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January 29, 2010 • Football

Stack 3-3 Five-Man Zone Blitzes

This article is an addendum to the article “Stack 3-3 Zone Blitzes” published here in August 2006.

That article detailed four-man rush schemes with a four-under three-deep configuration.

This article explores the anatomy of a rush five-drop six concept, which obviously allows the defense to exert more pressure than a rush four-drop-seven scheme.

Before the advent of the zone blitz concept defenses would have had to use man-to-man coverage with all its attendant problems, i.e.:

  • Mismatches with offensive personnel.
  • Completions usually mean longer gains.
  • Interceptions are less likely because defenders have their backs to the ball.
  • Scrambling quarterbacks are harmful because defenders have their backs turned.
  • Play-action passes may present a conflict between run/pass responsibilities.
  • Man coverage busts are more costly than zone busts.

The ability to stunt and play zone allows the defense to pressure the quarterback and enjoy the benefits of zone coverage, i.e.

  • Offers better run support.
  • Allows defenders to better see the ball and break when the ball is thrown.
  • Defenders don’t have their backs to a scrambling quarterback.
  • Gang tackling is more conducive in zone than man.
  • Less talented players can be used.
  • Zone defenses handle crossing rotes, picks, and rub-offs better than man coverage.

Zone blitzes can be run from a multitude of defensive systems. However, the availability of eight two-point defenders makes the 3-3 or 3-4 defenses a prime conduit for an effective zone-blitz package.

The following compendium of zone blitzes allows the defense to bring pressure from the strong side, weak side, right or left. The ability to blitz from the right and left allows the defensive coordinator to attack wide side or short side.

College names are used to call the blitzes: Spartan denotes a blitz from the strong side.

Wildcat brings pressure from the weak side.

LSU triggers the blitz from the left, while Raven is from the defense’s right.

The coverage call is Zebra, which puts the defense in a rush five-three under-three deep

zone. Later on, we will discuss running these stunts with man coverage, which we call Cover Money. 

3-3 Personnel

Before discussing the particulars of zone blitzes, we must first examine personnel.

Diag. 1 (below, top) shows base personnel.

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N – nose
E – ends
B – bats
M – mike
D – dogs
C – corners
F – free safety

In the generic base look, the defense has a left and right end, left and right bat, and left and right dog. For stunt purposes you must distinguish those positions by offensive strength.

Diag. 1 (above, bottom) shows personnel predicated on offensive strength.

S – stud (strong end)
E – end (weak end)
B – bandit (strong bat)
W – will (weak bat)
M – mike
D – dog (strong dog)
R – rover (weak dog)
C – corners
F – free safety 

Zone Blitz Line Play

The stunt-side end will slant two gaps away from the stunt. This is called a Long Stick. The nose and away side end slant one gap away from the stunt. This is called a Sooner technique.

Spartan (strong side) Cover Zebra, Diag. 2 (below, top)

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Nose – Sooner
Stud – Long stick
End – Sooner
Bandit – stunt
Will – curl/flat
Mike – zone over #3
Dog – stunt
Rover – spin to hole
Corners – deep outside 1/3
Free Safety – spin to stunt side curl/flat
Wildcat (weak side) Cover Zebra, Diag. 2 (above, bottom)
Nose – Sooner
Stud – Sooner
End – Long stick
Bandit – curl/flat
Will – stunt
Mike – zone over #3
Dog – spin to hole
Rover – stunt
Corners – deep outside 1/3
Free safety – spin to stunt side curl/flat
LSU (left side) Cover Zebra Diag 3 (below, top)

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Raven (right side) Cover Zebra Diag 3 (above, bottom)

An LSU call brings the five-man pressure from the defense’s left. Raven brings the pressure from the defense’s right. This flexibility enables the defensive coordinator to bring pressure to the quarterback’s blind side, enables him to attack selected offensive personnel, wide side, short side, and attack offensive tendencies.

The offensive formation is irrelevant. The stunt is direction oriented.

A lane exchange on the backside of the blitz is possible. This supplies additional pressure on the offense.

Diag. 4 (below, top), Spartan Eon Cover Zebra

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Diag. 4 (above, bottom), Wildcat Sun Cover Zebra

Disguising Zone Blitz

Care must be taken that the offense doesn’t readily diagnose the defense’s intention of running the blitzes. It would be beneficial to have the Dogs fake blitzes with simple up/back and in/out movements pre- snap.

The Free Safety can also give the illusion that he is spinning by simply leaning right or left pre-snap. Another effective disguise would be to run the blitzes from a cover 2 shell.

Blitzes With Man Coverage

If your defense is blessed with good athletes, you can run these blitzes with man coverage. Cover Money means man coverage. The rules are very simple. They are as follows:

Nose – Sooner
End to the stunt – Long stick
End away from the stunt – Sooner
Bat to the stunt – stunt
Bat away from the stunt – #2 man to man
Mike – #3 man to man
Dog to the stunt – stunt
Dog away from the stunt – spin to hole
Corners – #1 man to man
Free safety – #2 to the stunt man to man

These rules can be applied to any of the above-mentioned blitzes.

Diag. 5 Spartan Cover Money is an example of one of the previously described stunts using man coverage.

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About the Author

Kenny Ratledge is defensive coordinator at Sevierville (TN) County H.S.


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