Rewind'12: Circling back on nickel usage

Another in a series of posts circling back on the 2012 season and some of our preseason themes:

In 2011, a majority of NFC North teams used their nickel/dime defense on more than half of their snaps. With no schematic changes after that season, we projected a similar approach in 2012.

As it turns out, the percentages of extra defensive backs were nearly identical in 2012. Once again, the Green Bay Packers led the NFL in nickel/dime use, and thus used their "base" 3-4 defense less than any other team.

These two-year figures provide important documentation about both scheme and personnel of our four teams. The Packers, for one, are much deeper in the secondary than they are at defensive line. So from a perspective of getting the most out of your roster, their approach made sense.

On the other hand, you wonder if that heavy usage played a role in the Packers' vulnerability against power running teams, most notably the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers. The Detroit Lions, on the other hand, can be fully excused from using extra defensive backs less than all but seven NFL teams. Their secondary depth was poor over the past two years, due in part to injuries.

What does this mean for 2013? We'll have to let the offseason unfold, and for the Chicago Bears at least, we'll need to see how many changes new coordinator Mel Tucker implements. But from the perspective of team building, this reminds us how important the fifth defensive back is on each team. They are starters.