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Understanding the 3-3-5


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On 11/19/2023 at 8:48 PM, Okiefan said:

The issue is most people can't tell what they are actually running just by watching. Much of the scheme involves changes in gap assignments so you can't tell who busted just by watching. ...

Yeah Match Quarters had a good number of articles on the ideas behind the 3-stack this team is using. You have to use archive.org to access it now: 




In short, and speaking generically, there are two broad categories of line play. The first is Eat Up Space -- where you want big guys who draw a couple of blockers. This is generally the 3-4 defenses, think of Vince Wilfork, Tony Siragusa, et al. They caused havok and allowed the linebackers to make plays. 

The second is Own Your Gap. This is generally the realm of 4-3 defenses. You usually have a big nose -- Warren Sapp -- who is more about being fast and getting into the backfield than eating up a couple of blockers. 

Because of the nature of football, someone is going to have to be your Dynamic guy. In the 3-4 stuff, you generally asked your middle linebackers to be bigger, as they would need to be run stoppers, and one edge guy to be like a pass-rusher more than a coverage linebacker. 

In the 4-3, you wanted fast guys, but every lineman would need to stop the run. You generally needed one good pass-rusher who could run. 


The 3-stack prioritizes speed above all else. It is like a Landry 4-3 in that it is about controlling gaps quickly, and reacting instead of over-powering. The Match Quarters articles talked about the Star safety (middle safety) being like the Tampa 2 middle linebacker. Instead of the Lovie Smith/Monte Kiffin backer who would think run first and bail out into the middle of the field, the Star thinks pass first, and will fly up the field to make a tackle. 

This is why we generally have a "light" box. Light boxes are bad if you have grown up watching/playing football for any number of years. But they are en vogue across all levels of football. The idea is you give up short runs and limit big plays. *

You can watch Mazin Richards and Rod Brown slant hard to disrupt the gaps. The linebackers are supposed to fly up and make the tackle. Our problem is that our LB play was atrocious. I linked to the PFF grades in the season review. 


I don't hate the scheme. I think it showed a lot of promise in some moments. I talked a lot on the podcast about the string of stops against Memphis, UTSA, Tulane, Navy and others that are encouraging. If we can not allow the 80-yarders, I think we are in a good spot. 

*Incidentally, like all innovations, you see them in video games first. I remember a dude playing like NCAA10 and dominating by running a dime package on defense, killing the run attempts by using the middle safety. It felt like cheating and un-real football. Fast forward 15 years and Iowa State is using it vs Texas in real life. 

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15 minutes ago, GrayEagle said:

That should work...A P5 coach who can't make the 3-3-5 work in his league can surely make it work in a league that is not all that much lower.

You mean Rocky Long, the innovator behind the modern 3-3-5 who's had success with it at multiple stops (including at Syracuse)? 

That said, I don't know how much more juice the 73-yr-old has in the tank, but if he'd take any role on our defensive staff, I'd hire him immediately.

Edited by Monkeypox
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