Packers Playbook Introduction: Basic Defensive Formations All Green Bay Packers All the Time

Packers Playbook LogoWelcome to the offseason, where news runs as slow as molasses in northern Wisconsin during winter. As a way to pass the time and still get a healthy dose of Green Bay Packers football, we’ve put together a series detailing some defensive formations utilized by Dom Capers.

Every day this week we’ll bring you a breakdown of a particular Packers’ defensive formation. Hopefully it will help you build a better eye for the game and get you to see things you might never have noticed before.

When the Packers fired Bob Sanders and hired Dom Capers in 2009, it signified a fundamental shift in defensive philosophy. Mike McCarthy wanted to transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense, and Capers had a history of making these changes work, as well as being a founding father of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ legendary scheme.

“I’m big believer in the 3-4 defense for a number of different reasons,” McCarthy explained after hiring Capers.  “From an offensive standpoint, it gives you targeting problems and allows you as a defense to [better] use your personnel.  It really cuts the menu of the offense in half of what you would normally do against a 4-man front.”

But as we’ve seen, games are not merely played in 4-3 or 3-4 fronts. In fact, the Green Bay Packers have mostly used “nickel” formations the past few seasons, which primarily consist of two defensive linemen and four linebackers. It’s a response to the modern NFL and its pass-heavy tendencies. However, it also shows that there is more to a defense than just its “base” formation.

Below is a basic list of the defensive packages employed by Dom Capers and the Packers:

  • Okie and Eagle (3-4-4)
  • Nickel (2-4-5)
  • Psycho (1-5-5)
  • Dime (2-3-6)
  • Bat (1-4-6)
  • Prevent (1-3-7, 1-2-8)
  • Hippo (4-4-3)

Many fans should have an understanding of what those numbers mean following each formation, but as a point of reference, I’ll explain them briefly.

The first number in the set refers to the number of defensive linemen on the field. The second number represents the number of linebackers (inside and outside), and the third number represents the number of defensive backs (cornerbacks and safeties). Obviously, these three numbers will add up to eleven, since that’s how many players are allowed on the field for a play. That said, you can also omit the third number, which would then be implied based on the sum of the first two numbers.

It also demonstrates the fundamental difference between a “4-3” and a “3-4” defense. The former uses four linemen and three linebackers, while the latter uses only three linemen and four linebackers. They refer to the base defensive front, and though each one has a seven-man front, the personnel difference leads to a significant change in scheme and strategy.

In this series, we are going to highlight each of the above formations found in the Dom Capers defense and explain them in detail. We will also provide some video examples and analysis of these formations in action. So continue to check back in over the next couple weeks as we dive into the Packers playbook. You might just learn something! (And even if you don’t, you still get to talk some football during these slow news weeks.)


Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski


11 thoughts on “Packers Playbook Introduction: Basic Defensive Formations

  1. I am not sure, but it seems that if we put our defensive playbook for all to see, you would think that to be a bad thing. Offenses don’t share their playbooks and I’m pretty sure opening that up to the general public would be disastrous for the team. Is this really a good idea?

    1. These are merely the fundamental concepts of the basic defensive packages that Capers employs. Many of them have been around a lot longer than even Capers has been coaching, and all of them are used by multiple NFL teams.

      Besides, opponents do a lot more film study than you will ever see in a blog, so no need to worry about what we write. This is just for the fans to learn some of the basics. 😉

    2. There’s absolutely nothing that lay people could expose that NFL pro personnel don’t already know.

      We are peons. They are professionals. And they study film for hundreds of hours a week.

  2. against A. Peterson we should employ a 5-3-3, occasionally ,on early downs. Watching AP shred our D was embarrassing Last year. Plus this would make ponder pass more, which would be a good thing.

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