Defeating the 5-3, 4-6, Bear, Double Eagle, & 3-3 Stack Defenses 

Dennis Creehan: All Rights Reserved

In response to the overwhelming number of questions on the web site regarding the 5- 3 defense, I have agreed to share these thoughts with you regarding how to attack and defeat this defensive spacing. All of the above mentioned defenses arc related to the 5-3 in that they have a nose man and two defensive tackles with three linebackers in the core. One of these linebackers is usually stacked on the nose and the other two are in various alignments but usually stacked over the offensive tackles. The Bear defense will play one of these linebackers in a seven technique on the inside shade of the tight end. These defenses also have two defensive ends out in loose nine techniques. The 3-3 Stack defense has replaced these two defensive ends with strong safeties giving them five defensive backs for today's modem passing games. All of these defenses are forms of eight man fronts with two comers and a free safety.

Wing-t teams have traditionally had a great deal of difficulty attacking these defensive spacings because they have elected to stay in traditional wing formations with a tight end wingback on one side and a split end diveback on the other side. By doing this, offensive coaches are playing right into the defensive coaches hands. Why? Because the free safety favors the tight end side so that he can cover the tight end when the defense elects to blitz. As soon as the tight end blocks the free safety is in the run support and tile offensive coach has created another linebacker. The corner is also rolled up to the tight end wingback side and he is assigned to cover the wingback when they blitz. When the wingback blocks another additional linebacker has been created. By now the offense is hopelessly outnumbered but many coaches stubbornly continue to try to force the bucksweep and other tight end wingback plays into bad numbers.

Many coaches are trying to prove the merits of the wing-t and the bucksweep series and remain convinced that this is the answer to all defensive problems. The wing-t is not a formation or a series of plays. It is a four back system for moving the ball that is based on creating assignment conflicts for the defense. If the defense reacts a certain way they open themselves up for companion plays. Nowhere in any wing-t book will you find the wing-t defined as the bucksweep series or a wing formatiol1. With that in mind how can we attack these defensive spacings?

The first thing we must do is keep the free safety and strong side corners back in their deep zones and out of the core. Lets not turn an eight-man front into a ten-man front! How do we accomplish this? We must spread the defense out! If we spread the tight end or take him out of the game and line up with two spread ends the corner will widen and the free safety will be forced back into the middle of the field. (Later I will discuss some formation variations using both split ends on the same side.)

The second adjustment is to put both halfbacks in wingback positions. This will cause the stacked outside linebackers to make a decision to allow the wingbacks to out leverage them in the flat or widen and allow the off tackle or internal runs. The defensive ends must decide if they are going to be contain conscious or if they will be responsible to cover the flat and allow the outside linebackers to contain. The 3-3 Stack defense will cover the flats with the defensive ends that have been replaced by defensive backs. All of the above mentioned defenses would deploy their alignments in a similar fashion so we can attack all of them with the same philosophy. There will be some slight b1ockjng adjustments but the basics of the plan will be the same for all of than. (Diagram 1) 

Now that we have put the defense in a bind by alignment we will begin our attack.   Lets remember that we are still running the wing-t even though we are not in tight end wingback formations! We will put the defense in assignment conflicts and their reactions will determine our next play. We will only need to run two series to defeat this defense- the belly series and the buck series. The difference is that when we run the buck series we will use the trap option rather than the sweep to begin the attack.

The starting point for the belly series is the belly keep pass. The quarterback should fake to the fullback and be ready to throw the ball into the flat quickly. If the defensive end is assigned to contain the quarterback the wingback will out leverage the outside linebacker in the flat. The outside linebacker cannot stop this play unless he widens and then we will begin to run inside. If he does not widen then keep running this play until you score fifty points. If the defensive end covers the flat then the quarterback shou1d be able to run the ball all day because the blockers at the flank can turn in on the stacked outside linebacker who must now contain. (Diagram 2)  

We will also use the belly option to attack the flank. When counting the defense for options we will count the stacked middle linebacker as #1 and the corner as #5. The other players are #2, #3, and #4 depending on their width. We must decide whom the wingback will release to block but I would start by stalking the stacked outside linebacker and pitching off of the defensive end. (Diagram 3)

This play sets up a great play action pass. The play side wingback runs a banana route and the outside linebacker is again in a bind because of his alignment. The combination of the option and the play action pass puts the outside linebacker in a tremendous conflict. (Diagram 4)  

To finish the series we will run the wingback counter game, the wingback reverse game and the waggle game off of the eighty series. All of these plays are detailed in the videotape that I have published called "Attacking and Defeating the 5-3 Defense." This tape is available from Championship Books and Videos. They can be contacted online at or by calling toll free at 1-800-873-2730.

Now lets look at the buck series. We start by running the trap option pass for the same reasons that we ran the belly keep pass - the outside linebacker cannot stop the slant unless he widens and then the internal and off tackle game will open up. The front side is blocked with "gap-on-area" assignments and the backside guard pulls to protect the quarterback. The fullback and backside tackle will block the backside but the backside end must be held by the threat of the reverse and the waggle. If the backside defensive end is too aggressive then keep this play in reserve until he is softer off the edge. (Diagram 5)  

When running the trap option it is best to crack the stacked outside linebacker and pitch off of the defensive end. The wingback flares to block the corner and the combination of the trap option pass and the trap option are antagonistic to the defense. (Diagram 6)  

Once the outside linebacker begins to widen to stop the trap option pass and the trap option the internal and off tackle game will open up. To run up the middle with the buck series we would use no motion plays to keep the outside linebacker wide. We would also use "odd" blocking to insure that the defensive tackles do not collapse and stop the fullback internal game. The final phase of the buck series is the trap option reverse and the waggle game. These plays are also described in great detail in my videotapes.

Finally, we will alter the formations by putting both spread ends on the same side.   This will cause the defense to either put both corners over on the same side or shift the three stacked linebackers over. If they shift the linebackers they have now disrupted their core. This is the adjustment that we want them to use. Regardless of which adjustment they select, we will continue to use the Same plays with slight adjustments to the blocking.  (Diagram 7)  

In conclusion, to defeat this defense, you must think outside the box! Do not play into their hands by putting your players, in a confined space and create extra linebackers.   Spread the defense out and make their alignments a liability rather than a strength. You do not need a ton of plays to defeat these defenses just the two series described in this article. Each series gives you flank-to-flank offense that all looks the same for the first two steps yet attacks the defense at multiple points of attack and sets up assignment conflicts for the defense. Good luck!

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