Triple Option Football

Triple option football is one of the most difficult offensive schemes for a defense to defend.

When a team is running the triple option, the Quarterback has three choices during the play: to give the ball to a Fullback inside (Dive), to keep the ball himself and run off-tackle (Quarterback) or to pitch the ball back to a trailing Running Back attacking the perimeter (Pitch).  These choices or “reads” are all based on the actions of the defense.  Thus, the Quarterback has the ability to make the defense wrong, no matter what it does to defend the football play!

Triple Option Football.

Triple Option Football offers three points of attack: Dive, Quarterback, Pitch.

This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the defense for a number of reasons.  First, option football presents multiple points of attack to the defense.  This makes it very difficult to overload any single point of attack in an attempt to gain a numbers advantage.  Triple Option Football forces the defense to play “1-on-1″ football.

Second, there is a great amount of deception involved in a football option attack.  It is very difficult to identify exactly who has the ball at any given time during the play.  This often forces a defense to play “assignment football” where each defender is responsible for one part of the option (Dive, Quarterback or Pitch).  This further reduces our ability to overload any single point of attack and creates opportunities for defensive mistakes (i.e. tackling a player that is not the correct “assignment” or someone who does not even have the ball by mistake).

Third, triple option football is very different from other football plays.  Many teams offer power attacks, perimeter attacks even passing attacks.  Option football however offers a MENTAL attack.  An attack that forces the defense to be consistent, disciplined and work together as a unit every snap. Option football forces every player to play on an island, to do his job without fail.

Finally, option football is an offensive strategy that requires a tremendous amount of preparation to defend. However, many teams do not run the option.  That means most weeks of the season you will be preparing for other offensive playbooks, and will not have time to devote more than a small portion of practice time to option responsibilities.  This means you will usually only have a week to prepare for triple option football, putting your defense at a severe disadvantage in terms of preparation.

How to defend triple option football

3-5-3 Option Rules

First you have to have defenders assigned to each part of the option: Dive, Quarterback and Pitch.  The 3-5-3 defense follows these basic rules to cover every part of the option:

  • Noseguard – Dive
  • Defensive Tackles – If you move IN you have Dive, if you move OUT you have Quarterback.
  • Inside Linebackers – Opposite the lineman you are stacked with.
  • Middle Linebacker – Dive
  • Outside Linebackers (Studs) – Slow play QB to Pitch (do NOT cross the Line of Scrimmage until the ball is pitched)
  • Corners – Deep 1/3, replace Stud on pitch if he is blocked (secondary pitch)
  • Free Safety – Quarterback to Pitch

*The Free Safety runs the Alley, a 45 degree angle, down hill from the apex of the defensive formation, through the off-tackle area to the perimeter.  He must play the Quarterback on the inside hip, ready to break on the pitch should the Quarterback toss the ball to the Running Back.

Example: Stack Slant Strong vs. Triple Option Strong

Stack Slant Strong vs. Option Strong

Stack Slant Strong vs. Option Strong


In this example, the primary key is the Fullback.  When he flows strong the Nose, Mike and strong side Backer are responsible for dive.  The backside Backer has cutback based on flow (help with dive).  Playside Defensive Tackle has Quarterback in the C gap.  Stud slow plays the Quarterback, forces the pitch then redirects to the running back.  Corner will have secondary pitch responsibility once he identifies run, but he must defend the pass FIRST.  The Free Safety will attack through the alley running to the Quarterbacks inside hip and redirecting on the pitch.

The goal versus the option is to make them pitch it as fast as possible  Once they run out of options (when they pitch) we know who has the ball and can pursue.  The faster this happens, the easier the option is to defend.

These are the base responsibilities versus the triple option.  However, we rarely sit in base versus a triple option offense.  Our goal is to constantly blitz and pressure an option team in various ways to manipulate their reads and force their hand. The key is to keep the offense guessing your option assignments with various pressures, stunts and blitzes.

If we can control how they are running/blocking the option (who is ending up with the ball, blocking assignments, etc.) then we have a much better chance to disrupt the flow of their offense and shut them down.

In my next post, I will discuss using the blitz to shut down a triple option football team.

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