Formation Experimentation: The 3-5-3

From the FanPosts  -Joel

With all the talk recently of 3-4/4-3 switching, where our safeties line up, and who's going to come out of the train wreck we have at linebacker, I started looking at options outside of the base 3-4 defense Romeo will employ and into some options for different looks we could feasibly throw at teams.  I've got several non-traditional formations in mind that I'll go over and how they could be applied to the 2010 squad, discuss their merits, and debate whether or not we have the personnel to run it.  The first:  the 3-5-3!

CAVEAT:  Before anyone jumps down my throat or thinks I've gone off the deep end, I'm quite familiar with Romeo's tactics and how set in his ways he will be. I am not suggesting a scheme switch for this team, merely discussion of a series of non-standard schemes and how they would/wouldn't fit our team. This is purely a fun and speculative venture, so please, read it as such. =)

Ah, the 3-5-3.  Lacking a solid safety tandem?  No problem with this formation.  Got a bunch of 4-3 linebackers but not the 4-3 linemen?  Try this one on for size.  Wanting to confuse the crap out of the opposition's o-line?  The 3-5-3 will certainly do that.


Photo source

The formation is not that abnormal while looking at it stationary.  As a matter of fact, from this top down view, it looks like a 3-4 with better short/mid pass coverage and terribly large holes in the deep secondary.  Position by position, it breaks down a little bit different than that.

NT, T, T:  This really doesn't stray from the 3-4 responsibilities.  The three guys up front take up blockers and create space for the other players in the run game, just the same as the 3-4.  The difference, however, is where they're lined up.  The DT's end up more in front of the OT's than in the 3-4, leaving several options for players who can fill the spot.  A Dorsey/Jackson combination would play more like what we saw last year, but there's also the possibility of a Hali/Gilberry combination that plays more like a 4-3 DE tandem.  Most 3-5-3's are run this way, with faster, more athletic DE's taking the outside shoulder of the OT and trying to get around them, rather than eat up blockers in the center of the offense.

S, M, W:  Ah yes, the 4-3 linebackers...kind of.  The Will backer really is your roving LB that is there to stuff run, drop into coverage, and generally be free of most blockers...quite similar to the 4-3 Will backer.  The Sam and Mike backers, on the other hand, play more like your traditional inside linebackers from a 3-4...getting into the center of the o-line and creating havoc.  It's a weird blend of both worlds.

H:  This is truly a hybrid spot.  Ideally, you want a player that can switch from run to pass regardless of the situation.  Without a called blitz, this player will come into the play behind/around the DE and attempt to get to the QB or RB...unless there's a receiver on their side.  Because there's no extra safety, this player is responsible for the slot receiver and TE.  A 4 WR set?  These guys are BOTH dropping into coverage unless the Sam or Will backer takes the receiver.  This leaves the position wide open to any number of players.  A 3-4 OLB is great against the run, but could be a liability against the pass.  A nickel CB or SS type player is great against the pass, but could be a liability against the run and could lack in pass rush.  This is truly a 'tweener slot.

C, C, FS:  Nothing special here, except the FS has a lot of ground to cover.


So how does this work against runs/passes?  Well, the good folks over at American Football Monthly have provided some nice diagrams.  We'll start with the run:


The beautiful thing about this defense is how confusing it can be.  Rarely are players NOT stunting/switching and mixing up the runs to the ballcarrier.  You'll notice the NT shooting the strongside A gap, with both DE's taking the outside route around the OT's.  The strongside Hybrid stays put on the TE.  If the TE goes out for a pass, he's got coverage.  Otherwise, he'll try to get through the TE to the ballcarrier.  The Will backer dives into the weakside A gap with the Mike backer looping behind him into the empty space left by the weakside guard, most likely meeting up with the FB.  This leaves the weakside hybrid AND the Sam backer with paths to the ballcarrier on both sides of the field.  Play-action pass?  No problem, as the weakside hybrid, and both CB's are in man coverage and one of the free defenders is responsible for the RB should he go out into the flat.

That is one example of a huge number of stunts in the run game that can be utilized with this defense.  The defense could run a different combination every down of every game if they wanted to...and that's why it's so confusing to the opposition.  Because there's 8 players in the box, able to switch and loop wherever the coach has instructed them to, blocking assignments get blown out of the water.  So with that discovered, naturally the offense is going to want to stretch the defense to keep linemen from having to guess.  With that, let's look at the pass:


This is a STRETCHED offensive setup.  The DE's will again try to get around the outside of the OT's, both providing pass rush and outside contain for a scrambling QB.  The NT will try to get penetration, and usually one of the LB's will make a delayed rush after securing the slant route.  The hybrids are one-upped against a slot receiver or TE, and the RB is either the Mike or Will backer's responsibility.  The FS has the back 1/3rd and the CB's are manned up on the outside receivers.  The LB's are there to protect against the short middle, sort of a zone, and the Will/Mike can peel off to help the hybrids if needed.


Where could this help us?

DJ, Belcher (or Mays), and Demorrio on the field at the same time, in a formation that plays more to their strong suits than a traditional 3-4, would most likely show improvement over our linebacker squad from last year.  Also, there's very little an offensive lineman can count on after the snap, and with the blend of defensive linemen we have, the amount of speed/power/skill substitutions Romeo could have is mind-boggling.  8 guys that can be in the backfield, but just as easily 8 guys who can drop into coverage...keeps 'em guessing.

Where could this hurt us?

Our CB's are on an island, and in a 4 WR set, we better hope our hybrids can cover.  Deep balls could go for even more without the extra safety there.  Pass rush would be stifled in spread sets.  It could be just as confusing to our players as it is to the opposition.

How could we line up?

Multiple options here.  On early downs, against the run, something more traditional could be possible:





Essentially, we've taken Page off the field and put another linebacker in the box.  Nothing too difficult.  However, on an unsure down where we want to have adequate pass coverage but still stuff run or bring pressure:





Both Vrabel and Arenas can cover, Dorsey moves to an under tackle position, and Tamba puts his hand in the dirt as a DE.  The players are there to try and stop the run or cover the pass.  Now, on obvious passing downs:





Bring Page in to cover the 4th wideout, and sub in Gilberry for the extra pass rush.


Confusion and keeping the opponent guessing are the keys to this defense.  Head coach Bert Williams of Georgia Military College, who has run the 3-5-3 for a little while now and consistently finishes in the upper ranks of the NJCAA had this to say about his defense:

“On every snap our defensive line is moving. It’s a more aggressive style defense and it is a rule-breaker defense for the offensive line. As a life-long offensive line coach, this front is a booger to block because these guys are coming at you in so many different ways. The offensive line can’t fire off the ball and drive them out because they don’t know where they’re going."

I really like the idea of a defense that is very hard to gameplan around, and all the stunts/switches would certainly make for an exciting watch.  On the other hand, we're putting a lot of weight on a very young secondary with potentially less of a pass rush than last year.

What do you guys think?  Do we have the personnel to be able to run this effectively?  Would it scare the crap out of you to know we're one blown coverage away from a big play?  Conversely, would it be fun to watch the intricacies of the formation and what this unique blend could provide?  Let me know in the comments what you think!

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.