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Football 101: Defensive Personnel Groupings

Throughout the rest of the offseason, and maybe sprinkled during the regular season, we’ll highlight some basic football X’s and O’s for those new and still learning about the game. So when we talk about these ideas in our film breakdowns, readers will have a clearer understanding of what we’re discussing.

If there’a an idea/concept/scheme you’d like us to explain, let us know in the comments below.

Last weekend, we discussed basic offensive groupings. We’ll do the same with the defense.

3-4 “Base” Defense

As you probably know by now, the Steelers are in sub-packages much more often than their “base,” but this is the grouping that everything else works off of. That’s why I still call it base. It’s their standard 3-4 with three defensive linemen – two ends and a nose tackle – with two outside and inside linebackers. The weakside linebacker is called the Mack with the strongside linebacker the Buck.

The secondary has two cornerbacks and two safeties.

Nickel Defense

The team’s most common subpackage. It removes the nose tackle and replaces him with a nickel/slot corner. Mike Hilton is that man on the Steelers, for example.

Dime Defense

Now one of the two inside linebackers get removed for a 6th DB. Associate dime defense with six defensive backs on the field. Often, the 6th DB is the “dimebacker,” a hybrid type who walks down close to the line of scrimmage and replaces the linebacker removed, like Morgan Burnett did in 2018.

Big Nickel

Had a question about this one in the comments of our previous article. Not used too often in Pittsburgh but saw it in 2018. It’s a 3-3-5 defense with instead of a third corner, it’s two corners and three safeties.

Amoeba Defense

More common in the LeBeau era when defensive linemen weren’t great pass rushers but it’s a front with just one defensive linemen. Creates a lot of chaos and movement for the QB/offensive line to figure out.

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