A Deeper Look At The 3-5-3 Defense

September 24, 2009 · By · Filed Under Commentary, Football 

The 3-5-3 is a relatively new defense that has picked up popularity over the last few years. Its a good scheme to distract the offense both before and after the snap. Its meant to create doubt for the quarterback in coverage reads. It allows the defense to either drop eight people into coverage or rush eight. It allows the linebackers and safeties to constantly move in and out of the line-of-scrimmage. Plus, its great against both running teams, passing teams and in goal-line situations.

The three down linemen typically never change their alignment and play the heads-up technique. The noseguard plays straight-ahead while the tackles line up against the offensive tackles and typically loop outside. The linebackers stack behind the down linemen at a depth of about 4 to 5 yards. This makes it hard for the opposing team to draw up blocking schemes against a stacked defense.

The strong safety aligns seven yards off the line for both a tight end or a split end. But against a tight end he will play two yards inside or four yards inside versus a split end. But he will have a 45 degree shoulder tilt towards the quarterback no matter where he lines up.

The cornerbacks will line up one yard inside of the receiver and nine yards off the line, again with a 45 degree shoulder tilt to the quarterback. The free safety will align on the strong side A gap about 12 yards deep.

The 3-5-3 defense is basically a disguised Gap 8 defense. The front eight will all have gap responsibilities. In the base defense, the nose will have one A gap while a middle linebacker will have the other A gap depending on the blocking scheme. The outside linebackers will have the B gaps to their side and the tackles will have the C gaps to their side. The strong safety will be responsible for the D gap on their side as well.

Versus the run, the front eight play gap responsibilities. Against the veer, the middle linebacker and free safety will play from dive to quarterback to pitch responsibility.

Some keys is that the nose guard needs to force a double team and the tackles cannot get cut off. Pressure is also put on the linebackers because they must read and react with no false steps.

The secondary’s base coverage is cover 3 and they must be able to read and break on the ball. The free safety must be a good tackler and play intelligently.

Against the pass, the base defense will drop eight into coverage. The nose guard will be responsible for a push up the middle while looking for the screen pass or the draw. The two tackles are responsible for containing the quarterback during the rush. The middle linebacker has the middle zone while the two outside linebackers cover the hook and curl zones to their side and the safeties have the flat zones to their side. The cornerbacks have the deep third to their side and the free safety plays deep middle zone.

Since this defensive scheme is balanced, the offense has no choice but to run to the strong side since they are outnumbered on the weak side. If the offense runs a balanced offense, then the defense will have to find their tendencies and work from there. It is almost impossible to trap against this defense because of the threat of the linebackers running through for a tackle for loss.

There are only a few ways to attack this type of defense so you can work against the same plays every week. The base defense has a multitude of stunts, pressures and coverages built into it, but really it is only limited by the imagination of the defensive coordinator.

This video will show you the basic alignment of the front 8 for the 3-5-3 defense. Notice how they stack behind the nose and ends. Remember this is to disguise the defense and to confuse the quarterback.

The following video shows how the 3-5-3 can defend against the option play to the weak side.

The following video is not the best video but it shows a team running the 3-5-3 defense and some of their highlights. It is the 2007 Petersburg PORTA Bluejays. They are a high school team Illinois but their defense only gave up 6 points in 10 games. NOTE: You may want to mute the sound on this video.


3 Responses to “A Deeper Look At The 3-5-3 Defense”

  1. Ed on July 16th, 2012 6:21 am

    This is an excellent introduction to the 3-5-3 defense.

    The great thing about this defense is it uses very few techniques and reads, very few calls, but has hundreds of possible combinations of fronts, blitzes and coverages.

    Another great website for this front is


    It offers a completely free playbook, weekly discussion of the defense, fronts, blitzes and coverages. This site is also ran by coaches and they post weekly commentary on their opponents, offenses they are facing and how the 3-5-3 defense can stop them. Check it out.

  2. velmar on June 29th, 2015 8:10 pm

    Is it best to wrong arm a trap or close down?

  3. Brian on June 29th, 2015 10:35 pm

    Closing down the gap is the old way of defeating a trap block. When you want to use smaller, quicker defensive lineman, they have a tendency of getting kicked out by larger defensive linemen with a close down. Wrong arming seems to be a necessary technique in most defenses today.

    The wrong arm tends to be the most effective way to defend against the trap block, particularly with some smaller, quicker defensive linemen as I mentioned. When they take the defender’s outside arm and rip through the upfield shoulder of the trap blocker or kick-out, it will turn the body of the blocker and the defender and the defender will be in the hole right where the ball is intended to be run.
    Here are two videos talking about wrong arming and the close down.

    Wrong Arm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRS9Sp_qCVw
    Close Down: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jk8oBVO1cy8

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