The nickel defense in football refers to a lineup with five defensive backs, and the dime package features six defensive backs. These alignments are primarily used to stop the offensive passing game, but variations of these defenses can also be effective versus the run.
In a typical nickel defense, there are four down lineman, two linebackers and five defensive backs. In a dime package, a linebacker or lineman can be substituted for another defensive back. The purpose for adding extra defensive backs is to account for multiple receivers.
As mentioned before, the nickel and dime packages are used to defend a pass-heavy offense. Slower linebackers cannot keep up with speedy slot receivers and backs. The added pass defense allows defenders to press and take away short yardage routes and quick reads by the quarterback.
The nickel and dime packages are vulnerable to heavy run offenses. The absence of additional linebackers and lineman create a smaller defensive front; this gives the advantage to larger linemen and tight ends that can more easily move smaller, weaker defenders.
When to Use
Teams with athletic personnel can run the nickel defense more often if the additional defensive back is big and strong enough to play closer to the line of scrimmage but athletic enough drop into coverage. These hybrid players allow defenses to use variations of the nickel in which they can play close to the line for run stoppage, play close for bump and run coverage and even play back as a safety in long yardage situations.
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