September 25, 2018

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Formation: Nickels and Dimes?


We here commentators and experts talking about different types of defense, “3-4” this and “nickel and dime” that but what does it mean?  We’ve covered the 3-4 before and we’ll look at other front 7 lineups another day, but what are Nickel and Dime defenses?  Let’s start off with Nickel.


The nickel defense is a formation that utilises 5 defensive backs, those being 2 cornerbacks, 2 safeties and a fifth back known as a nickelback.


The primary purpose of the nickel defense is to be more effective against the pass play without being left too vulnerable to a run attack.

The formation popularly uses 4 down linemen and 2 linebackers to give the ability to stop the run, but it can be used in other lineups such as a 3-3-5 lineup with 3 down linemen and 3 linebackers.

The nickel defense was designed in the 1960s by Eagles defensive coach Jerry Williams as a way to defend against the Chicago Bears star tight end Mike Ditka. It was later named the “nickel” by Bears assistant George Allen who also marketed the idea as his own invention. The formation was popularised by the Miami Dolphins in the 1970s and is now commonly employed in obvious passing situations, or where a team uses three wide receiveds on offense.


The dime defense is similar to the nickel but it uses an extra defensive back making that 6 in the secondary; 2 cornerbacks, 2 safeties, a nickelback and a dimeback.  This is how the play got it’s name of being the dime, because in US currency a dime is worth 2 nickels.


This formations primary purpose is once again to stop the expected pass attack.  This formation will, more often than not, be called in situations where the offense has little option but to use a pass play, i.e. 3rd & 15, or even when the offense is trailing by a score and there’s not much time on the clock.

The “front 7” is actually reduced to more of a front 5 and they can be lined up differently depending on the situation.  More often than not you’ll see a defense employ a 4 lineman and 1 linebacker set to keep a strong line, but it’s definitely not unusual to see a 3 lineman and 2 linebacker set, or even a 1 down lineman with 4 linebackers.

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