The Art of the Pass Rush: Part 1

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]I’m often fascinated by the subtleties of this game that we love: the slight shoulder tilt as a wide receiver enters his stem to manipulate the hips of a defensive back or a young running back on third down picking up the exotic blitz of a Dick Lebeau defense. Or a freshman quarterback looking off a senior safety and throwing a game winning touchdown pass in the overtime of a National Championship game.

These are the perfected nuances of football that are practiced to exhaustion all throughout the season. Executing these assignments in a proficient manner moves the chains, but the defensive side of the ball requires the players to be just as sagacious and crafty as the offense.

One of most important aspects of football is a pass rushers’ ability to win one on one situations and apply pressure on the quarterback. This, as we all should know, is known as pass rushing, but what are the techniques utilized by revered defensive players like Von Miller or JJ Watt? How do these players put themselves in advantageous situations to set themselves up to win every rep?

Before we get into specific pass rushing moves and combinations, I want to explain the importance of the half man relationship. A pass rusher is generally at a size disadvantage to an offensive lineman, so attacking said lineman head on puts the defender in a precarious situation. The pass rushers are usually much more athletic and rely on quickness, flexibility, and explosiveness to win a rep. It makes much more sense for the 250 pound pass rusher to attack half of the 310 pound offensive lineman, whether that be to the inside or the outside. This could also lead to technical errors by the offensive lineman, due to the fact that it forces him to open his hips, move his feet, and utilize proper angles, which through fatigue and high competition, could leave him vulnerable.

This helps maximize the athletic advantages of the pass rusher, while negating the ability for the offensive lineman to utilize all of his strength. Attacking one side of a lineman’s pass set not only mitigates his strength, but it also puts the pass rusher in a much easier position to get hip to hip with the lineman, which sets up a lot of the pass rushing moves we are about to go over.

Sure, a pass rushers skillset is predicated on speed and power that generates force, which is used to dominate one’s opponent, but we must take a look at the technical aspect of how these pass rushers win; how they maximize their leverage, the positioning of their feet, and how they use their hands are vital to their success. These subtle details amplify a pass rushers’ ability to employ a specific move and in this article we will detail some of the more popular moves that are invaluable to a defense’s ability in passing situations.

Here is The Art of the Pass Rush Part 1:

Long Arm/Armover

Here is Tim Williams executing the long arm technique and an arm over move

Technically, these are two seperate pass rushing moves that can be employed by pass rushers’ in a variety of different ways, but both of these actions can almost be used in conjunction with each other. Pass rushers who can combine several moves while having a potent plan of attack are dangerous. Football is a game of attrition and it’s just as mental as it is physical, so knowing the opponent’s tendencies really puts a pass rusher in an advantageous position. Pass rushers’ that can string moves together and be able to effectively counter are the ones who torment offensive lineman throughout the game. Here’s Tim Williams at the University of Alabama vs their SEC rival, the Kentucky Wildcats:

First, this is an excellent play design by Alabama. Williams shows patience here and allows his teammate, Reuben Foster, to engage the guard on a blitz before engaging the tackle, which creates an isolation with the tackle and leaves plenty of space for an inside counter move. Williams then attacks the outside half of the tackle, which opens the tackles hips, while initiating contact, with his inside arm, on a long arm technique.

If used correctly, this move limits the accessible surface area of the chest and keeps an open hand free for a second move. Through fear of Williams speed and a forceful push, the tackle over sets to the outside and the rest is history.

Williams angles his feet and hips inside towards the quarterback, where there is a gigantic hole in the B-Gap. He then brings his outside arm over top of the tackle and forcefully chops downward on the outside part of the inside arm of said tackle. This clears the hands of the tackle and provides an open alley for Williams to earn a strip sack.

Having the ability to counter inside with moves gives the defense an advantage over the offensive lineman in one on one isolated situations. The tackle must be cognizant of the pass rushers’ ability to go inside and wreck havoc. Anytime the tackle over commits, the defender can make him pay and that is exactly what happened above.   

