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Optioning the 3-3-5 Stack with the Unbalanced Attack

Optioning the 3-3-5 Stack with the Unbalanced Attack

Running the option against the 3-3-5 Stack can sometimes pose some challenges.  First off, it makes the hand-off key for the quarterback difficult to recognize.  Having a quarterback who can read the “stack” at the youth or high school level is tough to find.  Also, the defense is predicated off “creating havoc” from C-gap to C-gap.

Traditional Double-Slot Inside Veer Option vs. the 3-3-5 Stack Defense


PS WR:                  3 Steps Straight Ahead – Check FS in the Lane, Block Run Defender

PS Slot:                 Seal Block Stack ILB to FS

PST:                       1st Man Inside On/Off LOS

PSG:                       Step Inside and Release for Mike LB

C, BSG:                  Scoop the Nose

BST:                       Scoop the “B” Gap Threat

BS WR:                  Cutoff

QB:                         Read PS DE to Stack ILB for dive, Read OLB/SS for Pitch

FB:                          Form the Mesh and Run Dive Path

BS Slot:                Form Pitch Relationship


As you can see, the defense gives the quarterback a “stack” read with the inside linebacker and defensive end.  Knowing that the 3-3-5 defense is reliant upon pressure, we know that those two players will be slanting and blitzing on a consistent basis.  Also, the outside linebacker/safety can play close to the line of scrimmage and cause havoc as the pitch key because the slot is playing tight to the offensive tackle.

Given the fact that many eight-man fronts can have issues adjusting to unbalanced formations, we have come up with a formation to help option teams against the 3-3-5 stack.

unbalanced formation vs. 3-3-5 stack

While taking a look at the diagram above, we see that the defense cannot play how they normally would play against a traditional double-slot formation.  The defense needs to adjust.  One of the most common adjustments is listed below.  Keep in mind, the last thing a 3-3-5 stack team wants to do is “break the stack.”  This eliminates their element of confusion and landmarks their personnel.

unbalanced formation vs 353 stack defense adjustment

As we see, in the 3-3-5 stack’s preliminary adjustment to the unbalanced formation, they are put in a “bind” with their outside linebacker/safety.  They must adjust to the extra blocker (extra offensive tackle or tight end) and the slot who has been split out to a flanker (twins) position.

(See Also) The Flexbone Playbook for Youth Football

The quarterback’s eyes will go directly to the outside linebacker/safety.  If he “splits the difference” between the slot and extra offensive lineman, or plays off the line of scrimmage in any way, the quarterback should look to run the triple.  The hand-off key has been pre-determined as the playside defensive end since the playside offensive tackle and extra offensive lineman are now accounting for the stack inside linebacker.  Also, the offense can now account for the playside cornerback as well as the free safety.  This is illustrated in the slide below.

Option vs 3-3-5 defense

One adjustment the defense will have is to place their outside linebacker/safety onto the extra offensive lineman as a 9-technique.  If this happens, the quarterback will check automatically to the bubble screen.  The offensive line will gap-reach their man to the playside.  If free, they will get upfield and block for the screen.  The playside wide receiver will block the most dangerous man and the offense will have the opportunity to get “speed in space” pretty quickly.

Bubble vs. 3-3-5 stack defebse

Considering that the offense is unbalanced, if the defense wants to stay in the stack, they’ll have to move a defensive player over to the unbalanced side of the formation.  By placing their backside outside linebacker/safety to the unbalanced side of the formation, they have lost an extra man against the option to the weak side.  An answer is to run speed (double) option away from the unbalanced side of the formation.  The blocking scheme for the offensive line is the same as the triple option blocking scheme from above, however, it is checked to the other direction.

speed option play away from unbalanced

The quarterback will pitch off of the “C” gap player since the playside offensive tackle will block the “B” gap threat.  In this defense, the stack inside linebacker or defensive end will take the “C” gap and the quarterback will pitch about 95% of the time.  The only case in which the quarterback would not pitch the ball is if both stack players (inside linebacker and defensive end) take the “C” gap by accident.

Optioning the 3-3-5 Stack with the Unbalanced Attack Conclusion:

In conclusion, in terms of defensive adjustments, the 3-3-5 stack defense is stuck.  The defense will have to break the stack and shade their defensive line and linebackers.  Once they have landmarked themselves, you get them out of their comfort zone.  Once a defense is out of their own comfort zone, you got them right where you want them!

Other AWESOME Articles by Coach Ross: 

Triple Option vs. 4-4 Defense

The Power O Football Play