Xs and Os: Do the Packers Have an Elephant in the Room?
When the Green Bay Packers signed defensive end Julius Peppers in free agency, lots of speculation about his future role with the team erupted.
We heard rumors circulating about a possible deployment of a “hybrid defense” and the “elephant end” position.
The reason for this speculation is Packers’ defensive Dom Capers employs a base 3-4 defense, which utilizes 3 defensive linemen and 4 linebackers.
However, Peppers is a 4-3 defensive end.Â The 4-3 defense utilizes 4 defensive linemen and 3 linebackers.
Because of this alignment difference, the defensive ends between both schemes have different body types and responsibilities.
Typically, 4-3 defensive ends are usually between 260-285 pounds and are long, fluid athletes. On the other hand, 3-4 defensive ends are between 300-340 pounds and are more of the wrecking ball type.
The reason for these different body types has to do with defensive gap control.
Gap control is how the defense puts its players in proper position, mainly for stopping the running game, but also secondarily when establishing pass rushing lanes.
The 3-4 defense typically uses a double gap system, meaning that each defender in the front 7 is responsible for defending 2 gaps in the offensive formation.
This is very much a read and react system where each player anticipates where the ball will go and move to that location as the play develops. At the snap of the ball, the defensive linemen stand up their blockers, clog the position, and move to the lane where the ball is.
Linebackers also have double control and flow to the ball as the runner hits the lane.
The 3-4 defense relies on strength to control the gaps, which is why the defensive linemen are large. However, the Jack linebacker, such as Clay Matthews, is free to roam and do damage over a large portion of the field, including rushing the passer.
In contrast, the 4-3 defense is traditionally a single gap defense, which means each front 7 defender controls only 1 lane.
The gap is predetermined before the snap of the ball and the defender immediately flows to it. There isn’t as much read and react as the double gap scheme, so players can be smaller and rely more on their athleticism. The player fills the gap whether the ball carrier is there or not.
So, what exactly is a hybrid defense? An elephant?
First, a little bit of a disclaimer. Every defensive coach has his own philosophy, language, positions, etc. I have no intimate knowledge of Dom Capers’ playbook other than what I’ve seen on video.
So, everything I say from here on out is speculation about what we might see from Julius Peppers and the Packers this upcoming season.
A hybrid defense melds concepts of both the 3-4 and the 4-3 fronts. It can mean any combination of this mixing.
In my opinion, the Peppers signing indicates the Packers will use a more traditional 4-3 front 7 personnel (such as Julius Peppers and Datone Jones) and mix both 3-4 and 4-3 gap responsibilities.
In the diagram above, which is a typical NFL hybrid defense, you’ll see that single and double gap responsibilities are being simultaneously executed. The strong side of the formation (TE) has Â double gap control (with the exception of the Sam having single) and the weak side has single (with the Will more free to roam than typical double gap responsibilities).
The weak side allows defensive play makers more freedom in roaming. If this was the Packers, Clay Matthews can assume the role of Will and Julius Peppers can become the elephant end.
The elephant end lines up on the weak side of the formation and usually has single gap responsibilities. He’s free to roam, run defend, and pass rush from either a stand up 2-point stance or a 3-point stance.
Whatever Dom Capers rolls out this fall, it will be fun and interesting to see. Hopefully, it puts both Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews in positions to disrupt the passing game.