The Swim Move

The swim move is just another way of saying the arm-over move, but it’s a move that is frequently used and deserved its own section. The Swim move is best performed on the outside shoulder of an offensive lineman, but I’m going to show you another excellent inside swim here. The Swim move is very effective and easier to execute for taller players, but the caveat is that the pass rusher has to expose his chest for this move to work, so a pass rusher must stick to his fundamentals, in order to not get eliminated from the play. Let me explain some of the key points to an effective swim move:

1). The pass rusher must explode low to high and then clear the hands of the offensive lineman, with a chop or a swipe. This mitigates the risk of the lineman gaining the chest that will be exposed as the rep progresses.

2). The pass rusher must get hip to hip with the lineman. This helps maintain the half-man relationship and gives the pass rusher several options, while setting up the rest of the move.

3). The pass rusher has to grab, pull, or violently chop/club the swim side shoulder of the lineman. This, along with the clearing of the hands, will get the lineman off balance and set-up the final portion of the move.

4). Bringing the opposite side arm over the top of the lineman and punching through and downward.

Cameron Jordan executes an excellent inside swim move against Andrew Whitworth in their 2017 Week 12 matchup.

While lined up as a 5-technique in a 4 point stance, Jordan explodes out of his stance and tries to attack the half man outside, but Whitworth is in good position to combat his attempt. Jordan lowers his hips and drives up the arc, while maintaining inside hand placement and utilizing his arm length to keep Whitworth from firmly gaining his chest. Jordan has the strength and balance to drive up the arc, while almost having his chest parallel to the ground.

He then clears Whitworth’s outside hand, with a quick outside hand swipe of his own, while simultaneously pulling Whitworth’s inside shoulder down, which puts himself hip to hip with the veteran left tackle. Jordan then follows that move up with a swift over the top inside swim move that he finishes by punching downward and exploding inside for the sack.

That wasn’t the only sack that Cameron Jordan earned in that Week 12 matchup. You can see how he obtained success as a 6-technique, lined over the tight end Gerald Everett and wide of right tackle Robert Havenstein. Jordan manipulates Havenstein’s footwork by going inside, making Havenstein process the fact that this could be a stunt or a bull-rush, but it was a facade.

He clears Havenstein’s hands with an outside arm club and pull, which propelled Jordan to the tackle’s outside hip, while shooting his arm over the top of the tackle’s body. Jordan used his back as a shield, while he dipped his shoulder, softened the edge, and used his lower body flexion to get his hips and feet pointed towards Jared Goff. This was an excellent example of a crafty pass rusher, who can utilize deception to maximize his ability to win one on one matchups, while providing us with another sample of how the swim move is effectively employed.

Here is the Giants 2018 5th round selection, RJ McIntosh, at the University of Miami. He is lined up as a 0-technique, directly over the center, and he uses the swim move to defeat Toledo’s center and earn a sack through interior pressure. Directly off the snap, McIntosh clears the hands of the center, with an outside arm swipe, and shoots the A-gap, while getting hip to hip and punching over the top of the center with his inside arm. This easily defeats the center and the guard is late to the block, due to Zach McCloud’s (#53) delayed stunt to the opposite B-Gap.

McIntosh executed this move in a very quick and precise manner and that precision is the difference between stopping a drive on third down or exposing your chest and getting bullied, due to a poorly performed swim move.

The Rip Move

(Here is Romeo Okwara executing The Rip Move)

Pull – Rip

The Rip Move is one of the most commonly used pass rushing techniques in the NFL. It’s an excellent move that’s most effective when the pass rusher possesses speed up the arc, a low center of gravity, lower body flexion, and an ability to corner, while getting one’s feet and flipping one’s hips towards the pocket. The move relies heavily on lower body control and leverage and is one of the more successful moves when employed as a second or third move at the top of the arc. Let’s take a look at Romeo Okwara vs the Chargers in Week 5 of 2017.

