‘Less Scheme, More Personnel’

That mantra certainly holds true on defense, but coach Mike McCarthy is using fewer personnel groupings on offense. Here's a look at the trends and the thinking on both sides of the ball.

“Less scheme, more personnel.”

That’s what coach Mike McCarthy said he wanted from his Green Bay Packers defense. And so far, that’s exactly what he’s got.

On offense, however, it’s been less personnel.

According to the league’s statistical Web site, the Packers have used 30 “unique” lineups on offense. That’s the fourth-fewest in the league. Much of that “diversity” stems not from rotating receivers or running backs. Rather, it’s because of the injury to right tackle Bryan Bulaga putting Derek Sherrod in the lineup for a game-and-a-half.

Once upon a time, McCarthy was all about rotating personnel. During the Aaron Rodgers era, the Packers used 350 unique lineups in 2008 (fourth-most in the league), a league-high 363 lineups in 2009, 334 lineups in 2010 (fourth-most in the league), a league-high 439 lineups in 2011 and 303 lineups in 2012 (sixth-most in the league).

Some of that was due to injuries, of course. Great depth at wide receiver in 2011 and a revolving door at running back in 2012 beefed up the counts.

McCarthy has cut back on the personnel diversity the past two seasons. Last year, even with four quarterbacks, the Packers used 202 lineups. That was the 10th-fewest in the NFL. This year, the Packers have used only 12 lineups with Bulaga and 18 lineups with Sherrod.

The obvious reason is McCarthy’s focus on the no-huddle. Most drives begin and end with the same personnel.

“I think you can make the argument: what is your best personnel?” McCarthy said on Wednesday. “How much more do you want to take your third receiver off the field and bring a second tight end? Or are you just going to play with one back? Or bring a fullback on? Those are things that are all part of the conversation and really as your roster develops, where we are in our program, particularly with our quarterback, this is clearly the way we’re structured is the best utilization of our players.”

For the most part, McCarthy has leaned on three-receiver, one-back, one-tight end sets. That, in fact, has evolved into the Packers’ base personnel. According to ESPN Stats & Information data reported by ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky, the Packers used that “zebra” personnel group 35.6 percent of the time in 2010. That rate has increased by roughly 10 percent increments every season. Through three games this season, the Packers have lined up in that package 78.4 percent of the time.

On first-and-10, the Packers have gone with “zebra” personnel on 54 of 76 plays — 71.1 percent of the time.

It’s not just the no-huddle. The tight ends haven’t delivered, so that group is seeing less playing time. Also, fullback John Kuhn is on pace to play 117 snaps. Last year, he played 324.

“We get the best players on the field and that's usually in our three-receiver set,” Rodgers said on Wednesday.

On the other side of the line of scrimmage, defensive coordinator Dom Capers is making use of most of his roster as he goes 3-4, 4-3, nickel and dime in the span of a single possession, at times. According to the league, the Packers have used 97 “unique” defensive lineups in three games. That’s the fifth-most in the league.

Capers’ most-frequently used lineup — the dime package of Datone Jones, Brad Jones, Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, Casey Hayward, Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Morgan Burnett, Micah Hyde and HaHa Clinton-Dix — has seen the field together only 15 times.

“They show you a lot of different looks, a lot of different fronts, and they have a lot of different coverages behind it,” Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said during his conference call with Packers beat reporters. “From myself, to the line and to the receivers, we have to be on it this week.”

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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