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Nickel Defense

What is the Nickel Defense?


Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens defends against the Denver Broncos

Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens defends against the Denver Broncos

Larry French/Stringer/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

We often hear about the nickel back (not the band), or the nickel package defense in football.  So, what is the nickel defense, and why do teams use it?

What is the Nickel Defense?

A nickel defense is when one of the three linebackers, usually the SAM linebacker, comes out of the game, and the defense employs a 5thdefensive back.  The name nickel comes from the fact that you have 5 defensive backs in the game (2 safeties, 2 corners and the nickel back), instead of the standard 4.  Boosting your pass defense is needed at particular times, and sometimes entire games.

When Do Teams Play Nickel Defense?

A team will utilize the nickel package in several instances.  The first one could be when the opposing team has a stellar receiving tight end.  The SAM Linebacker normally covers the tight end, but leans more towards being a run stop guy.  Replacing him with a nickel back takes care of the pass threat to the tight end.  The second instance may be when the opposing team is primarily a passing team.  If you’re not going to face the run all that often, you need another great cover guy out there to balance it out.  Some games may call for the nickel package to be the primary scheme, with a standard 3 linebacker scheme utilized only in certain situations.

Are There Disadvantages to the Nickel Defense?

One potential disadvantage is the possible run threat. Good cover guys are not always the best at stopping the run. If an offense knows you’re in nickel, they may try to capitalize and run towards your nickel back. 

Having a good nickel defense is critical to a good overall game plan.  It allows your team to match up well with the opposing offense and puts you in the position to be successful against the pass.

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