My favorite comment when we post a new 4-2-5 Defense article or podcast to the Joe Daniel Football Facebook Page has got to be, “So it’s a nickel defense 😭”. You got me, dude.
There seems to be a small counsel of football terminology gatekeepers out there. No one knows who appointed them, or what authority they have. But they’re pretty sure they have it.
Today’s episode of the JDFB Quick Clinic isn’t to fight those guys. After all, they’re right! The 4-2-5 Defense and the 3-3-5 Defense are at least in theory a Nickel Defense.
But it is important to talk about terminology and what we mean when we say Nickel Defense. While it can certainly be used to describe a 4-2-5 Defense, and there is no harm in doing so, most coaches are not talking about the two as being one and the same.
Nickel Defense or Nickel Package?
The most common place you’ll hear coaches talking about a Nickel is really not in describing a 4-2-5 Defense. As I’ve pointed out many times, the 4-2-5 Defense that we’re running is really the same as a 4-4 Defense. I just like calling those guys safeties because it makes them feel faster.
Instead, the Nickel Defense usually isn’t a defense at all. More commonly, coaches are talking about a package in their defense. The Nickel Package is a personnel package that 4-3 Defense and 3-4 Defense coordinators use in passing situations or when there is no Tight End, to replace a Linebacker with a Defensive Back.
You probably knew that. You’re a smart guy. You’ve played Madden before.
But that’s the critical element. The Nickel Package is not a change in the actual defense. It’s just a change in one player because the skill set needed is different that the skill set the base defense requires. You need a better pass defender, or a better player in space, than your normal base defense uses.
Yes, you might have some coverage change-ups. Maybe even a special blitz or two for when the Nickel is on the field. But your core defense remains the same. You did not change from a 4-3 Defense, a 7-man front defense that uses a 2-gap Mike Linebacker, to a 4-2-5 Defense with an 8-man front and 1-gap defenders.
Is the 4-2-5 Defense a Nickel Defense?
But when you talk to a coach who says he runs a 4-2-5 Defense, what he’s really running is a variation on a 4-4 Defense. He’s got two outside linebackers that are called Safeties. Maybe they even spend the majority of their time in man coverage, or playing a deep half safety in a Split Field Coverage package.
Most coaches who run a 4-2-5 Defense don’t think of themselves as running a Nickel Defense. And truthfully most coaches who call their defense a Nickel Defense as a base package fall into the same boat. They call it a Nickel because it’s the terminology, but the thought process is the same. It’s just their defense.
These guys don’t decide to take a DB off the field and replace him with a Linebacker, then all the sudden call it their 4-3 Package.
When coaches are running a 4-2-5 Defense, they consider it the base defense. Except in extreme situations like a Double Wing Offense, they’re going to run with that base 4-2-5 Defense every week.
It comes down to one thing, and one thing only. Don’t get caught up in terminology. Or the difference between a 4-4 Defense and a 4-2-5 Defense. We don’t need gatekeepers in football coaching!