If you’ve been reading my articles for some time now, you know that I am a fan of Dom Capers. You’ll also know that I am a big fan of the 3-4 defense due to it’s flexibility. I say this in nearly every article, but it holds true. That is the appeal that it has to many defensive coordinators, and one of the things that makes the 3-4 something truly special.

The 4-3 is a great defense – If it wasn’t effective, coaches wouldn’t have been running it for the last 40 years. What I don’t like about a base 4-3 is that it tends to become predicable. You can have a number of different looks up front, but usually it is the same 4 players rushing. There are only so many wrinkles you can throw out to confuse the opposing offensive line without sending extra blitzers.

Typically, 4-3 defenses will want to rush 4 and drop 7. Occasionally, they will send 5, but rarely send 6. I’ve heard fans refer to Capers’ defense as a “bend but don’t break” defense. That is the furthest thing from the truth. 3-4 defenses are not “bend but don’t break” defenses. The whole idea behind the 3-4 was to send your initial 3 down players and disguise the 4th rusher. It could be an outside linebacker (either one), an inside linebacker, or a safety. Sometimes even a corner. Constant pressure is another big thing in the 3-4. The best way to describe Capers’ defensive philosophy is to confuse the front 5 and never let the quarterback set the feet. This comes back to flexibility and showing different looks.

You will see a lot of different looks from Capers’ defense. You have a base 3-4, a 50 front (ends in 3 techniques), an over or under front, with a strongside 3 technique, and the load package.

We talked a little already about the 4-3. While I don’t care for it much as a base defense, it is a good look. Capers’ load package looks exactly like a 4-3, only he has the ability to run it with 3-4 personnel on the field. There are many advantages to it. One is to show a different look and to stack the box. It makes blocks harder to reach for tackles and guards. It also allows players to fill gaps and spill the ball carrier, meaning forcing him to run toward the sideline, rather than turn up and run in the gap, as is the rule of thumb with the 3-4. Lets go to the tape and break down the load package.

Load Package Basics


The load package is an okie personnel front where one linebacker is the rush linebacker, the other is the stack linebacker. It is important to notice the personnel first and foremost. You cannot run this with nickel or dime personnel, only with base personnel, or okie personnel. Kenny Clark here is in a 1 technique, or shaded over the center to the strength. The strength here is established to the side of the tight end. Daniels is backside in a 3 technique (outside shade of guard). This would be considered an under front, because the 1 technique is to the strength and the 3 is backside.

In the load package, the Buc inside linebacker (weakside) will be the middle linebacker with the Mac (strongside) will bump to the strongside outside linebacker, with the opposite outside linebacker, who is Matthews here, is the stack linebacker. The stack linebacker is always the weakside player in the load package.

Jake Ryan, the Buc, must give the interior defensive lineman a “Randy” or “Leo” call. This call tells the interior lineman where to shift. A “Randy” call would shift one lineman into a 3 technique, and the other in a 1, as we see here. This front is an example of a “load shade” because of the shaded 3 technique.

The gap responsibilities and keys of each player in the load package are:

  • 3 tech and 1 tech – A and B gaps, with the 3 tech keying the guard and tackle, 1 tech keys center and guard.
  • Buc (middle) linebacker – Keys center/guards to near back. Makes Randy/Leo call and plays open gaps.
  • Mac and Stack (outside) linebackers – Force if run is to them, take away cutback if run is away.

Here is a good look at the load package vs 21 personnel. Ryan gives the “Leo” call, putting Clark in a 1 technique. notice here that the defense is going to roll up a corner and get him in position to force the ball carrier. This is great technique here to take on the fullback and turn the ball carrier up to the Buc linebacker and Clinton-Dix, who is playing the ally. Brooks, the Mac linebacker, looks to overrun the play just a little. Since the run is coming to him, he must plug and squeeze it down. The idea for both the Mac and Stack linebackers is to read the tackle and plug the B gap and work outside. Not a bad job here.

Against a twins set like this, the secondary will usually play a lot of man coverage. Against a slot set like this, Capers likes to play a lot of 3 deep. Against pro sets, with an attached tight end and a flanker, Capers will check to cover 2. That is known as his 23 coverage. Everything is checked off pre-snap.

Here is a look at the load vs 12 personnel. Notice that Fackrell becomes the stack linebacker with Martinez playing the Mac. The 1 technique is still shaded to the strength, only this time Ryan gives a “Randy” call because they want to establish the strength of the formation to the field, rather than to the side of the tight end. This is actually a “Load over zone” call. Once Flacco goes to throw, Ryan will drop to play the quarter hook with Martinez and Fackrell being the quarter flat defenders. Corners and safties both drop to their quarter, reading the number 2 man.

One thing to keep an eye on here is Martinez. He reads his tackle and sees him try to hinge on Perry and drops. Once he drops, as a flat defender in cover 4, he must get his eyes on the back. It was a bad throw (due to good pressure) but Martinez was in position. Reads and keys change a lot for these players once they play the load package. Instead of reading a guard, he now reads a tackle. A good linebacker has the best eyes on the field because they have to read so much, and with the flexibility of the 3-4, his reads can change every drive.

We’ve looked at the front 7 of the load package, but let’s see what you can run behind it.

This is an example of a “load 52” look. The corners and safeties both read the #2 receiver. If the #2 goes vertical then are check alert flood. This should always be in the back of a defensive backs mind because it can really put them in a bind. The load 52 look is a cover 2 look, the “52” only tells the defensive backs that if the #2 goes vertical, then the Mac (inside linebacker) must play the vertical and the underneath route is passed off to the Buc linebacker, or Jake Ryan in this case. Watch here as the #2 goes vertical and is picked up by the Buc, and Ryan plays the underneath route ran by the fullback.

In this scenario, Ryan will actually make a “you” or “me” call. The “you” call tells the Buc to play the release of #3 and Ryan would push to the vertical route of 2 if there is one. If he gives a “me” call, then he plays the release of 3. It is played perfectly here with everyone in position. A good defense is one that can communicate!

The Packers defense played very well against Baltimore and it was probably one of their best games this year. Despite what people say about the defense, you take any small victory you can get. Building a successful defense has to be brick-by-brick. This was a step in the right direction. Capers’ and the defense will have their work cut out for them against Pittsburgh.

I hope this gave you a little insight to the flexibility of Capers’ defense and a different look that it has with the load package. Look for Capers’ to dial a little bit of this up in weeks to come.

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Go Pack Go and Happy Thanksgiving!