Around the NFC North: Base Offenses

Maybe base defense still matters? 

The Packers will be making a change to a 4-3 defense next season and everyone is racing to Twitter to talk about how much it doesn't matter in the modern NFL whether a team uses a 4-3 or a 3-4 because they're in nickel all the time. I don't really think that's accurate anymore. Sure, the peak McVay Rams ran 11 personnel every play and today most teams run a lot of 11 personnel, but teams are moving away from that sort of static offense. The Packers, for example, were in 11 personnel (one tight end and one running back) on 63% of plays last season, according to Sumer Sports. 63% is a lot, but its nowhere near the 99% the Rams were in. If you include very obvious run situations, it means opposing defenses had to be in base defense 40% of the time or risk getting shredded by Aaron Jones & co. Let's use this lens to review how the inferior three NFC North teams play offense. 

Lions

The Lions are the benchmark offense in the division until further notice. They had the second highest cumulative offensive PFF grade in the league and the seventh best DVOA. And they did it by running the ball a ton to hide their average QB. Goff and offensive coordinator Ben Johnson will both be back for at least one more season next year, so we can rely on their 2023 numbers to project what they'll do in 2024. 

The Lions were in 11 personnel 62% of the time - that means they used at least two tight ends or a fullback on almost 40% of plays. Next season, they may be even more willing to run heavy offenses. JAG WR Josh Reynolds' contract is up and Johnson has hinted at wanting to use 2-RB personnel packages even more. It's likely that the Packers will have to match up with them in base defense a lot of the time.

That may seem frustrating for seasoned pass defense likers, but I think base defense is how you stop the Lions and Goff. Don't let them build any momentum running the ball. Get more guys in the box who can confuse Goff and potentially pressure him. Clog up the middle and collide with low crossers. If the Packers can match up with Sam La Porta and Jahmyr Gibbs with their linebackers and safeties (admittedly a pretty hefty ask) they can stop this offense with their base D. If they can't, they might continue to give up hundreds of yards on the ground. 

 

 

Bears

The Bears are a bit of an enigma. New offensive coordinator Shane Waldron used 11 personnel at a Lions-like rate in Seattle (64%) but that was with two pro-bowl receivers and a first-round pick. Waldron made his name with creative 12 personnel formations and reportedly had some level of conflict with players because he wanted to use even more 12 personnel. In Chicago, he'll have one pretty good tight end, one pretty good wide receiver and that's pretty much it. Darnell Mooney was more like Darnell Asteroidey last season at receiver and Big Bob Tonyan is washed. It's unlikely that the team's current personnel will influence Waldron in one way or another. 

The other part of the equation is that the Bears will likely draft Caleb Williams, who has played in an insane level spread offense his entire college career. The trend in the NFL is to attempt to give younger QBs a run game and the play action off of it to lean on, but that would mean attempting to totally rewire Williams' brain. Does this coaching staff have the time to do that? 

If I had to bet, I would bet on Waldron increasing his heavy offense usage from what he did with the Seachickens last year. Use Khalil Herbt and Roshon Johnson, make Cole Kmet the number one target on third downs, and try to make it a simpler offense for Caleb Williams to execute. 

 

 

Vikings

I was honestly shocked to find out, just now, that the Vikings only used 11 personnel 65% of the time. You'd think with two first-round draft picks at receiver and a horrific run game they'd be in it more. Of course, when your third receiver is KJ Osborne (ranked 111th among WRs by PFF) and your second tight end is one of the best run blocker in the league, it makes sense to try to get the tight end on the field more often. 

The Vikings are another situation where we don't know who the QB will be next year. They reportedly tried desperately to trade up for a QB last draft and will likely do so again. If they do land on a rookie QB, it's even more reason for them to base out of heavier personnel. 

Kevin O'Connell's big year with the Rams was when they went HAM with Stafford out of empty with three receivers. He's used that offense to some success in Minnesota. It's been a good offense when Kirk Cousins was healthy and the run offense wasn't earth shatteringly bad. Meanwhile, the other branches of the McVay/Shanahan tree are evolving. Waldron is doing funky two tight end sidecar stuff, LaFleur is getting six wide receivers, two running backs, and two tight ends meaningful snaps, even Shanahan and McVay have totally changed their schemes over the past few years. If O'Connell is going to evolve like them, the personnel in Minnesota lends itself to heavier formations. Which means, again, more base D for the Packers.         

Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan who recently moved form Utah to Stoughton (a Madison suberb). You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.

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Comments (15)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
jont's picture

February 08, 2024 at 06:55 pm

Help me out: what's "HAM"?

