We are just a couple weeks removed from the Packers last game of the 2017 season, and already it has been a crazy offseason for the Packers. There have been several holes to fill in the coaching staff, and as of January 9th, one of the biggest holes was filled when the Packers decided to bring in Mike Pettine as the next defensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers. In this article, I am going to dive in and break Pettine’s front 7 so you will know what to look for in the 2018 Packers defense.

Pettine’s 3-4 Defense Advantage

If you have read any of my articles on defense before, you’ll know that I love the 3-4. That is one reason that I was absolutely thrilled about Pettine coming to Green Bay. His 3-4 is a great product. Some of the advantages in his 3-4 are:

  • Puts the best players on the field
  • Flexibility
  • Makes the game difficult on the center
  • Increase offense preparation time
  • Offense must anticipate multiple rushers
  • Creates mismatches up front

Base Defense

Mike Pettine might use some 4-3 looks, but he is a 3-4 guy at his core. He has an impressive resume as a coordinator and has made stops in Buffalo and New York. He served as the outside linebackers coach in Baltimore and also as a defensive assistant. As many of us also remember, he was the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. His 3-4, to me, is slightly different from Capers. Their philosophy on blitzing and nickel/dime packages was one of the biggest differences that stood out to me. Lets dive in and take a look at Pettine’s base fronts and looks with the front 7.

Here is Pettine’s base front. You’ll notice that it looks similar to Capers Eagle front. One important thing to look at is that he usually goes with one inside linebacker vs. one back sets. Pettine likes to play ends head up, but here he goes with one end in a 3 technique and the other in a 5 technique. If you’ll remember, the 3 technique is the outside shade of the guard and a 5 technique is the outside shade of the tackle. These ends will usually be set to and away from the open or closed side. The open side of the formation is simply the side to where there is not a tight end. The closed side is the side to where there is a tight end. The 3 technique, as you see here, to towards the open side of the formation. The other end is then towards the closed side of the formation.

Before we get too far in this article, lets look at how players in this scheme will be labeled.

  • Sam linebacker – Outside linebacker to the strength of the formation
  • Will linebacker – Outside linebacker to the weak side of the formation
  • Mike linebacker – Inside linebacker to the strength of the formation
  • Ted linebacker – Inside linebacker to the weak side of the formation
  • Close side end – End to the tight end side (or strength)
  • Open side end – End away from the tight end

Strength of any formation is usually set towards the multiple receiver side. If the formation is balanced (such as a 2X2 set) then the strength will be set towards the wide side of the formation. This is vital to get down pre-snap because everything the defense will do will come from the strength.

Here we see an example of Pettine going from his odd front to a sink front. The ends reduce down to 3 techniques, the Sam and Will linebackers squeeze to 5 techniques and the Mike and Ted bump out to 30 techniques. This is a really good front for stuffing the run. An important thing to remember here is gap control. On each snap and each play, every defensive player in the front 7 is responsible for playing a gap. It can vary on how many gaps they cover, depending on if it is a 2 gap scheme or 1 gap. In the sink front, the gap responsibilities are:

  • Ends – B gap
  • Nose – Playside A gap
  • Sam/Will – Outside contain
  • Mike – Flow to ball
  • Ted – Backside A gap

One important thing there is the contain players, also known as force players. They must force the play back inside. The Sam and Will linebackers must not get reached. They cannot let the tackle get to their outside shoulder and give the back the outside to run. If they get reached, it can be detrimental to the play. When viewing the above clip, watch the Mike backer. One reason this play busts for a big gain is because he took the block from the fullback on with the outside shoulder. When playing inside linebacker, you must take everything on with the inside shoulder and squeeze the gap down. Once a blocker reaches the outside shoulder, its easy running for backs.

The Odd Front

Here is what Pettine calls the odd front. This clip is from when Pettine was the outside linebackers coach in 2005 at Baltimore. The odd front is a 2 gap technique. The ends could be playing either the inside B gap or the outside C gap. When bringing pressure off of the edge, the ends must “rip” under the tackle and control the B. Because the ends are playing a 2 gap technique, their initial step off of the line must be quick.

There are several important factors in defensive line play in this front. First and foremost, the line must get a strong punch on the blocker and lock on. They must control the blocker and play on their side of the line of scrimmage. Look at #98 in this clip. He gets an incredible punch and absolutely destroys the tackle. That is the mentality that an end needs to play with in the odd front. Defensive lineman must also play square. They can not turn their shoulders, or they will get blocked down. They must shuffle the feet and not cross them. If the feet get crossed, the defensive lineman can get blocked away or lose control of their gap. It is almost like everything should stay in the “box”. Hand movement, footwork, and helmet can not get out of control or you will be out of position.

One great thing about the odd front is that the Mike and Ted linebackers have a clear read on the guard. Since the guard is not “covered” by a 3 or 5 technique, they can get a clean read. The guard will always take you to the play. They cannot lie. If the guard pulls, the linebacker knows the play is going away. If they block down, he knows they are likely running an isolation play and he must fill. If the lineman drops, then the linebacker knows it is a pass and drops into coverage. Inside linebackers must have trained eyes and be disciplined in their reads. I think Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan will flourish in this front.

Over Front

Here is a look at the over front from base personnel. In the over look, the end will be playing in a 3 technique with the nose tackle playing in a 1 technique. Again, everything here is about gap control. This is a good look because it switches things up front and gives the offense a different look. The tackle has to prepare for a head up look in the odd front, but then has an end shaded over him in the over look. In the over front, the 3 technique will always be sent to the strength of the formation with the 1 technique playing away from the strength. Inside linebackers here must flow to the ball quickly and play downhill.

In the clip above, we see a twist to the over front known as an over ed look. Instead of having 5 players on the line of scrimmage, the outside linebacker will bump off of the line of scrimmage and get at the same depth as the Mike and Ted linebackers. This player is known as the “Ed” linebacker. This look is no different from a 4-3 over look. This all comes back to the flexibility of the 3-4. The Ed linebacker must get a good read on the tight end. Much like when he plays as the Sam linebacker on the line of scrimmage, he absolutely cannot get reached here. Even though he is off of the line, he must still force the play back inside. It is vital for him to do this, because the end is now lined up head up with the tight end in what is known as a 6 technique. His read changes now from the guard to the tight end. Notice here in the clip that the tight end takes a lateral step to reach the end, and the Ed linebacker sees that and flows downhill, anticipating run.

Needless to say, I am extremely excited to see Pettine in Green Bay. This was just a small look at the big picture of the defense that you will see this year in Green Bay. I hope you have learned a little about Pettine’s front 7 and all of the advantages that it offers. I hope to do a follow up article on the secondary soon. I know that will be as fun as this one was. I am very optimistic about the Packers defense already!

Go Pack Go!

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