Pettine's Defense Could Go Psycho in 2020

A look at how Mike Pettine could utilize the psycho defense this season.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how this Packers defense is going to look in 2020, and all I can think about is the old Dom Capers psycho defense. Not a 3-4. Not a 4-3. But a crazy hybrid 1-5-5 kind of front that breeds chaos and confusion. Given the players at defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s disposal, a return to the psycho package could make sense this season. 

Part of the charm of the psycho defense is that opposing offenses never know where the pressure is coming from. Picture a defensive alignment that has Kenny Clark with his hand in the dirt, then Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Rashan Gary, Jonathan Garvin, and Christian Kirksey roaming the middle. While all six of those guys are capable of bringing the pressure at absolutely any time, opposing offensive lines won’t know who’s actually rushing and who’s dropping into coverage. 

We know Mike Pettine loves his stunts, and he’s said repeatedly this past offseason that both Za’Darius and Gary specifically give him the versatility to generate pressure in a variety of ways. Whether those two are lining up over center, blitzing through the B-gap, or off the edge with Preston dropping into coverage, there’s plenty to like about this stout front seven.

Then, when we take a look at the secondary, the best defensive backs still have their roles on the field and, while they’ll likely spend the bulk of these psycho snaps in coverage, it’s possible with Adrian Amos or Raven Greene playing closer to the box, one of them could come free for a safety blitz. 

Basically, a psycho package, while used sparingly, gives Pettine the opportunity to put his absolute best players on the field. In the secondary, that would likely be Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, Amos, Darnell Savage, and Chandon Sullivan. 

And it’s versatile. There’s Pettine’s buzzword again. I included Jonathan Garvin initially. Mentioned Raven Greene. Added Chandon Sullivan. Sub in Dean Lowry or Kingsley Keke or Kamal Martin or Oren Burks. It works just the same. And that’s what makes it such an interesting package for Pettine to consider in specific situations. Especially with Pettine acknowledging himself that he’d like Za’Darius, Preston, and Clark to lighten their loads a little bit in 2020 to keep them fresh. 

While Pettine has emphasized that he wants his defense to be penetrating first and foremost (something we saw in 2019 as the team created more pressures off fewer blitzes), the psycho defense provides a certain allure with offensive linemen not having as much time to choose their blocking assignment. It’s likely someone, whether that’s Gary, Amos, or Clark, could slip through the cracks unblocked and make a play on the quarterback. 

This defense is growing, and it will only continue to get better in 2020. Kenny Clark is getting paid. Rashan Gary is about to take a massive second-year leap. Christian Kirksey is going to make an immediate impact in the middle of the defense. But perhaps the biggest standout here is still the incredible amount of talent Pettine has at his disposal. 

If we look back just a few years ago to a roster trying to generate pressure with an injured Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Kyler Fackrell, and Reggie Gilbert, it’s no wonder this 2019 squad feels so night and day. 

It’s safe to say this is one of the most talented defenses Pettine has been able to work with. Whoever is bringing the heat, whatever the stunt is, expect this defense, at least occasionally, to go a little psycho in 2020. 

 

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Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV, podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack's What She Said, and hosts a weekly live show called Happy Hour through Game On Wisconsin. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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Comments (28)

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josefK's picture

July 21, 2020 at 01:00 pm

This is a great look - for passing down and distance - but I think the more important point is run defense. I think both you and I would have liked a DT like Blacklock (not possible given the Love pick). I don't think Kirksey and hopes about Keke and/or the two FA DTs fill the line along side Clark - I fear our inability to stop a good OL and running back(s). Pass rush is great - but that assumes we can consistently force passing situations.

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jannes bjornson's picture

July 21, 2020 at 07:51 pm

How psycho is a trap or draw play for 10-15 yards while the LBs get picked off by pulling linemen?

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dobber's picture

July 22, 2020 at 09:01 am

Yes, the defense took its lumps at times on the ground a year ago, but trying to beat teams on 3rd down and distance with run plays and being successful at it enough to beat your opponent in the NFL are entirely different things. Only one team really did it to the Packers last season. Don't get me wrong, I've ben advocating for a 5-tech stud to add to this defense since last summer, but the cap makes sure you can't cover every position every season.

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mrj007's picture

July 22, 2020 at 10:16 pm

Well said. Very much agree. If I am o-coordinator and Pack in a 1-5-5; why wouldn’t I run run run?

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dobber's picture

July 23, 2020 at 09:24 am

Because the league mentality has been mostly shifted to anything beyond "3rd and 4" is a passing down. If I'm the Packers (or just about any team) I would welcome teams on 3rd down trying to run out of a WR heavy formation for 8-9 yards for the first down. Those percentages are very low...even against the Packers run D. Add to this that guys like Z and Gary can play with their hands on the ground and move around pre-snap, and they can help to disguise formations.

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 21, 2020 at 01:02 pm

My favorite Hitchcock movie of all time. I can still see that scene where the car is going down in the quicksand behind the motel....then momentarily gets stuck! Good stuff!

Sorry, a little off topic.

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PeteK's picture

July 21, 2020 at 03:24 pm

Perkins could have been a killer safety.

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mnbadger's picture

July 23, 2020 at 09:53 am

Defensive coordinator. GPG

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Turophile's picture

July 21, 2020 at 02:29 pm

Always liked your articles Maggie - you generally have a positive take on the team.

'Psycho, The Remake' should be fun if it happens...........and it might.

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Handsback's picture

July 21, 2020 at 02:36 pm

JosefK said it best...this defense has to prove it can stop the run. Rushing the passer isn't an issue stopping the run should be on everyone's mind.

