[Ed: Excellent diary that helps orient everyone to the 3-3-5.]
One of the greatest difficulties Michigan faces in the Big Ten is that there are a vast array of offenses deployed. You have the Wisconsin’s and Michigan State’s of the world still running two TE with a FB and slamming down your throats, and Northwestern and Purdue on the opposite end of the spectrum. Then you have all those teams in between, the single back look from Iowa, the mixed attack of Penn State, and the offense that periodically exists in Columbus and Champaign. Because it is unfeasible to switch defenses to match offenses in college football (see move to 3-3-5 against Purdue in 2008), it is important to find a base defense that can be implemented to at least some degree of success against these different teams. >
This means two things, one, you need some versatility in your players. Two, you need to put your players in the situation that helps them the most. I’m not going to say either way that the 3-3-5 is that, I just want to give a brief overview of the defense and then make a few points at the end.
First I’ll cover some basics.
This is the numbering system I’ll be using, where the dark circle with the X is the center:
Note, that for linebackers, the numbering system adds a zero to the end. For example, if a LB is lined up off the line, but stacked above a 4-tech DE, he would be playing a 40 technique. Pictured below is the base formation.
Defensive ends (DE) are in 4-techniques, or head on with the offensive tackle. Nose tackle (NT) is on the nose of the ball. Outside Linebackers (OLB) are in a 40-tech, while the middle linebacker (MLB/Mike) is in a 10-tech. The strong safeties (SS/Spur) are three yards off the line and three yards outside of the last man on the line. Corners (CB) are 5-9 yards off the line over the wide receivers, and the free safety (FS) is deep center. While this seems like a 2-gap system for the NT, it will be typical to apply some sort of slant to make it actually more of a 1-gap system.
Next you will see a basic coverage that will be run. This is a cover-3, zone under. Notice that there are no stunts or blitzes here. This is a very vanilla defense and would only be run in obvious pass downs most likely. Red is deep zones (in this case thirds), yellow indicates flats/seems, and green is underneath zones for hooks and curls (the MLB in this case covers the “hole”).
The next look is at a very simple outside linebacker blitz. This is still a cover-3, zone under. [Ed: continued after the jump, with lots more diagrams and some simple bullets on pros and cons.]
Notice the only change is in the linebacker coverage, where now the MLB no longer covers the hole, but instead covers the unoccupied OLB zone. The zones get a little larger as the LBs must now cover a little more area. The OLB is blitzing the A-gap and there is a slant left.
A similar blitz can be done in various ways when the slant is the same side as the blitzer. Below, you can notice the OLB is now blitzing the B-gap.
Next you see a pinch, now the OLB is attaching the C-gap. These are 3 really basic zone blitzes that will be incorporated. Most likely the blitzing OLB will be Roh in our case.
Blitzes can then start to get more creative while keeping the basic cover-3, zone under look. Blitzes can come from any of the LBs, or from the SSs.
These different blitz packages (plus many more options) can confuse the offensive line and QB, not to mention quickly fill gaps in the run game.
It gets more confusing for offenses however once you start implementing different zone coverages as well. Below is an example of a cover-2, zone under, sending 4 guys at the QB.
Furthermore, all the blitzes can be applied to this zone, and further zones, such as inverted cover-2s and cover-1, man under.
DE: Must control gap. On blitzes they must turn their blockers shoulder allowing for LBs to get free to the ball. Heavy emphasis on slants.
NT: Preferably a 2-gap NT, but can suffice with a 1-gap because of slants. Must maintain control of assigned gap.
D-Line as whole: goal is to maintain gap responsibility, allowing for the rest of the team to flow unabated to their assigned position.
Mike: Responsible for A-gap not assigned to NT. Must fill hole hard at point of attack a destroy any cut back (if play is toward slant) or be prepared to take on pull (if away from slant). Coverage is assigned as stated above (typically hole or hook/curls).
OLB: Responsible for B and C gap, depending on slant. If DE they are stacked over has B-gap responsibility, OLB takes C-gap. Coverage accordingly (typically hooks and curls).
