Cardinals vs. Saints review: Where did the 'big nickel' go?

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

A look back at the different defensive formations they used in New Orleans

The Arizona Cardinals found success against the spread out aerial attack of the Detroit Lions using six defensive backs for most of the game. It figured to be foreshadowing of the defensive looks the Cards would give Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.

It was not.

At home against Detroit, the Cardinals ran 38 snaps, or two thirds of their defensive plays, using four safeties and two cornerbacks.

Against the Saints, it was a different story. The Saints ran 74 offensive plays on Sunday. 38 of those plays were with base personnel. 17 plays were in a base 3-4 set, while 21 were in a 4-3 look.

One must note, though, that while there were four players with their hand on the ground, it appears that Matt Shaughnessy, for at least half of those 4-3 formations, is still playing OLB. He is out wide, not with the other linemen. He just chooses to start with his hand on the ground. So it could easily be argued that most of those 4-3 looks were a slight variation of a base 3-4.

The Cardinals did use a traditional nickel package against the Saints. The ran 30 plays with five defensive backs. 25 with with a 3-3-5 look, four were 2-4-5 and one was 4-2-5. Again with the three-man or two-man line, with Shaughnessy, they are essentially the same thing.

Something to note about the nickel package was the personnel. Normally Tyrann Mathieu is the nickel corner. He was forced into the role of playing free safety after Rashad Johnson left the game with a partially severed finger.

Once that happened, there were two interesting observations. One was that Antoine Cason was passed up by another player -- Javier Arenas. it was Arenas that came in for passing downs.

The other interesting observation involves Arenas. In those situations, Arenas lined up at safety, allowing Mathieu to take his spot in the slot.

As for the dime or "big nickel" that some people called what the Cards did against the Lions, it was almost non-existent. They ran a total of five plays in that formation. It was really quite curious. Rookie safety Tony Jefferson played extremely well in Week 2, but only saw the field for six snaps.

Yeremiah Bell, who was used a lot like a linebacker in Week 2, was back in the defensive backfield.

Will we see six DBs again another game? You would hope so, but we'll have to wait and see.

Other observtions. On one play, the Cards stuffed a running play, but did so with a 5-3-3 formation. On another play that resulted in a Drew Bress incompletion, the Cards only managed to have 10 defenders on that play.

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