What are Nickel, Dime and Quarter Defenses?

As the passing game continues to advance, defenses need to match personnel and scheme. Defenses have used personnel groupings like nickel, dime and quarter defenses in order to match the speed of the offense.

What are nickel,  dime and quarter defenses? Nickel, Dime & Quarter defenses are defenses which include 5, 6 and sometimes 7 defensive backs. Defenses try to match speed with speed when offenses add more receivers to the game.

In this article we’re going to break down what nickel, dime and quarter defenses are in football.

Nickel, Dime and Quarters Defenses

Even though you might have thought this blog was going to be about money, it is actually all about defensive personnel! We’re going to learn how currency terms actually has an effect on football personnel. To learn more about these terms, check out our football handbook!

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Nickel, Dime and Quarter all refer to personnel groupings that would come on to the field. The 4-3 and 3-4 are regular base defenses. These ‘coin’ defenses are when we bring in extra defensive backs and we send a linebacker or linemen to the bench. Lets explore the Nickel package first.

Nickel Defense

The Nickel look can be shown in two main variations: the 4-2-5 and the 3-3-5. Lets look at both.

First we have the 4-2-5. Those numbers suggest 4 defensive linemen, 2 linebackers and 5 defensive backs. This front exchanges a linebacker for a “nickel” corner so that one other coverage specialist is on the field. This slot cornerback is a staple in every defense at the NFL level.

The nickel defense has become very popular among defenses all across the country at every level due to the sophistication of the spread offense. Teams are less likely to play power football, and more likely to expose the open spots in the defense.

Due to the fact that offenses are spreading teams out more, it forces defenses to add extra speed players on to the field to match the speed of the offense. Thus, nickel, dime and quarter packages were born to help match speed against speed.

The other popular variation is a 3-3-5 front. Instead of exchanging a linebacker for a slot corner, this front exchanges a defensive linemen for a corner.

The benefit, regardless of the 3-3-5 or the 4-2-5 variation, is that there is an extra defensive back on the field. It is up to the coach how to utilize the front 6 of the defense as both have pros and cons

Dime Defense

When we have a Dime defense, we add yet another defensive back. We now have two slot cornerbacks on the field which better suits a defense to defend a 4 WR set from an offense.

This comes at the expense of being more vulnerable to the run, but there are plenty of times that this personnel group makes sense

The picture shows a 4-1-6 grouping (4 defensive linemen – 1 linebacker – 6 defensive backs). It is worth noting that this could also be run as a 3-2-6 but it is not as common.

This style of defense is commonly run on passing downs, where the defense can cover more of their receivers with their skill positions. It does leave the box vulnerable, as the offense can run the football with little resistance. Teams who are really good dominating the line of scrimmage, can run the 4-1 box and be comfortable there won’t be any run throughs.

Quarter Defense

The most extreme of the pass defensive packages is the Quarter. Our picture below shows 3 safeties and 4 corners but it could be 5 corners and 2 safeties.

Defenses rarely use this look and it only comes up when obvious, deep passes are coming. Last, this look almost always comes with 3 defensive linemen and 1 linebacker.

Similar to what we talked about with the dime defense, this formation is used for passing situations, where there’s almost a guarantee that the offense is going to try to push the ball downfield.

The quarter defense is great to protect against deep passes and can be used as a prevent defense for long pass plays.

Why Have Nickel, Dime & Quarter Defenses?

It’s important to be able to match the offense’s personnel, as well as play type.

In an example of matching personnel, teams need to be able to play with the other team’s speed they have on the field. Often times, if the team has 4 wide receivers on the field, it makes sense to have one more defensive back on the field to match the speed.

Especially if the offense has the intent to pass, due to down and distance situations. This is why play type is extremely important.

For example, if the team is in a 3rd and long (7 or more yards) situation, there’s a high percentage that they’re going to throw the football.

Also, as teams start to migrate to spread offenses with Air Raid philosophies, teams will thrown the ball as many times as they possibly can. Teams who don’t necessarily have to worry about the run game, can simply bring in dime and quarter packages.

These teams can now match up speed wise to play a combination of zone and man coverage, and still be in position to play the run if necessary.


When Nickel, Dime and Quarter looks are being used, the defense is putting more personnel into stopping the pass. Nickel is very common and dime packages have frequent use at the NFL level as well.

Remember, when you here these coin packages, there are more defensive backs on the field and the focus is on covering receivers down the field.

When teams are lining up the nickel, dime or quarter defenses, they are more exposed to running plays. It’s important to make sure that you’re matching the offenses personnel from a speed standpoint, when creating these types of packages.

If a team is a run heavy offense, there’s a good chance they may run on 3rd down and long, rather than throw the ball like teams usually do.

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Do you have any comments or questions about the Nickel, Dime, or Quarter defensive groups? Let us know below!

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