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BAMABADGER's picture

July 21, 2020 at 07:49 pm

One can equate Psycho with insanity. Einstein's classic definition.... “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Packers have been there done that for several seasons under Capers and Pettine. No more playing with smoke and mirrors... Man up an stop a quality offense Coach Pettine, especially the run.

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PatrickGB's picture

July 22, 2020 at 01:33 pm

But the real definition of insanity is being of unsound mind. If there is a method behind the madness then I am all for it. That’s not unsound. But as others noted, it needs to be effective. Doing it just to do it won’t work if the run defense gets run over. I understand Pettine’s defense being focused on the pass and it did fairly well for the majority of our opponents. But we all are worried about the lack of run defense that we saw against the niners.

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Lphill's picture

July 21, 2020 at 07:56 pm

Won’t get to use it much teams will be running the ball down the Packers throats !

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Stroh's picture

July 21, 2020 at 09:11 pm

I don't think there's much doubt about it. Smith, Smith, Gary and Clark are going to be the primary pass rushers. Kinda goes without saying if you ask me.

I don't wuite the Garvin love. That seems like a big reach, especially as a rookie. Just move Z, P and Gary around. That'll cause plenty of problems. Garvins was a major underachiever at Miami.

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murf7777's picture

July 21, 2020 at 09:15 pm

The big question is, is it an over reaction to stop the run or is pressuring the QB in a passing league most important? Pettine, won’t stop his desire of pressuring the passer and we will soon find out if he is a master of D or non flexible and teams take advantage of a weak run D. Sure, we all want both at a high level but if given the choice I believe it is still a passing league and between the two pressuring the passer is most important.

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Guam's picture

July 22, 2020 at 07:29 am

I agree this is still a passing league but the SF 49ers offered a blueprint for beating Pettine's defense twice last year. Other NFL OC's won't ignore that blueprint - I just hope Pettine can adjust too.

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dobber's picture

July 22, 2020 at 09:06 am

If you go back to 2019, many teams tried to do this to the Packers and couldn't pull it off. It was really only SF who could. Most teams aren't set up to win if you can make their QBs play poorly or make mistakes.

My fear in the run defense isn't so much teams running it down the Packers' throats for 4 quarters. We saw teams try to do that last year and most were unsuccessful. It's the Packers down a score in the second half and not being able to get key stops. Those are the games the Packers won in 2019 by getting a key sack or a TO. Those games ride the edge of the knife and expecting them to fall the way they did last year again is asking for a lot.

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Guam's picture

July 22, 2020 at 10:42 am

Yeah, but the team ahead of the Packers in the NFC standings last year knows how to win if their QB isn't playing well and the Packers did nothing to change that. How do you win a SB if you can't beat the teams ahead of you?

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dobber's picture

July 22, 2020 at 11:24 am

Maybe, but I think the idea of building a team to beat a specific other team (or player) if it's not in your division doesn't make sense. You know who's going to be on your regular season schedule--namely, 6 games against divisional teams--but if you make it to the tournament (and the fastest, most desirable way is to win your division), you're not sure who's going to be there...or if they'll really look much like the team you saw last year.

I would argue that if you go back to the 90s and look at the Jimmy and Jerry show that seemed to have the Packers road-blocked, it wasn't that the Packers specifically built a team to beat (and eventually pass) Dallas, they grew in their personnel (e.g. Favre matured) and became outstanding at what they were doing all along.

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Guam's picture

July 22, 2020 at 08:56 pm

Beefing up your suspect run defense is not necessarily building a team to beat one other team. It is shoring up a known weakness that at least one team can exploit and potentially more will try to.

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PhantomII's picture

July 23, 2020 at 09:37 pm

Exactly. Unless Lowry or Keke have gotten very serious with conditioning and weights, Clark is still the only DT that should be starting...period. We have a pro bowl level DT and some rotational level talent. Hopefully someone on the roster steps up. Incentives on the DL for 100k/ sack or 10k for TFL. Whatever it takes for the light to go on and stay on.

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Lphill's picture

July 22, 2020 at 08:42 am

Well the 49 ers knew the Packers couldnt stop the run and we know how that turned out.

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nostradanus's picture

July 21, 2020 at 09:17 pm

You know how I like my defense?
ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK
that is all

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dobber's picture

July 22, 2020 at 09:09 am

I find it funny in reading the comments that some people are rejecting this notion--essentially it's putting Gary on the field more in place of Lowry on passing downs--when some of the same people were saying last fall that Gary was a run-stopper in college and should be on the field more.

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scullyitsme's picture

July 22, 2020 at 10:53 am

What scares me is that the psycho or some form of it should of happened last year. Gary should of been too good not to have in the field, but he wasn’t. Hopefully whatever was holding him back doesn’t this year.

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DenePhillips's picture

July 22, 2020 at 11:06 pm

Just tackle the guy with the ball

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mnbadger's picture

July 23, 2020 at 10:00 am

Vince had very good talent but coached them up, every man executing their responsibilities to near perfection. No gimmicks. Dominant. If Pettine and MLF can coach this talented group up, maybe we win multiple SB's and produce a few gold jackets? Hey, a guy can dream right? GPG

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mnbadger's picture

July 23, 2020 at 10:01 am

Vince had very good talent but coached them up, every man executing their responsibilities to near perfection. No gimmicks. Dominant. If Pettine and MLF can coach this talented group up, maybe we win multiple SB's and produce a few gold jackets? Hey, a guy can dream right? GPG

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