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Bengals Defense Played Over 50 Percent Of Snaps Out Of Nickel Package In 2012

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According to numbers released on Thursday by PFF, the Bengals defense played over half of their snaps out of the nickel package, illustrating the pass-first nature of the NFL today.

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Grant Halverson

In case you've somehow missed it, the game of football is rapidly becoming a predominantly air-borne sport. I'll give you a second to process this shocking and unexpected development.

Yes indeed, passing is now the name of the game in the NFL, with only a few teams still adhering to old-school ideas like run-first offenses or employing full time fullbacks. Consequently, it makes sense that NFL defenses would alter their schemes accordingly to keep up with the ever increasing disparity towards passing. Call it a sign of the times or just smart football, but now more than ever, defenses are eschewing their base packages in favor of defensive back-heavy nickle packages.

According to numbers released on Thursday by the fine number-crunchers over at PFF, the Bengals are no exception to this change, having spent over 50% of their total defensive snaps in the nickel package.

Team 0 DBs 1 DB 2 DBs 3 DBs 4 DBs 5 DBs 6 DBs 7 DBs 8 DBs Total Plays
CIN 0 12 0 0 530 608 16 0 0 1166

As you can see, out of the 1,166 total snaps, the defense spent 52.1% of the time playing out of the nickel, while operating another 45.5% of the time in the base 4-3 formation. This disparity may not seem like much, but it does serve to illustrate the fading importance of the SAM linebacker position in Mike Zimmer's defense. Manny Lawson, the team's 2012 SAM backer, participated in only 398 of the team's 1166 snaps, for a grand total of roughly one third of the final count. Conversely, Adam Jones, the team's primary nickel cornerback, took part in a heartier 626 defensive snaps--a whopping 20% increase over Lawson's numbers.

In this light, these snap breakdowns gain a new clarity, especially when looking ahead to the draft. Many draftniks have the Bengals selecting a SAM backer like Alec Ogletree in the first round, but given the evidence that Mike Zimmer and the Bengals defense are moving away from that position in favor of nickel corners, that selection just wouldn't make as much sense as in previous years.

Of course, the Bengals could go right ahead and draft one anyway, depending on how the first round shakes out. But taking into account that the team recently brought in a couple of free agent options at the position, it appears that they would rather fill that diminishing role with a veteran rather than through the draft.