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Brewcity_BearsFan's picture

February 08, 2024 at 07:04 pm

Hard A$$ Mother Fuc#er

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T7Steve's picture

February 09, 2024 at 06:50 am

I've got some on my sandwich for lunch.

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Brewcity_BearsFan's picture

February 08, 2024 at 07:09 pm

I think the Bears are keeping Fields. Williams simply doesn't make sense. Why keep Eberflus, if you are simply going to start over again with a new QB.

It maybe wishful thinking, as I do not want Williams in Chicago.

Keep Fields, draft Harrison, even if it is at number 1. Bolster the O Line, and maybe take a run at Saquon Barkley.

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TKWorldWide's picture

February 08, 2024 at 07:59 pm

I think they will draft Williams. If they want Harrison they’ll trade down and get some extra picks.

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GregC's picture

February 08, 2024 at 09:09 pm

I was ready to see Fields come out firing in that last game against the Packers, with his season--and possibly his career--on the line. But he really didn't do much of anything in that game. He looked like his usual below average self. The comparison with Jordan Love was quite striking, and it wasn't good for Fields. Gotta think the Bears will draft a new QB.

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T7Steve's picture

February 09, 2024 at 06:53 am

If the Bears draft another QB with the first pick, it will just ruin another career. I think Williams will hold out if the Bears Pick him anyway.

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Bitternotsour's picture

February 10, 2024 at 10:04 am

I'm here for Trubisky 2.0

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Leatherhead's picture

February 09, 2024 at 06:13 pm

Greg, I thought Fields looked bad in that game, especially in comparison with Love.

Fields is younger than Love. And despite the handicap of an organization and team that doesn't help him enough, he averages 20 ppg....about a FG less than Love and the Packers.

I would never put it past the Bears to screw up their situation at QB, but I just truly believe the Bears could use this draft to put a really good offense around Fields. Better coaching (they already fired their QB coach) and a better team around him could make them a formidable group.

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Bitternotsour's picture

February 10, 2024 at 10:06 am

The one guy that I feared the Bears hiring was Greg Roman. Fortunately they passed. I think Fields could do a reasonable impersonation of Kaepernick, and he may indeed when he gets traded for a 3rd round pick

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mnbadger's picture

February 09, 2024 at 09:03 pm

why should I give 2 shits who the bears pick, don't pick or what formation they set up in?
It's the bears.
They suck.
they'll find a way to screw it up and soil themselves.
My only hope is that they don't smear any on our beautiful uniforms when we have to play them.
'nuff said about that.
GPG!

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GB@Germany's picture

February 09, 2024 at 12:58 am

Great insights. The packers offensive success this season shows how important a good balance between run & pass game is. The less predictable you are, the higher your chance to get the defense on the wrong foot. Good for GB to have now absolutely versatile TEs and even receivers who can block, opening up multiple run & pass plays of any formation.
For defenses it will remain tough. Certainly the right concept in clear run or pass situations is a no brainer (if you are not J.B). But for all other downs, you need agile concepts and players being able to adjust quickly to whatever the offense serves. A smart ILB might be helpful, to adjust defensive play calls in reaction of offense pre- snap action and hardcounts, to create surprises for the offense and blurry simple QB reads. Looking forward to next season with a (hopefully) real DC.

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PackEyedOptimist's picture

February 09, 2024 at 08:15 am

The Bears currently pick at #1 and #9. If I was them, I'd trade the #1 or pick WR Marvin Harrison Jr. with it. Then, I'd pick the best remaining QB at #9 AND re-sign Fields. There would be less pressure to start the rookie if he's not picked at #1, and could get the benefits that Rodgers and Love both had.
At #9 Maye will be gone, but maybe Jayden Daniels will be there, and Penix, Nix, and McCarthy will all likely be available. (in fact, trading down from 9 to the twenties might still get the best of one of those three).

That's what I'd do.

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Leatherhead's picture

February 09, 2024 at 06:21 pm

I would trade down from #1, repeatedly, to get more picks in the Top 100, like Green Bay does.

I'd get a premiere ball carrier, because Chicago has a tradition of great RBs. And I'd get some OL guys who could make holes for him and protect the QB. And get a good complementary weapon in the passing game.

If you put Fields and a good RB behind six good blockers, you have an offense. Probably the best rushing offense in the league.

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Brewcity_BearsFan's picture

February 09, 2024 at 10:05 pm

The prospect of a premier back is why I hope they got after Barkley.

I agree trade back. Swap withWashinton for picks,and Jonathan Allen, or New England for picks and Matthew Huron. Then. Draft Harrison, and either an OL, or Pass rusher at 9.

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