up the front four. Harris also for some reason comes on a blitz while Mauga stands and watches the action and waits for the RB to run a route. So it's the same defense even though a totally different look to the 2-4-5.

So what does this defense require position by position you might ask and why include the third picture:

This defense is all about the secondary and the ability to cover a third WR in formation. You need three corners or two and a really good cover safety to cover the WR across the field. That's basically it for the corners, pick a man or zone and cover it. The two safeties either pick up a TE/RB or 4th WR or drop into a zone. In this defense, safeties have to be the most versatile, they have to either cover a man, drop into a zone or (somewhat rarely) blitz. (See this post on secondary coverages if your confused on coverages the Jets tend to employ).

The two middle linebackers must be able to cover the sidelines on quick passes to the RB or TE in the flat or play the run especially an outside run. That's why it's so key to have good ILB play in this defense. Or you know something like this happens. Thanks a lot Bart Scott....

I digress, that's why Demario Davis and Harris must be able to cover really well for this defense to have any success, those routes because of the spread nature of the defense can hamper this defense especially when a blitz is on.

Now to probably the most important part of the 2-4-5, the actual down "lineman"

For this to work you need to outside guys who can rush but also stuff a run. Now I can see why Coples will be moved to OLB. This package is perfect for him IMO. Yes, he'd play almost a true 4-3 DE but it seems that this is where he can cause some damage. He can also be effective from here against the run.The other spot would be good for Barnes, mostly because they can match him up against the slower DE and generate some rush off the edge. The downside would be he wouldn't be much use against the run.

Notice something else: We don't need two OLB who are great against the run and pass. Now we have an alignment where we can actually use the personnel without making them change roles too much. This defense probably saves us having to see Pace out there as well as puts Coples on the line, where he can be much more of a threat. All and all that's a win by itself. So where would we get running help from you might ask?

That's where the two fat cat DT would come in. If you put Wilkerson on his side, you get a lot of help against the run, plus a guy who knows how to break up a double team and get a sack. I think in this formation, he probably will not be as effective (mainly because of the double team) then in a 3-4 but can definitely cause some havoc inside.

And then probably the guy we all wonder how he fits in: Sheldon Richardson. The guy is probably going to be slotted in next to Coples and form a devastating side of the line on passing downs. Garay would also seemingly be put intot this role, probably rotating with Richardson depending on the down/distance or matchup.

This 2-4-5 alignment probably makes the most sense why they needed Richardson. With Devito gone and Ellis primarily used as a run stuffer, now they can roll with only four guys in a rush. By using a corner instead of LB, this negates the problems with the 4-3 defense of having to have great LB play across the field. Now Harris can man the inside, while Davis covers the speedy guys to the outside. Maybe it's just me, but the plan for Richardson seems pretty clear for him to be used this formation and really make it tough on the OL.

It may also be tweaked for teams that use the tight spread with two TE or two RB's, by substitute Landry for Wilson. Then moving Landry who is good in the box up, to cover the TE/RB or blitz and moving Bush/Allen back to safety you can have a really effective and interesting package against teams that like to pass out of formations where the TE is near the OL. Sure you give up some size from the 3-4 base but by using Landry much like the extra safety in the 46, you may be able to get away with it on longer downs with a bigger line that causes havoc.

Maybe I'm just seeing things, but when I look at how the Jets substitute in the Nickel package, it seems that the plan of drafting Richardson and Millner in the first round looks a lot less confusing. Richardson will cause the teams to leave Coples on the outside one on one. Wilkerson will do the same for Barnes. Millner allows the Jets to use Wilson in a role he does pretty well at, covering the third WR out of the slot. It also seems that the Jets can toy with this formation in running downs for teams that like to use the shotgun but use a tighter formation...

Lastly, the Jets do seem to use this maybe 1/4 of the plays total. It's mostly used against 3 and 4 WR spread sets. The base defense used by the Jets is still the 3-4 defense but I think that this package may be seen more with the lack of depth at the OLB position. Reiterating what I said about the 4-3, this team does not have the personnel to run a traditional 4-3 defense, but can run a package that may bring out the 4 lineman and also allow them to negate not having great speed at LB.

That about does it for this version of the GGN chalkboard. I'd love to hear what you guys think about the different things I've said about here. Do you see the Jets using Landry in the box? Do you think Richardson sees a lot of time at DT in this formation? Do I need my head examined? Let me know in the comments.