Linebackers as a whole: Fill gaps hard. Be prepared for pulls as it is typical to have inside gaps. Get to gap before ball carrier and fill strong.
Strong Safeties: D-Gap and flat responsibilities. TEs and slots in man coverage. Force runs back inside.
CB: Maintain responsibility, keep in coverage. Essentially typical CB responsibilities for any defense.
FS: Ball Hawk.
As stated above, the 3-3-5 is extremely versatile. You can see from the various zones and blitzes/stunts that it can be confusing for an offense. The versatility extends however to other formations. Below you will see a 3-3-5 strong.
As you can see, this looks very familiar. AKA, it looks like a 4-2-5, or a lot like what we ran last year. While it can be called something different, look different at first, this will be typical in my opinion of what will happen next year, with Roh moving up and essentially playing another DE. The line, from left to right, is in a 7-1-3-5-techniques respectively. The linebackers, from left to right, are in a 40-tech and 30-tech.
As some people might note that Rich Rod apparently enjoys a football player that has speed, the 3-3-5 defense is a style of defense that maximizes that potential. Essentially, it is like a spread version of a defense, with players spread sideline to sideline and flying to the ball. While players should fly to the ball in every defense, the 3-3-5 allows more players better angles to utilize their athleticism more so than a physical presence to take on blocks and such.
It is also difficult to scheme for from an offensive point of view due to its versatility, particularly in the pass game. This is because at any one time, up to 5 different players can blitz from a point close to the line of scrimmage, making an immediate impact on offensive linemen reads and QB reads. The other difficulty from an offensive point of view is the various zone drops that can be implemented. From typical cover 3-zone under, to a cover 1-man under, to inverted zones where the SS will drop into the cover 3, or cover 2s where the FS steps up instead of back, cover 2s where FS slides to one side, back side CB takes other deep half, to all other various zone options. This makes it very confusing for a QB to pick apart. Especially when you combine the two with zone blitzes. These blitzes can also cause havoc in the run game.
It allows us to have our 11 best athletes on the field. By having 5 so-called DBs on the field, our athleticism is optimized. It also allows us to use many of these hybrid players (such as DT/DE hybrids as 3-3-5 DE, DE/OLB as 3-3-5 OLB, S/LB hybrids at spur).
Obviously, run defense can be seen as a weakness in this defense. With only 3 down linemen, gaps seem to be larger than your typical 4-3 defense. If your linemen lose ground and get pushed back, huge gaps open up as the other players trying to fly to the ball now have obstacles in their way in the form of 300 pound men.
With many blitzes necessary, it opens up the you win-some, you lose-some mentality. The effect of blitzes and stunts come from the defensive player directly shooting through a gap, many times from a position where it’s not expected he will come from. However, these blitzes also lead to them sometimes starting out of position in the hope that they are quicker to react to getting in position than the offense. This can back fire on run plays where the offensive line reacts less to the defensive line and knows exactly where the ball is going. A slant or blitz can take a team out of position to make a play, thus, you win some, you lose some.
Obviously, this year, a weakness is that it is a new defense that the players once again have to adjust to. One of the hopes leading into next season was consistency with responsibilities and terminology from last year. While much of the terminology may be the same or at least more similar than a new DC, a new defensive scheme still leads to players thinking more, rather than their responsibilities acting as second nature.
It sucks that we are switching defenses again, yes, but this may be a long term outlook. I know many don’t like hearing that because so much of Rich Rod’s future depends on this year, but in the end, many of the players recruited fit better into this new 3-3-5 defense. It is versatile and not as typical, making it more difficult for offenses to prepare. Personally, I still prefer the 4-3 under, but with the talent we have and players we have, this switch does make sense. Hope this helped, and sorry if the formatting is awful, I can’t claim to be good at this stuff.
EDIT: As someone noted below, zone blitzes typically refer to when linemen drop into zones. What I meant by zone blitzes is blitzes with zone concepts behind it. Though the typical zone blitz definition can still apply to the 3-3-5.
EDIT 2: Small rant now gone. Probably wasn't the place for it so continue on as if it did not exist.