Odd Front: Leveraging the Strong Side Run Game

May 29, 2011 | Front, Defense, Odd Front Structures

By Mike Kuchar Senior Research Manager X&O Labs [email protected]

Researchers' Note: You can access the raw data - in the form of graphs - from our research into odd front defenses: Click here to read the Statistical Analysis Report.

One of the most appealing aspects of playing an odd front is that it is a "mirrored" style defense – both sides of the front look exactly the same.  By definition, an odd front means that you have three down lineman – with the offensive guards uncovered.  We’ve found that the odd front defense, which has been a staple for years at the NFL level thanks to coaches like Bill Belichick and Dick LeBeau, are being utilized more by high school programs now as their base defense.  Although 69.8 percent of coaches utilize more of a 3-4 base, rather than a 3-3-5 base, we will cover both structures for the purpose of this report.   Structurally, for the most part, you have a zero technique nose that’s head up on the center, along with two defensive ends that are either in inside or outside shades on the offensive tackles.  There are two inside linebackers, two outside linebackers, two corners and two safeties.  Its symmetrical structure makes it the scheme of choice to play spread formation teams.   We’ve found that even 32.8 percent of four down lineman defenses employ some form of odd front defense, mainly in passing downs (when coordinators expect wide open sets).

This is all well and good when lining up against open offenses, with two man surfaces (a guard and tackle to either side of the center) because the offense is just as balanced as the defense.  But an issue presents itself when offenses start to break balance by using three or four man surfaces – with the inclusion of the tight end.  No longer can an odd front be balanced.  Creating an extra player, means creating an extra gap in the run game.   So you need a defender to leverage that gap – who you put there is up to you, but we’ve found that these are the most common ways to get an extra hat in the gap:

  • Stunt or angle the nose guard into the play side A gap
  • Drop an outside LB to "cover up" the tight end and play the extra gap to that side
  • Slant or angle the entire defensive line to penetrate gaps to the strong side
  • Drop a deep safety pre or post snap to play more of a 3-3-5 structure
  • Over shift into some form of four down front, reducing the DL into the three-man surface

While all of these can be effective, we selected coaches’ most popular methods and provided insight into how they accomplish them.


Case 1: Techniques/Movements to Get the Nose Into the Play Side A Gap Since the nose is the anchor of any good odd front (just ask the Patriots Vince Wilfork about that) we’ll start there.  The nose is as vital a player in the odd front as the 3-technique defensive tackle is in any even front (a little foreshadowing for later). We’ve found that one of the common misconceptions when implementing this defense is that you need a mammoth nose like Wilfork in order to be successful.   This is entirely untrue.  When playing this scheme you have two options when playing that nose – you can cover him up on the center and play double A gaps in a boxing match – quick hands, quick feet.   If you base him up, a guy like Wilfork would win every time.  Your other option is to move that nose every snap to gain an advantage by using his speed.  In fact, 69.5 percent of our readers prefer to move that nose post-snap rather than have him lock horns with the center and play a two-gap technique.  Travis Bark, the defensive coordinator at Linn-mar High School in Cedar Rapids (IA) feels he doesn’t have the size to match up, so he stunts out of necessity.  "We slant him every down depending on tendencies that we get," says Bark. "We don’t want those guys staying put.  We don’t line up with those monsters up front."  Bark has two calls – "slant" which tells the nose he is slanting to the strength the call, which will usually be the tight end surface.  Or he will have an "opp" or opposite call, which takes the nose away from the call. Of course, the linebackers behind them will need to replace the gaps vacated so if the nose is in the strong side A gap, the weak side LB has the weak A gap.

While this sound like terrific clinic talk, it’s essential that coaches teach their defensive lineman how to slant and angle.  When compiling our research, we’ve found some coaches spend the time teaching visual keys when stunting and some do not.  Jeff Devanney, the head coach at Trinity College in Connecticut, has had one of the top defensive programs in Division-3 for the last five years and leaves nothing to chance when coaching up his stunting lineman.  Devanney moves his nose guard 75 percent of offensive snaps and teaches a six-inch drive step to the next adjacent lineman.  He talks about getting hands into the gap he’s stunting and watching for two possible reads: