Ever since NBC got Sunday Night Football and the premiere prime time package, I haven’t watched too many Monday Night games. They tend be of lower competition lately. However, last night I sat through the snooze-fest that matched up Pittsburgh and Cincinnati so I could get a good look at the Bengals defense. After watching the game, I have a great idea for how defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer likes to approach personnel packages.

Since the Packers are playing the Bengals this upcoming weekend, I put this breakdown together for you. I hope you enjoy it.

No matter what personnel the offense puts on the field, Zimmer has two major tendencies. First, he likes to play tight man-to-man coverage with his defensive backs. They are charged with re-routing the wide receivers to the middle of the field. He absolutely hates giving up the sidelines. Second, when he brings pressure, he likes to bring it up the middle with his linebackers.

Zimmer does run a fairly diverse defensive package, including zone blitzes, Cover 0 full-out blitzes, Cover 3 run stoppers, and straight man-to-man coverage, mainly because he has to so the offense is kept guessing. Let’s take a look at some of his strongest tendencies.

Against Base Personnel (2 WR Sets)

When the offense comes out in their base personnel (two wide receivers), Zimmer deploys a 4-3-4. This has four down linemen, three linebackers, two cornerbacks, and two safeties.

When he does not bring pressure, he sits back in the Cover 2-man. The deep half of the field is split into zone by two safeties. The pressure is brought by the four-man defensive line. The linebackers and cornerbacks play straight man-to-man coverage. The cornerbacks line up tight to the wide receivers in press coverage. They want to re-route them to the inside of the field, pushing them towards their deep safety help. The strong side linebacker matches up with the tight end, but tries to give him an outside release towards the strong safety and away from the weak coverage in the middle of the field. Plus, this means the ball must go through the linebacker for the pass to be completed. The other two linebackers are responsible for any backs. See the picture below.



When Zimmer does bring pressure against the base personnel, he likes to do it with his linebackers up the middle. To accomplish this, he has to show a single-high deep safety look while dropping the strong safety down into the box. The middle and weak side linebackers apply the pressure along with the defensive line, bringing a total of six rushers. The strong side linebacker still matches up with the tight end and tries for outside release. Even though the single high safety can help, by giving the tight end an outside release, the ball has to go through the linebacker for it to be complete. The cornerbacks also remain in tight press coverage, once again trying to funnel the receiver inside to the deep safety help. The strong safety is responsible for any backs. See the picture below.



The Bengals also like to blitz their strong safety in the base personnel. To accomplish this, once again, they have to use a single-high safety look. All of the previous coverage assignments remain the same. The strong safety becomes the fifth rusher. See the picture below.



Against Substitution Packages (3 WR Sets)

The Packers play three wide receivers greater than 50% of the time, so the Bengals defense cannot remain in their base package. They will also have to substitute. When facing the substitution package, Zimmer deploys a 4-2-5 nickel defense. This has four down linemen, two linebackers, three cornerbacks, and two safeties.

When he does not bring pressure, he once again likes to sit back in Cover 2-man. The same basic coverage rules apply in the substitution Cover 2-man as they in the base. All of the cornerbacks play tight man-to-man coverage, trying to force the wide receivers to the middle of the field. The strong side linebacker tries to funnel the tight end on an outside release. See the picture below.




Zimmer also likes to bring his center pressure out of the substitution package. Both linebackers fire towards the center of the formation, bringing a total of six rushers. The free safety sits deep in single-high coverage, and the strong safety is now responsible for the tight end. The cornerbacks are in tight-man-to-man coverage. See below.



Another blitz package Zimmer runs out of the nickel personnel is the slot cornerback blitz. This is out of a single-high safety look. The weak side linebacker also blitzes, so together with the blitzing slot cornerback, there are once again six rushers. There is still straight man-to-man coverage across the board, but the responsibilities rotate. The strong safety now covers the slot wide receiver and the strong side linebacker is responsible for the tight end. This is an aggressive blitz, which does result in some coverage mismatches. If the pressure doesn’t get home, giving up big gains is always a risk.



Mike Zimmer is an outstanding defensive coordinator. I expect him to throw the kitchen sink at Aaron Rodgers and company this weekend, but these plays listed above are the staples in his playbook. I’m sure Mike McCarthy also knows this and he’ll have another outstanding game plan ready.


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