Packers Xs and Os Film Session: The NASCAR Defense

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.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind
Credit: NFL Game Rewind

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.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind
Credit: NFL Game Rewind

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.

Credit: www.dawgsbynature.com
Credit: www.dawgsbynature.com

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.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind
Credit: NFL Game Rewind

The Packers showed it again with 11:46 remaining in the second quarter, also on a 3rd down and 6 yards to go.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind
Credit: NFL Game Rewind

From the end zone angle, they moved around the defenders and gave them different gap assignments.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind
Credit: NFL Game Rewind

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.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind
Credit: NFL Game Rewind

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.

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Jay Hodgson is an independent sports blogger writing for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WISports.com.

Follow Jay on twitter at @jys_h.

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22 thoughts on “Packers Xs and Os Film Session: The NASCAR Defense

  1. NASCAR package on long third downs, putting Sean Richardson in on short third downs… hard to argue that Dom Capers isn’t trying to fit his scheme to the players, rather than the other way around.

    1. It took losing Shields to get Richardson on the field but he didn’t disappoint. Just think how much better the defense would be if Richardson replaced Hawk. Richardson can tackle and cover, Hawk can do neither.

        1. Richardson is a prototype box safety based on his measureables. Once he matures and learns the schemes a little better, he could really excel in such a role.

        2. If not more than 20 lbs. Richardson likely wouldn’t last long taking on interior linemen and would be a target read for run-play calls if he were filling the middle.

    2. If I am New Orleans, I am forcing the Packers to cover my TE over the middle. Most teams have killed us with Hawk and Jones trying to cover the likes of Graham, Rudolph or Davis over the middle. Perhaps a guy like Sean Richardson can help on this front.

  2. This is a very good approach by the Packers. It should be even more effective when the Packers face more traditional pocket passers like Brady, Foles, and Ryan in some of their upcoming games. Good job by Capers. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since ’61

  3. Only took Dom Capers 3 years to figure out to get all his best pass rushers on teh field in 3rd and long situations? Wow, I’m underwhelmed. Now replace Hawk with somebody who can tackle/cover and we might have something.

    1. Your comment would be more valid if the 2013 season had:

      1) Julius Peppers on the roster
      2) Mike Neal being as light as he is this year (265 lbs)
      3) Nick Perry not having a broken bone in his heel
      4) Clay Matthews not missing extended time for a broken thumb

  4. Though Capers has been accused of having success then his defense taking steady downward spirals…It seems perhaps that he has cycled through that believed process and the obvious growth in the defensive play to date this season.

    Whether its fitting scheme to players or players to scheme.it appears Capers has the tools for both aspects to succeed. 🙂

    1. He just had to find a young virgin to sacrifice in the offseason for his defenses to start working again.

  5. Yeah, I was wondering why we finally put some pressure on a QB that can move. Instead of a 330 lb. interior lineman trying to disrupt you have good strength and most importantly speed. On the play that 52 missed tackling Newton, Clay was wrapped all over him. Newton escaped. He is a huge, strong QB. Had that been Brady or Brees he would have gone down. Well, we will see Sunday evening in the case of Brees.

  6. The second I saw these four guys lined up on a 3rd down was when I knew Capers finally has all “his guys” he needs to be successful. He’s now able to do whatever the hell he wants. Julius Peppers was the key to all of this. He could turn out to be one of TT’s greatest free agent signings up there with Charles Woodson. I absolutely love this new Nascar package. It just makes perfect sense. Capers is back baby!!

  7. WOW… this actually looks incredibly exciting! But there is one thing i don’t quite understand. Mike Daniels and Datone Jones are becoming very effective pass rushers themselves, so is taking them off in favor of Neal and Perry really all THAT great? That being said, this is a win win situation!

    Nick Perry has been on fire in his last three games! 2 sacks against the Vikings, and his last two games he’s graded as one of the best OLB’s in the league according to PFF. And those were on just 26 snaps!

    This defense just gets better and better!

    1. MM must have read your mind as today I read where he said he needs to find a way to get Nick Perry on the field more.

      1. I couldn’t be happier to hear it! Perry has been productive, the problem is he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. With the limited snaps he’s starting to gain a hot streak of playmaking, so I say play the man!

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