Okwara is not known for his speed, but while lined up wide, in a 2 point stance, he gets the best of Russell Okung. Okwara has a solid get off, but doesn’t win with speed and Okung is initially in a solid position to execute his assignment. Okwara maintains a half-man relationship with Okung, while keeping his hips lower, which will support his low center of gravity throughout the rep.

Once the half-man relationship is established, Okwara grabs Okung’s inside hand, with his own inside hand, which makes Okung lean forward. Then Okwara uses his outside hand to pull Okung’s jersey downward, which inevitably forces Okung even more off balance.

The overextension of Okung’s hips forces his chest to be parallel with the turf, which cues Okwara to drop his weight and dip his inside shoulder, while taking his inside arm and violently “punching the sky” underneath Okung’s outside armpit. Okwara’s back unavoidably creates a shield between himself and Okung and the only way the left tackle, who is out of position and off balanced, can compensate is to blantely hold the pass rusher.

Okwara maintains a solid speed through the contact and is able to flip his hips at the top of the arc and apply pressure on Philip Rivers, while showing very good burst at the end of the play. As a pass rusher, one is taught to keep their hands open, in order to grab cloth or the arm of an offensive lineman; we saw this be rewarding twice in one example for Romeo Okwara.

Rip moves aren’t just used on the exterior parts of the line of scrimmage. Interior defensive line can really thrive using this move as well. Calais Campbell is one of the best lineman in the game and despite his gigantic size, he is still able to maintain a low center of gravity and utilize excellent leverage. Let’s take a look, shall we?

An excellent play call by defensive coordinator Todd Wash helped free up Campbell, who was isolated on a guard as a 3-technique. From a Wide-9 defensive end position, Yannick Ngakoue slants hard to the inside shoulder of the left tackle, which sets up the loop by Campbell, who has to execute this move with precise timing.

Once Ngakoue crashes, Campbell can work the outside shoulder of the guard, which he does with ease. Campbell establishes himself with inside hand placement on the guard’s breastplate and through shear power pulls the guard forward, while dipping his outside shoulder and sliding to the outside of the guard.

Campbell then drops his weight, tilts his body, and dips the inside shoulder, all while punching the sky and getting his feet/hips pointed directly at his target. The guard becomes completely blocked off from Campbell and it’s an easy sack for the runner up of the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year award.


The name should be pretty self explanatory, since you know how a rip move is executed, but the initial move is a violent chop or swat of the offensive lineman’s hands, which would force the lineman’s weight and momentum forward. This provides the pass rusher with a golden opportunity to dip his shoulder and rip through the contact, in order to effectively corner and apply pressure on the quarterback. This move is very effective from a wider alignment and you’ll see that below.

A speed rusher like Everson Griffen being wide of a tight end really stresses any offensive tackle. Griffen has a very quick and explosive first few steps, while staying low and putting himself in an excellent position to win the rep. As Griffen begins to take the edge, he violently takes his inside arm and chops hard on the tackle’s outside arm, which drops the tackles weight forward and forces his hands low. This puts the tackle in a disadvantageous position to defend any type of speed rusher, especially one as talented as Griffen, who already has his hips/feet angled at Mitch Trubisky before he dips his inside shoulder and rips through the tackle’s futile attempt to block.

Frank Clark does the same exact thing to Andrew Whitworth in the second clip of the video. We saw Whitworth get beat earlier by a Cameron Jordan inside swim move, but this rep is completely different. Whitworth is beat to his set point by Clark’s speed rush and Clark dips his shoulder and uses a chop/inside hand swipe to ensure that he will gain the edge.

Once Clark’s hips are flipped and his feet are angled towards Jared Goff, he rips underneath the arms of Whitworth and strip sacks Goff. Possessing game changing speed and explosiveness, while having an effective rip move, due to excellent leverage and lower body flexion, is critical to providing consistent pressure off the edge.

