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The Penny Defense and Its Potential Impact

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  • The Penny Defense and Its Potential Impact

    Ive been thinking about this for a couple of months now. Not many teams use it (it was mostly used by Parcells and Zimmer in Dallas, and ive seen variations of it with the Ryan brothers in Balt. and Oak.), but I see a lot of potential for this scheme with the current trends in the NFL.


    For those that don't know, the penny defense is removing a back 7 defender (usually a SS) and substituting him with a CB. The more famous approach of this base is coming out in a base defense (4-3 for example) and instead of using 2 CBs and 2 safeties, come out with 3 CBs and 1 FS.

    This allows you to defend spread formations and teams with an elite pass catching TE without having to sacrifice bodies in the box against the run. Its an alternative to a base nickel package if you think about it.

    With more and more teams running the Air Coryell and using spread formations with 3 WRs or a split wide TE, I think this set has lots of potential in today's NFL. The problem with defending these spread offenses is that teams are running out of these sets more and more, and taking advantage of the nickel defenses in front of them. (Also a reason why ZBS is gaining popularity)

    By using this base, you reduce their ability to run out of these spread sets, while maintaining the ability to defend the pass.


    Here's the problem: Just like any defense, you better have the personnell to run it. To run this scheme, youre basically running alot of man coverages and Cover 0/1 techniques. You MUST have an elite ballhawk type of FS (Like an Ed Reed or Bob Sanders for example), and a shutdown corner. Having a solid nickel corner is essential as well.

    A simple example of a play out of this set would be this. Let's use the Colts for example. They come out in a 3 WR singleback set. Now they love to run and pass out of this set. And they love to throw deep. A defense out of the penny formation for this would be press man coverage. Press man against Harrison with your shutdown corner, double up Wayne with the FS and the 2nd CB, and press man with the nickel CB on the slot. Then you got an LB on Clark, and blitz the rest in a Cover 0 all out blitz play. That prevents the deep routes from developing down field and forces Peyton to get rid of it quick. If the man coverages hold up you can run it all day. If Clark burns your LB, then substitute a LB for a SS, and put him in Man vs Clark. You sacrifice a little against the run, but you still technically have 7 in the box and more speed to counter the pass.

    Of course this is all easier said than done, but if you have a talented secondary (like the Raiders, Eagles, or Ravens) I don't see why this package can't work in certain situations. I think with spread formations growing in popularity in the NFL, this set has potential to be used more often to counter the offense.

    I also think that with more and more pass catching TEs, it can be used effectively against teams if your defense does not have a SAM or SS who is capable of defending the TE.

    Im curious to see if this defense gains popularity amongst coordinators. Its an alternative to the Tampa 2. Right now, many teams are switching to Tampa 2 philosophies to defend this growing trend of spread offenses and pass catching TEs. The penny defense offers a different method to defending this trend. Im sure pseudo techniques will also become more famous, as coordinators will mix and match philosophies and come up with their own solutions. Im not saying that the Penny formation will become a base defense, but I can definately see it being used more as a situationaly package in upcoming years.

    Just something to keep an eye on this upcoming season. :)

  • #2
    Seems like this combines aspects of a few schemes as far as the secondary is concerned, you would need a shutdown corner who excels in man coverage, and correct me if I am wrong but you would need some corners who are very good against the run as well. Sounds interesting.

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    • #3
      So could this become the future of the NFL and one day remove the SS position



      Sig thanks to Bonekrusher

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Don Vito View Post
        Seems like this combines aspects of a few schemes as far as the secondary is concerned, you would need a shutdown corner who excels in man coverage, and correct me if I am wrong but you would need some corners who are very good against the run as well. Sounds interesting.
        Yes, the CBs would definately have to be willing to get in there and make tackles. Not as much as the Tampa 2 scheme, but it would still be needed. I think its more demanding for the nickel CB to do this compared to the outside CBs, because the nickel CB would be more of an in the box type if he defends the TE, or in the slot against slot receivers.

        Originally posted by neko4 View Post
        So could this become the future of the NFL and one day remove the SS position
        Not necessarily. Just an alternative. Ideally, you want a SS who can play like a nickel CB, a guy who can defend TEs in man coverage, and play well in the box to defend the run. Basically, I personally feel that the SS is going to be as important of a position as CB. He has to be the most athletic and versatile player on the field. He has to be fast enough to defend the deep zone and the TE man up, he has to be strong enough to blitz, and tackle runningbacks in the box. However, that prototype isn't exactly easy to find. We saw one in the draft in Landry, and he was the 6th pick and widely considered the BPA on defense in the whole draft. That indicates that these type of defenders are not easy to find and will require a high investment. A nickel CB is easier to find. Which is why this set can be an alternative for teams who do not have that elite SS but do have a FS who can ballhawk.
        Last edited by bigbluedefense; 07-22-2007, 06:45 PM.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by neko4 View Post
          So could this become the future of the NFL and one day remove the SS position
          I am not sure about that, but if a team has elite pass catching TE or line up in 3 WR set a lot I think this will be used.

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          • #6
            Well, Zimmer might have some difficulty using it in Atlanta. We're so young. Our nickle (Lewis Sanders) has starting experience but isn't anything special.

