This offseason has been one of the most exciting in recent memory. After hearing the news that he was going to be replacing Dom Capers as the next defensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers, I couldn’t help myself. I went straight to the tape. I must say, all bias aside, his defensive philosophy and play calling is some of the best I’ve seen. Mike Pettine and Dom Capers system can be so similar and so different at times. Both have run similar things up front, but the way the players are used is so different. One thing that I always liked (and disliked at times) about Capers was that he liked to send pressure.

I’m a firm believer that constant pressure on the quarterback will force bad decisions which, in turn, forces a turnover or a quick 3 and out. Capers lived and died off of the blitz. He was, after all, one of the first coaches to adopt the zone blitz into his scheme. Pettine will send pressure, just not as much. He runs a variety of 4 man fronts in the nickel and dime packages and relies on them to get to the quarterback. The thing I like about Pettine as opposed to Dom is that he knows when to dial up a blitz. Every coach knows you can’t send pressure every single down. I felt like Dom relied on it too much. There is a time and a place to blitz, and Mike Pettine knows when to. Lets break down a few of his many stunts in the new Packers defensive system.

One of the absolute best times to send pressure is vs empty sets. In an empty set there is no backs and no tight ends. If I’m the defensive coordinator, I know that if the offense favors these sets throughout the game then they will only have 5 man protection. Adding a 5th or 6th rusher into the mix could result in a big play for the defense. Here Pettine’s defense is sending pressure and playing cover 0 behind it. Cover 0 is a man coverage with no free defenders. Every defensive back is manned up on their receiver and responsible for him wherever he goes. I liked that Pettine had confidence in his secondary to run a lot of these ‘zero’ stunts. It shows that he trusts his defensive backs and doesn’t play too passively. I saw this when watching tape of his defense in New York and I’m confident he will do the same in Green Bay.

Now lets look at the actual blitz. Buffalo comes out in a bear front. The bear front uses 2 three techniques, a head up nose tackle and two edge rushers. I like Pettine’s twist on this stunt though. Buffalo is rolling out in their nickel package to counter the empty set but he uses their inside linebacker, Kiko Alonso (50), on the edge to create a 5 man front. Their dime player, Da’Norris Searcy (25), is also rolled up on the line of scrimmage. Right away this causes confusion for the New Orleans offensive line. They don’t know who is rushing and who is dropping. There is a potential 6 man rush so they know that one defensive player could go unblocked. There is so much already that I like about this. I like a coordinator that will try to disguise rushers as much as possible. Get too predictable up front and an offense can pick the defense apart.

Look at the short side of the play here. The 3 technique, Kyle Williams (95) fans out from his position and gets the tackle to commit to blocking him. This frees up Alonso on the edge. With no extra protection in the backfield he is just a step or two away from getting a sack. Searcy (25) starts to rush and the guard commits to him and he later drops. There is a 3 on 3 situation on the wide side of the field and every rusher has an opportunity to beat the offensive line one on one. With a key mismatch on that side things could get scary for an offense.

Here is how this set could look for the Packers:

  • Nose tackle – Kenny Clark
  • 3 technique – Mike Daniels
  • Wide side 3 technique – Mo Wilkerson
  • Wide side edge – Clay Matthews
  • Short side edge – Nick Perry
  • Inside linebacker on edge – Blake Martinez
  • Dime – Josh Jones

That could be one talented nickel package look for the defense.

Here is a stunt vs New Orleans 2×2 look. This is another instance of confusing the offensive line. A philosophy that I’ve seen from Pettine in his stunt package is to drop one defender and send another. In this clip Alonso, the inside linebacker, is baiting the offensive line while the nickel defender shoots the B gap from his slot position. This actually turns into a 4 man rush at the end but it is extremely hard for the offense to tell what 4 will  be rushing. An important thing to notice is that each time a player stunts he must be replaced by another defender, especially in coverage. As the nickel player stunts the strong safety rotates down to play the #2 receiver. This stunt is a good look at what an overload stunt looks like. The idea of course is to ‘overload’ one side of the formation. Buffalo is sending 3 from one side but initially looked like 4 until Kyle Williams loops to the backside to play contain.

I think Pettine really favors this front when wanting to put pressure on the quarterback. I call this a 33 front because both interior defensive lineman are lined up in 3 techniques (outside shade of the guard). This front allows those interior guys to angle slightly in, pin their ears back and get after the quarterback. Add pressure from the linebackers and edge players to that and you got plenty of pressure on the quarterback. Notice Alonso again is lined up on the line of scrimmage. I feel like you can really get away with this against an empty backfield. When a team has only one back in the backfield than you will usually see Pettine with one inside linebacker at linebacker depth. Initially, he looks like he is going to rush based off of stance and alignment. Alonso gets a good punch, takes 2 steps and drops. Pettine likes to bait the offensive line a lot, and it works. When looking at the wide side of the field, you will see the other inside linebacker come through clean and get the sack. One reason this is so successful is the great work by Chris Kelsay (90) who is lined up in the 3 technique. He gets a good punch on the guard and rips across his face. The guard must honor that move and play him. As he collapses inside it allows for the inside linebacker to come through clean, especially with the tackle locked up on the edge. These defensive lineman are almost ‘blockers’. When I say that I mean that they occupy an offensive lineman to free up a player blitzing from the next level. Imagine Martinez coming through clean and getting a big sack on a key down.

I could talk blitz packages all day, especially in Pettine’s system. I feel like he always utilizes each defensive player to their full potential and he knows what goes into creating a successful blitz. As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, the thing about Pettine is he knows when and where to blitz. He constantly attacks the weakest point of an offense and gets good matchups for his rushers. Look for Pettine to turn up the heat on opposing offenses all season and keep them on their toes.

Go Pack Go!

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