3-3 Stack Adjustments to Handle Heavy/Unbalanced Formations

Jul 22, 2019 | Front, Defense, Odd Front Structures

By Brock Harney
Defensive Coordinator
La Crosse Logan High School (WI)



Defensive packages benefit from having "canned" or "automatic" adjustments to different situations designed to put stress on a defense.  Every defense installs a coverage check or base adjustment to Trips formations in the passing game.  In order to be sound and prepared, defenses must also have a base adjustment to:

  1. Heavy Personnel (31, 32, 22, or other creative sets with 1 or no WRs)
  2. Unbalanced Sets (Any set that only has 2 players on the LOS on one side of the ball)
  3. An additional offensive lineman on the front (Extra OL- we refer to as “Fat”)


Failure to prepare for these situations will cause breakdowns in run defense in the same way that failing to account for Trips/Empty/Quads will cause breakdowns in pass defense.  Defenses usually know how to adjust to these groupings once presented with the formation, but the challenge lies in teaching players to recognize these situations and go to adjustments before the offense can use the formation to their advantage.

Our version of the 3-3 Stack is predicated on control of the interior 6 gaps, C gap to C Gap.  Depending on personnel, we may do this by playing a single gap control defense or by having specific players playing 2 gaps.  Regardless, our 6 players in the box must be able to shut down the interior 6 gaps in order to be sound vs the run.  Adjustments to heavy and unbalanced sets largely involve the players responsible for setting a hard edge and 2nd/3rd layer support behind the front.

Diagram 1


3-3 Adjustment Rules


Heavy (31, 32, 22, 23 Personnel)


CB/FS (Defensive Backs) Adjustments:

The defensive backs adjust to Heavy personnel groups with a “wide as the widest” rule.  The CB will align as wide as the widest eligible WR.  The down safeties (Hammer and Gun) will remain down to provide a hard edge in the run game.  This adjustment provides support balance in virtually every Heavy situation they encounter.  In situations where there are no WRs removed from the box (23 Personnel), the FS is able to tighten down to a Robber alignment and scrape to action while the CB's provide a deep ½ vs the pass on each side.


H/G (Down Safeties) Adjustments:

The two down safeties will typically align 3x3 on the EMLOS but will adjust to 1x1 alignment vs Heavy Personnel.  In these situations, they become run first players that set an ultra-aggressive edge and lever plays back to the interior 6.  If the scouting report shows that the offense is likely to show a lot of Heavy personnel, this position may be subbed with an OLB or a really athletic DE that can handle themselves in space.  The down safety positions tend to be the most reliable players who are both sturdy and athletic.


S/M/W (Linebackers) Adjustments:

The primary goal with these players is to maintain stack alignment against these personnel groupings while really keying these players on what an offense is likely to do.  It is important to know if the offense is in Heavy to gain leverage on the edge or if they are in Heavy to create run gaps inside.  These players will fit based on the line call given to the front (Gaps or Slant) and take care of their interior 6 gaps.