Photo credit: Terry Renna/AP
When the Green Bay Packers defeated the Carolina Panthers 38-17 last Sunday, the crafty defensive coordinator Dom Capers rolled out a new defensive personnel package he called “NASCAR.”
Admittedly, I wasn’t the first to break this story. Credit goes to Rob Demovsky and later Jayme Snowden. However, when I first saw it while seeing highlights and looking at film, I immediately recognized it was a look we haven’t seen before. I just didn’t know the name of the package.
Essentially, the NASCAR package is an answer to several of our collective and hypothetical questions we asked during training camp.
“What if the Packers put their best pass rushers on the field at once?”
“What if the Packers found a way to get Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews, Mike Neal, and Nick Perry all on the field at once?”
“What would be the result of such a personnel grouping?”
“Would Dom Capers be creative enough and willing enough to try something aggressive like this?”
The answers to the questions are a resounding yes. He did try it. It worked. And he called it “NASCAR.”
Let’s take a look at the NASCAR personnel. What is it?
The NASCAR defense is basically a 0-5-6 defense. It has no down linemen (by title) on the field, five linebackers (Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews, Mike Neal, Nick Perry, and A.J. Hawk), and the dime defensive back grouping (Davon House, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Morgan Burnett, Micah Hyde, and Haha Clinton-Dix).
The defense has four outside linebackers playing the front four down lineman to take advantage of their pass rushing skills and six defensive backs solidifying the pass coverage. As a trade off, it’s a good pass defense, but probably not the best against the run. Consequently, it’s probably best saved for obvious passing downs. Based on my unofficial breakdown, the Packers used it a total of four times, all on 3rd down with passing distances.
The Packers first showed this package with 5:05 remaining in the first quarter on a 3rd down and 6 yards to go.
In the picture above, the “defensive line” from left to right is Neal, Peppers, Matthews, and Neal.
In the picture below, from the end zone view, you can see the gap assignments from the front four.
Using the following standardized defensive line gap sheet, you can see that Perry is in a 9-technique, Peppers is in a 4i-technique, Matthews is in a 2i-technique, and Neal is in a 9-technique.
Those gap assignments aren’t out of the comfort zone for the players. Perry and Neal are at home rushing from the outside. Peppers has plenty of experience rushing from the inside during his career. The only one that hints of a new look is Matthews, but he has come on plenty of middle blitzes in his career, so even that’s not a new look for him.
However, the collection of all of these players on the line at the same time is a new look for the Packers. And, it appeared to be successful. Perry sacked Newton on the play, which forced a punt.
The Packers showed it again with 11:46 remaining in the second quarter, also on a 3rd down and 6 yards to go.
From the end zone angle, they moved around the defenders and gave them different gap assignments.
Matthews moved to the outside to a 9-technique, along with Perry opposite of him. Neal moved inside to a 3-technique along with Peppers.
The result of the play was a quick completion, which gave the Panthers a first down, but the rush was aggressive and looked good up front.
The Packers ran it again in the third quarter on a 3rd down and 10 yards to go. This was one of Matthews’ missed sacks (Newton was in his grasp), but it shows the package is good at rushing the passer.
This time, Perry appears to be in a 6-technique, Peppers and Neal in 3-techniques, and Matthews in a 9-technique.
The Packers only used the package one more time during the game, also on a 3rd and long, but at this point the rout was on so it made no sense to put more looks on film and risk injuries to their premiere pass rushers. That particular play was a nullified incomplete pass due to an illegal contact foul.
The NASCAR package is an exotic look that appears constrained to 3rd down passing situations, which are the situations that defensive coordinators like to throw the kitchen sink at the opposing quarterbacks.
We’ll have to see how effective it is down the stretch, but it has the potential to create some good pressure because it puts the Packers’ best pass rushers all on the field at once.
I believe the pictures embedded above to be fair use under the premise of being short clips of the original broadcast that are transformative for news reporting, commentary, critique, illustration, and teaching purposes.——————