Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur defended the team’s defensive strategy during a press conference on Monday, following a 23-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers where the Packers gave up 205 rushing yards. LaFleur addressed questions about the personnel choices, specifically the use of a lighter front, and delved into the nuances of defensive alignments.
In response to inquiries about the Packers employing a nickel defense with two down linemen, LaFleur expressed his confusion, stating, “That is baffling to me when people talk nickel defense and they talk about two down linemen because I don’t know what that means.” He clarified that, in their view, outside linebackers in a nickel defense are considered defensive ends, emphasizing the team’s confidence in the size and capabilities of their outside linebackers.
While LaFleur’s point about terminology is valid, the discussion extends beyond semantics. Analysts have shifted to more standardized terms like interior defensive linemen, edge defenders, and off-ball linebackers, highlighting the evolution of defensive language in the NFL.
The central issue revolves around personnel choices, especially in base and nickel defense situations. LaFleur acknowledged that when transitioning to nickel, the team has options to remove a player, either an interior defensive lineman or an off-ball linebacker, to add a fifth defensive back. The decision to prioritize run defense often depends on these choices.
An example provided by Pack A Day Podcast analyst Andy Herman illustrated the Packers employing a nickel defense with two down linemen against the Steelers. LaFleur defended the approach, emphasizing the need for execution to prevent gaps in the defense and missed tackles, factors that contribute to run game struggles.
Despite the Packers ranking 25th in rush EPA this season and 32nd since LaFleur took over in 2019, the head coach remains committed to the defensive philosophy. The Packers’ pass defense has also faced challenges, ranking 18th in dropback EPA.
LaFleur’s response offers insight into the coaching staff’s perception of defensive alignments. The Packers are comfortable with lighter boxes, considering their edges as effective run stoppers. This approach, theoretically, allows for more defensive players in the backfield to prevent big pass plays, reflecting the fundamental philosophy of their defensive strategy.