Breaking the Stack: Defending Trips in the 3-3-5 Defense

In my Coaching the 3-3-5 Defense eBook, I talked about defending Trips and how to adjust to it. With a base Cover 3 behind us, I find defending Trips formations with a ¼ – ¼ – ½ principle to be the most effective coverage. But you may want to make some other adjustments.

When you run a balanced defense like the 3-3-5 or 3-5-3 Defense (which are the same defense), offenses will try to un-balance you. By being balanced, we mean that if you draw up your base defense and draw a line right down the middle of the Offensive Center, you’ll look the same on both sides.

How do they try to unbalance you? With unbalanced formations. That could mean a Tackle Over look, but more likely you’ll see formations like Twins and Trips. These formations force you to make a decision on whether to make no adjustment, break your stack, or move corners (or safeties) over.

Refusing to Break the Stack

If you make no adjustments in the 3-3-5 Defense, you are not in terrible shape. That can’t be said for all defenses. Assuming your Inside Linebackers can run a little bit, they can still handle the Hook-Curl area, while your Strong Safety coves the flats. The Corner and Free Safety are now playing Deep ¼’s on the Trips Side, while the Corner on the back side has a Deep ½ coverage, but only one vertical threat.

Your only decision left here is to either play man to man on the single receiver side, or play a zone coverage with the Weak Safety there to help underneath on the single receiver. In this interview on The Football Coaching Podcast, Pete Mutascio talked about bringing that Weak Safety off the edge against Trips formations.

Many coaches are very committed to not breaking the stack. I have done it both ways. As a Linebacker Coach, I like the fact that my Linebackers do not ever have to change their position and their view on reads and keys. In passing situations, we may loosen the Trips side Inside Linebacker 2-3 yards out to help, while keeping him in place on run downs.

Another way to play this is to use a Man coverage concept and bring the heat. You can either roll down the Free Safety to play man on one of the Trips receivers, and play a Cover 0 – or bring the Weak Safety over to play man on the inside receiver, while still playing a Cover 1.

Breaking the Stack

Your other option is to break the stack, meaning to get your Linebackers unstacked from the Defensive Linemen. You do not have to change gap responsibilities here. You simply need to think carefully about where you want players slanting and blitzing.

In this diagram we’re using a Weak Mike call, slanting away from the Trips and bringing the Mike Linebacker. Each Linebacker starts their alignment in a “PULL” Call, pulled out toward the Trips receivers.

This gives your Defense a 3-4 appearance. You are in a better position for a 4-on-3 numbers advantage to the Trips side. We’re still playing the same coverage, a ¼ – ¼ – ½ field coverage that fits nicely with all of the Cover 3 principles our players already know. To give you some added protection against the threat of 4 Verticals, you could use something similar to our Quarters Survivor call (TCU’s SOLO call), as well.

Want to learn more about the 3-3-5 Defense? Check out Coaching Football’s 3-3-5 Defense eBook. Or try a Free 7 Day Trial of for hundreds more coaching articles!

  • Coach Daniel

    Thanks Coach, I agree with what you’re saying. I always like listening to the high school guys.

  • Joe Brannon

    I like the new format mixed in with interviews.
    I coach high school football in Texas….I don’t want to listen to how the pros or D1 athletes are coached….I want nuts and bolts schemes.
    Thanks for your contribution to the profession. The more defense the better!

  • Coach Daniel

    Yep, we used to call him a Sam. I’ve never played the ILB as anything other than right and left (Ram and Lion)

  • ChadJohnson

    Are you refering to the Sam LB being the overhang safety rather than a inside LB? The only reason I ask is because you said you would not break the stack. Just getting a little clarification on your teams terminology

  • Coach Daniel

    If it’s just two split receivers and a tight end to one side, and a split receiver on the single receiver side, I would not break the stack and just play our normal defense. Have the Sam Linebacker split the difference between #2 and the EMOLS and play a 1/4, 1/4, 1/2 coverage.

  • ChadJohnson

    What is your advice with defending Trypes (2 flankers with a TE on the same side) out of the 335 defense?