Speed Rush – Rip

Then there are instances of a pass rusher who wins with Pure Speed off the edge. Here’s a speed rushing rep by Jacksonville Jaguars’ Dante Fowler, where he’s lined up wide of Rob Gronkowski, who will not be blocking, and well wide of the Patriots right tackle. The body positioning/angle of both Fowler and the tackle, along with the excellent explosive nature of Fowler, allows the pass rusher to get all the way up the arc untouched.

By the time the tackle initiates contact with Fowler, the cornering has begun; Fowler’s feet are turned into the pocket, lower body flexion is engaged, and his hips are about to be completely flipped towards Tom Brady. To assure that he wins the rep, Fowler dips his inside shoulder and drops his weight at the top of the arc and rips underneath the tackle, with his inside arm. The tackle’s objective here, when beat, is to shove Fowler off of his path and wide of the pocket, while getting his own feet repositioned, which would allow him to reset and protect the quarterback. The tackle cannot do that because of the speed, low nature of Fowler, and the rip move underneath.

This type of moves requires excellent explosiveness, lower body control, and flexibility, especially in the ankle joint. Fowler possesses all of these traits on this play and earns himself a sack.

Swipe Move

A swipe move is very common when pass rushing and we already went over why it is so important in the “Swim Move” section above. Clearing the offensive lineman’s hands sets up so many different pass rushing moves and few pass rusher’s have been more effective at doing this over the last 10 years than Von Miller.

In the video above, Miller is standing up in a 2 point stance with a 5 tech right next to him. Miller knows that he will have an isolated rush against the right tackle because of this formation, and the knowledge that the linebacker will be stunting with the 5 tech in the B-Gap. The tackle is aware that Miller possesses some of the most dangerous inside counter moves in football, so Miller takes advantage of this consternation by the right tackle.

Miller is deceptive with his pass rush and uses a stutter step to keep the tackle guessing. Pay attention to Miller’s feet up the arc; once he is done with the stutter step he angles his feet towards his target and presents his chest as being open for business. Once the tackle realizes this he commits and attempts to punch, which is exactly what Miller wants him to do.

Miller then uses a 2 hand swipe technique to throw the tackle off balance, while sliding outside. This is so effective, due to the strength of Miller and his incredibly quick hands and feet. The punch is missed and the swipe overextends the tackle, forcing him way off balance and allowing Miller to swivel his hips and attack the quarterback.

Pull – Club

This pass rush move is an excellent way to force a tackle off balance in one direction, with the first move, while stunning them in another direction with the second move. Let’s take a look at how Justin Houston utilizes this combination to sack Tom Brady in Week 1 of this past season.

Lined up wide of the tackle, Houston starts his rush and is met, at first, with a relatively solid pass set by right tackle Marcus Cannon. His mistake occurs once the contact is established by Houston, due to slow hands by the tackle. Cannon overextends himself at the hip, and leans forward once the contact is initiated, which prompts Houston to simultaneously stab and pull the inside shoulder of Cannon downwards, forcing him to become more off balanced. With Cannon’s body already out of equilibrium and moving south, Houston then clubs the outside shoulder of Cannon with his outside arm, which further propels Houston up and through the arc and rendered Cannon’s recovery to be ineffective

Many of these pass rush moves we went over are maximized by astute defensive players who have a thorough plan of attack. These moves are often seen on Saturdays and Sundays, but aren’t always effectively employed. Players who have the requisite strength and athletic ability and who focus so much on the nuances of placement, timing, play design, situational context, and adaptability, while possessing a strategy at the point of attack, are the players that get paid the big bucks to come through in the clutch of passing situations. They’re experts at their craft, creators in the trenches, and masters in their technique. They embody the art that I love – The Art of the Pass Rush.  

Nick Falato wrote this article. Follow him on twitter @nickfalato and check out his other work here, including his breakdown of Wake Forest defensive end Duke Ejiofor and a look at USC quarterbacks of the past and how it applies to New York Jets QB Sam Darnold.

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