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 to match the offense’s speed. What exactly are nickel, dime, and quarter defenses?
The nickel defense means there are 5 defensive backs on the field. Nickel defenses are used on 3rd downs when the defense is expecting the offense to throw the football.
Dime & quarter defenses have 6 and 7 defensive backs on the field to protect against deep passes or Hail Mary throws.
In this article, we will break down what nickel, dime, and quarter defenses are in football.
Nickel, Dime and Quarters Defenses
Even though you might have thought this blog would be about money, it is actually all about defensive personnel! We’re going to learn how currency terms actually affect football personnel.
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Nickel, Dime, and Quarter all refer to personnel groupings that would come onto 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. Let’s explore the Nickel package first.
Nickel Defense In Football
The Nickel look can be shown in two main variations: the 4-2-5 and the 3-3-5. Let’s 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.
Because offenses are spreading teams out more, it forces defenses to add extra speed players onto 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 lineman for a corner.
Regardless of the 3-3-5 or the 4-2-5 variation, the benefit is that there is an extra defensive back on the field. It is up to the coach to utilize the front 6 of the defense as both have pros and cons.
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 this personnel group makes sense plenty of times.
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 defensive style 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 at dominating the line of scrimmage can run the 4-1 box and be comfortable. There won’t be any run-throughs.
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 will try to push the ball downfield.
The quarter defense is great to protect against deep passes and can 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 play with the other team’s speed they have on the field. Oftentimes, if the team has 4 wide receivers on the field, it makes sense to have one more defensive back 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 essential.
For example, if the team is in a 3rd and long (7 or more yards) situation, there’s a high percentage that they will throw the football.
Also, as teams start to migrate to spread offenses with Air Raid philosophies, teams will throw the ball as many times as possible. Teams who don’t necessarily have to worry about the run game can 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 able to play the run if necessary.
When Nickel, Dime, and Quarter looks are being used, the defense puts more personnel into stopping the pass. Nickel is widespread, and dime packages have frequent use at the NFL level as well.
Remember, when you hear 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 match the offense’s 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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