Pass Rush - Definition and Explanation

Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the Kansas City Chiefs slides on the turf as he scrambles against Chris Harris #25 of the Denver Broncos
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A pass rush is an attempt by the defensive players to get to the quarterback so they can tackle him before he can successfully get off a pass attempt. The goal of a pass rush is to either sack the quarterback for a loss of yards or force him into making a mistake.

A pass rush most commonly consists of defensive linemen, and may also include a linebacker, defensive back, or a safety. The pass rushers aim to avoid the offensive linemen, who protect the quarterback and block the defense.

Reasons for a Pass Rush

There is a number of different reasons that a defense would utilize a pass rush. A successful pass rush severely limits the total amount of time that a quarterback has to make a decision behind the line of scrimmage. Ideally, a pass rush will cause the quarterback to make a mistake, such as fumble the ball or throw an interception that leads to a turnover. It could also lead to a sack which results in a loss of yards.

Types of Pass Rush

A standard pass rush involves four defensive linemen who try to elude or overpower the offensive linemen to get to the quarterback. Defensive linemen are the most common pass rushers.

Blitzing

Teams can also choose to bring additional pass rushers in what is called a “blitz.” In a blitz, in addition to the defensive linemen, linebackers, cornerbacks, or even safeties will join in on the pass rush. There is no limit to the number of players a defense is allowed to send on a pass rush, as they can send all eleven on the field.

A blitz is a very high-risk, high-reward strategy however. It puts more pressure on the quarterback, but it also leaves fewer players back in pass coverage, which in turn leaves the defense susceptible to potentially give up a big play. Thus, if such a blitz is unsuccessful, it leaves a higher likelihood that a pass will be completed.

The most common type of blitz is the linebacker blitz, where the linebackers will look to shoot through gaps in the offensive line created by the surging defensive linemen. Safety and cornerback blitzes are less common and more dangerous for the defense.

A pass rush is not considered a blitz if a team brings four rushers or less. A pass rush is only considered a blitz if the defense rushes more than four players.

In an attempt to prevent a successful pass play, teams sometimes opt to do the opposite of blitz, and rush less than four players. In this scenario, only three of the defensive linemen will usually pass rush. This leaves the quarterback with more time to pass the ball, but it puts more players downfield in position to defend. This strategy is often employed toward the end of games when the defensive team is trying to hold on to a lead.