Back in 2010, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers took the league by surprise with the odd ‘Psycho’ front defense. That year, led by the 1-5-5 nickel package, Green bay finished second in sacks, fifth in passing yards allowed and second in points allowed per game.
Seven years later, he’s got an even quicker looking scheme. It also has a cool name: Nitro.
“We like the flexibility it gives us especially week to week when you’re playing different styles of offenses,” Capers said, via Packersnews.com. “A lot of these offenses, are just looking for matchups now. You’ve got to be able to match up with the same caliber of athlete.”
Pete Dougherty writes that the Nitro is essentially a Nickel formation where the safety drops down to play middle linebacker. It’s something Green Bay has run before but is apparently going all in on this season. Believing that, in today’s NFL, it’s meaningless to have a full-time middle linebacker just to take on fullbacks and plod around as a walking mismatch, the Packers are betting on thinner, faster and more powerful.
While it’s not a wild concept, one has to give Capers credit for continuing to try and innovate. Between the Psycho and the Nitro was the less popular Elephant in 2014. At the time, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel wrote of the Elephant:
It all starts with Matthews, the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker who has established himself as one of the most versatile at his position in the NFL. He doesn’t often put his hand on the ground as a defensive end, but he does line head up on tight ends and tackles and play the run as an end would.
He also has the ability to drop into coverage, which means if an offense overcompensates for his pass rush, it can create one-on-one matchups for other players. And he can rush the passer. He has averaged 10 sacks per year.
Last year, the Packers finished 21st in points allowed and 22nd in yards allowed. While they were 11th in turnovers and eighth against the run, their No. 31 ranking against the pass stood out.
Capers has three top-10 finishes in yards allowed and three top-11 finishes in points allowed during his eight-year tenure with the Packers. While he gets beat up for a defense that looks porous at times (think of the injuries Green Bay sustained a year ago and the raw material they had to work with at cornerback), no one can accuse him of sticking to his guns like so many defensive coordinators of similar tenure.
Maybe the Nitro isn’t part of the future, but it’s an improvement on the past.