            DeAngelo Hall and Chris Houston are great man to man coverage guys though, but Houston is probably too young to go one on one consistently. Jimmy Williams has the potential to dominate at free safety. Milloy is a liability in pass coverage so getting him off the field in passing situations is good.

            Overall I could see us using it in the near future.
            Virginia Tech.
            ACC Champions 2004, 2007, 2008, 2010

            Next Up: 2012

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            • #7
              I saw Rob Ryan do this to an extent last year, but considering that Huff was basically at all times a SS/NB combination player, we may as well have been lining up in a normal safety setup.

              I'm not entirely sure Oakland really has the personnel to run this scheme all that well. Huff obviously can go from strong safety to nickelback, but there's apparently a whole bunch of people who feel he'd be a better fit playing deep at a free safety position. Although this wouldn't allow us to use him to cover tight ends or play him at corner, it would keep him out of the box, where his tackling form and lack of power are exploited every game.

              Interesting writeup though.

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              • #8
                I've always liked the use of it, especially, like you pointed out with the re-emergence of tight ends as deep threats. Trouble is that corner needs to be able to pack a wallop and not many in the league can.

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                • #9
                  Nice write up.

                  I'll look out to see if the Packers run it this year. They have the personnel to run it every once and a while but definately not against some of the teams with better receivers.

                  stephenson86

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                  • #10
                    I've always been a fan of Cover One in certain situations. It allows teams to stack the box and still play safe against the big play. The best thing about the Penny defense specifically is the ability to blitz the Nickel corner or OLB from the edge, depending on the strength. Teams that run spread have ace backfield, so creating confusion at the LOS can allow a free run depending on which side the HB blocks. It's even better on shotgun because you can blitz a corner from the side opposite the HB to stop draw plays and delayed off-tackles. The problem with this defense is that the Nickel essentially has to have Cover 2 tools because he has to be physical and a good run stopper. Putting an oversized corner like Juran Bolden at the position could lead to complete burnage by fast slots so one has to be careful within the system.

                    sig by BoneKrusher

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by neko4 View Post
                      So could this become the future of the NFL and one day remove the SS position
                      i think the safety is just starting to be fully utilized and will be a part of hte game for awhile before something else comes around

                      Sig By Diehardvikingfan

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                      • #12
                        The 49ers may have set themselves up to run a similar defense.

                        We have an Elite CB (Clements) and very good nickel (Spencer or Harris depending on who wins the battle for starting Corner). The nice peace to the puzzle for the Niners is that Michael Lewis is a SS with LB-like skills and will be playing LB in our Nickel packages.

                        So the Niners will pull an LB in nickel defense, but slide Lewis into that spot while bringing in that 3rd CB. This will mean very little loss in run defense because Lewis excells at that, but also maintaining some coverage ability because even though Lewis isn't a good cover safety, he is better that most LB's without a doubt.

                        We are missing that elite FS, although Roman is OK, hopefully he will hold up decently for us while Dashon Goldson develops or we get someone new next year.
                        Last edited by MasterShake; 07-22-2007, 08:15 PM.

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                        • #13
                          This just makes me really, really excited to see what the Jaguars are going to be able to do with Reggie Nelson.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by etk View Post
                            I've always been a fan of Cover One in certain situations. It allows teams to stack the box and still play safe against the big play. The best thing about the Penny defense specifically is the ability to blitz the Nickel corner or OLB from the edge, depending on the strength. Teams that run spread have ace backfield, so creating confusion at the LOS can allow a free run depending on which side the HB blocks. It's even better on shotgun because you can blitz a corner from the side opposite the HB to stop draw plays and delayed off-tackles. The problem with this defense is that the Nickel essentially has to have Cover 2 tools because he has to be physical and a good run stopper. Putting an oversized corner like Juran Bolden at the position could lead to complete burnage by fast slots so one has to be careful within the system.
                            Yeah, I agree. I think ideally, you want the nickel corner to be like you said, and if they put a burner in the slot, you probably gotta put your #2 CB in the slot and have your nickel on the #2 WR with safety help up top. This presents an issue for run stopping of course, but having that extra LB on the field in this formation should help alleviate that problem.

                            Originally posted by yourfavestoner View Post
                            This just makes me really, really excited to see what the Jaguars are going to be able to do with Reggie Nelson.
                            Reggie Nelson could do very well in a package like this. He's built for it. For the Jags though, with those 2 mammoth DTs up front, you can run a 4-2 nickel and still stuff the run admirably. I don't think its necessary to run with the personnell the Jags have. Id run it once in awhile, but Id stick with mainly nickel fronts against spread sets with that Jag lineup.

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                            • #15
                              I think the Eagles tried using the penny defense against the Colts last season - if memory serves correct, Rod Hood was playing nickel and the team benched Michael Lewis for Sean Considine to play as a hybrid safety/linebacker. They kept the passing game "contained," but only because the running game decimated them and the Eagles were dominated run-blocking-wise by the Colts.

                              I'd be more interested to see Dallas run it, given their stronger front seven, if/when they actually get a legit free safety who can make plays for his own team.
                              Pugnacity, testosterone, truculence, and belligerence.

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