Football Nickel Defense

Though it originated as a play just for the 1960 Philadelphia Eagles, the Nickel defense has become one of the most popular defensive schemes in modern football. Read on to learn about what a nickel defense is and how it is best used!

What is a Nickel Defense in Football?

In the sport of football, the nickel defense is a specific type of defensive scheme that uses five defensive backs with four defensive linemen. The five defensive backs are referred to as “the nickel” and the four defensive linemen are referred to as “the 40.” This leaves two linebackers, one of which will be used for pass coverage.

Nickel Defense Alignments

There are two main defensive alignments used in the nickel defense, the 4-2-5 and 3-3-5 schemes. Both of these alignments feature five players in the secondary, with only the number of linemen and linebackers changing. The 4-2-5 is the more popular scheme as it retains more run-stopping protection with four players on the line.


Football Nickelback

Nickelbacks refer to the fifth defensive back that defines a nickel defense. Typically, a standard Nickel defense will have two defensive backs on the strong side of the field, two defensive backs on the weak side of the field, and then the nickelback will stay towards the middle as the farthest back player in the defensive backfield. Nickelbacks should be exceptional blockers and be able to both run support and cover inside receivers.

Pros and Cons of the Nickel Defense

The nickel defense is a solid base defense that is designed to prevent pass completions without giving up too much on the ground. Ideally, it is used in a blitz against slow-developing plays, such as play actions. When coverage holds up, this formation will suffocate the quarterback and force an errant throw or even a sack.

The nickel defense’s main weakness lies in defending the run game. Even though it includes four down linemen, the lack of a third (or sometimes second) linebacker can be problematic when defending against the run. The nickel defense can also be vulnerable to screen passes or overloaded formations because they affect the alignment of a defense, especially when using man-to-man coverage.


What is a nickel defense in football?

A nickel defense in football is an alignment featuring five defensive backs. The standard defensive base in football utilizes two cornerbacks and two safeties for a total of four defensive backs. A nickel defense employs an additional cornerback or safety, with one fewer lineman or linebacker to balance the scheme. The nickel defense is used to defend against long passes and runs.

How do you beat a nickel defense?

An effective way to beat the nickel defense is to spread out your offense and use a third wide receiver. Spreading the offense will challenge the nickel at the line, where it is weakened with one fewer player. The third wide receiver can play the center of the field, where a hole is created by the absence of a middle linebacker. This technique creates more passing opportunities in spite of the nickel defense’s pass-stopping design.