Packers Playbook, Part 1: The Okie (Base) Defense All Green Bay Packers All the Time

Packers Playbook LogoIn our first part of this series, we are going to take a look at the Green Bay Packers’ base defense, the “Okie.” The overarching 3-4 defensive philosophy is derived from this formation, as it was the one originally developed in the 1950’s by Coach Bud Wilkinson of Oklahoma. Of course, it all started out as a 5-2 formation, which will make sense later.

Explaining the Formation

You could call the Okie an “old school” formation, because it is the true alignment of a two-gap system. In this 3-4-4 defense, there is a nose tackle, two defensive ends, two outside linebackers, two inside linebackers, a pair of cornerbacks, and a pair of safeties. What is most important here is the alignment of the front seven, as they will control the line of scrimmage against running plays.

Before we go any farther, let’s quickly discuss defensive line technique and gap responsibilities. It can be a little confusing, but the following diagram should help:

Defensive Line Gap and Technique Diagram

The offensive linemen are displayed in the black circles, from the center out to the tight ends. Each “gap” is labeled above the circles, and they use letters as designations. The “A” gaps are between the center and guards, the “B” gaps are between the guards and tackles, and so forth.

The numbers underneath the circles represent the “technique” that is played by the defensive linemen. For example, if the nose tackle is lined up directly across from center, he is said to play a “0-technique.” If a defensive end is playing across from the outside shoulder of the guard, then he is said to play a “3-technique.”

These concepts are not unique to the 3-4 defense and are employed by 4-3 linemen, as well. However, 3-4 linemen are more apt to play certain positions along the line, which leads to different gap responsibilities. In the Okie defense, the nose tackle lines up across from center in a 0-technique, while the two ends line up directly across from the tackles, each in a 5-technique.

In this alignment, they are all going to be responsible for two gaps. The nose tackle will take the two A gaps, while the ends will each take their respective B and C gaps.

You will also see the outside linebackers playing on the outside of the tight ends/tackles, and their responsibility in the running game is to “set the edge.” Very simply, they have to prevent the running back from getting to the outside of the line and around the defense. They are secondary to inside running plays, but primary to outside runs.

Now, if you’re following along closely, you’ll realize that the two offensive guards are unaccounted for. In basic plays, they will be taken on by the inside linebackers, who will defend the A and B gaps. They need to be strong enough to take on these guards and shed the blocks quickly.

Finally, the defensive backs have the primary responsibility of pass coverage. They are secondary to stopping the run, and behind a perfect front seven they would not be making any tackles on the running back.

The Okie Defense in Action

Here is an excellent example of the Okie defense. This is from Week 12 in 2012, when the Packers played the New York Giants. It was the first play of the game, and the Giants were starting on their own 26-yard line.

Breaking Down the Play

Obviously, defensive formations are based on offensive personnel. You’re not going to play a defense with just two cornerbacks against an offense with four wide receivers. Likewise, when the New York Giants came trotting out with a 22 personnel grouping (2 RB–2 TE–1 WR) on first down to start the game, a running play was very likely. To counter this heavy offensive formation, Dom Capers called for an Okie defense.

Here’s how they initially lined up:


You’ll notice right away how very symmetrical the front seven looks for the Packers. This is a good indication that they’re running the Okie against the Big I formation. The nose tackle is heads up against the center (0-technique), the two defensive ends are right across from the tackles, and the outside linebackers are in position to set the edges. The inside linebackers are also in line with the offensive guards, ready to take on the A and B gaps.

Things don’t work out so neatly, though, in reality. The Giants send the weak side tight end in motion (as shown above), which forces an adjustment by the defense. The OLBs shift to reposition themselves against the outside blockers, and the strong side ILB slides towards the now-heavy side. The SS also creeps up for additional run support.

Here’s what happens on the snap:


In an effort to throw the defense off balance, the Giants loaded the right side and ran to the left. The left tackle kicks out to the left to take the OLB, the left guard takes the DE, and the fullback ends up taking the ILB. Without additional help, there is no defensemen left to account for the running back.

(NOTE: Even thought the DE was lined up to take on the LT, he operates with more of a “read and react” style. So he has to make quick adjustments based on what the offense throws his way.)

This would be a winning situation for the offense, except that the defensive end (in this case C.J. Wilson) executes his two-gap responsibility. He is able to maintain control of his blocker and get an arm out to stop the running back. With a little bit of help from Brad Jones, who was able to shed the right guard, the running back was unable to break free.

Overall, you should be able to note three things: (1) how this defensive formation is effective against the running game, (2) how quickly assignments can change with the motion of an offensive player, and (3) how individual execution is essential to the effectiveness of any play call.

We’ll continue next time with the “Eagle,” which is a variation in the Okie that assigns more one-gap responsibilities to the front seven.


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


10 thoughts on “Packers Playbook, Part 1: The Okie (Base) Defense

  1. This is fantastic. I very much look forward to the rest of this series, and would encourage future x and o breakdowns. I consume an embarrassingly enormous amount of sports media, but rarely find anything this interesting or helpful. Thanks again!

  2. I’m normally easily confused when it’s comes to looking at defensive strategies like this, but you explained it so well. Props to you Chad!

  3. I like to think I have a pretty good understanding of the game, but I love this type of analysis to help me understand it better.

    I have read descriptions of 3-technique, 5-technique, etc. but can neter quite remember what it all means.

    Your little diagram is perfect. I have printed it out and will keep it next to the remote on my sofa table.

    Thanks, Chad.

  4. I miss Dez Bishop all ready and the season hasn’t even started. Watching this reminds me of how physical the ILBs need to be against the run, taking on OGs and OLman in general. I can see why SF has such a great run D with thier 2 all pro inside LBs to go along with the rest of thier quality D players.

    Meanwhile, we have” make me yawn Hawk” and jones the cover LB…and nobody else that’s proven anything

    1. Fans don’t like it, but Hawk is a big part of Dom’s scheme, and he does it well.

      Hawk’s primary job is to take out a lead block and give his teammates a clean lane to make the play on the ball carrier.

      Ever hear fans complain about how Hawk always gets blocked, hawk can’t get off a block? I contend he’s tangling up the blocker, and sticking to him to keep the way clear for the other ILB to make a clean tackle.

      It makes sense- Hawk is a beast in the weight room, he’s got the strength to tangle with all but the strongest OL in the league. It would also explain why fans perceive him to always be blocked, yet why the coaching staff always talks about hawk doing a thankless job and always talking about how important he is to the defense.

  5. Hawk, jones,…whoever. they looked great getting run over last year by the Vikings for 500 yards, the niners twice, the giants, etc… Hawk and this D are not play off caliber against the run or pass. Now Bishop is gone. Woodson was old but at least he could tackle and hes gone. So now we will rely on an unproven rookie , Jones, and Perry, who didn’t do much last year , to make improvements. The rest of the D is the same as last year. I hope these young guys , and others, can step up this year, otherwise I don’t see much changing.

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