The Easy Way To Break Down The 3-3-5 Defense

The 3-3-5 defense is one of the most confusing schemes in the game today. It can overwhelm you in a hurry if you’re unfamiliar with it.

Even if you’re someone who loves to watch and break down film, you may have trouble keeping up with all the variations the defense brings at you.

So here’s the basic idea we’re going to talk about in this article:

Instead of drawing up every single blitz and putting them all in a scouting report for your kids that they won’t remember and will only confuse them, start analyzing where those guys end up.

This is a great principle to follow when it comes to working with your players. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re having a tough time understanding it, it will be next to impossible for your players to understand it, so it’s your job to simplify whatever you’re seeing from an opponent.

Let’s look at an example.

Strong Safety Edge Blitz

Below you’ll see a diagram of a pretty standard four man pressure out of an odd stack front. The strong safety comes off the edge, while the three guys up front slant to their right. It’s probably nothing you haven’t seen before, right?


When it comes to preparing for the odd stack defense, one individual blitz isn’t the problem, it’s the seemingly endless combinations that defensive coordinators have the ability to bring after your offense. It can be maddening to chart all of those different blitzes, and even worse, it can make the process of preparing your team a huge challenge, especially if it’s not something that you see most of the time.

So what do you do? Draw up every single blitz from the defense, and try to walk through them all and prepare your offense for every single one of them? Or something else?


Your job as a coach is to make things as simple as possible for your players, and in turn allow them to take as much thinking out of the equation as possible. So how do you do that when there are so many different blitzes the defense has to throw against you?

The dirty little secret about odd stack defenses, and most three man fronts in general, is that when they bring pressure, they’re still trying to create the same look as a four-down defense.

Let me explain further.

Remember that diagram of the edge pressure I showed you earlier? Here it is again below:


Looks like just a basic edge pressure, right?

Instead of looking at the players rushing the passer, focus instead on the gaps occupied by the rushers.

To the strong side you’ve got the B and C gaps filled, and to the opposite side you’ve got the A gap and C gap filled. So, regardless of who’s rushing, you end up getting the same effect as this four-down defense below:


Both examples are ways to get men rushing off the edge and to occupy the strong side B gap, as well as the weak side A gap, they’re just different ways to get there.


Now we come to an adjustment that can be made from the odd stack front. For the sake of argument, we’re going to keep things simple, but keep in mind that the defense in this diagram will be attacking the same gaps they were in the diagram before.

Imagine that as a defensive coordinator, you’re facing an offense that lines up in a lot of 2×2 sets, but as the game progresses, you’re seeing more and more motion in both the pass and the run game. It could be either “jet” motion (heading straight across the formation) or “orbit” motion, pictured below.

What do you do when you want to attack the same gaps as before, but you want to have an extra adjuster to the right side of the offense so that you’re not outnumbered to that side once the ball is snapped?

Just blitz someone else.


The defense brings the Mike linebacker instead of the strong safety, yet they still attack the same gaps as before.


Now, here’s the point I’m trying to make: These two blitzes are different, but in some ways they’re very much the same.

You should be charting this in some way.

It’s true, when you break down the defensive fronts and blitzes, you should chart all the different blitzes and stunts for your own sake as coaches, but once you’ve done that, go back and take a look at what gaps they’re blitzing into.

If you want to take it a step further, find their four-down front equivalent and try to group them into “over” and “under” fronts based on the gaps the defenders end up occupying.

For example, if you were inputing data into HUDL about the diagrams we covered above, you could group both of the odd-stack blitzes into an “over” or “3-1 over” category (or whatever terminology you use to classify four-man fronts).

You may find out that the defense with a million different looks is a lot simpler than you realized.

Learn more about the 3-3-5 Defense

Coach Chad Hetlet has put together a great collection of videos on the 3-3-5 defense.

He goes over his philosophy of pressure, and then goes through some of his favorite blitzes to put an offense on its heels.

If you’re an offensive guy, you’d better understand what the defense is trying to do, or you may as well be coaching with a blindfold on.

Learn more about why Coach Hetlet refers to the 3-3-5 Defense as organized chaos in this first video.

CLICK HERE to watch it now