The Art of the Pass Rush: Part 2

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]It’s time to extrapolate the artistry of pass rushing, now that we have a foundation in place which explains the fundamentals of rushing the quarterback. The NFL really values the positions that can win one-on-one matchups in the trenches while applying pressure to the signal caller. This is one reason why pass rushers have been 13 top 5 picks and 21 top 10 picks in the last 10 drafts.

However, there is more than one way to win one-on-one and we did not cover some of the most effective moves in Part 1 – the moves that centralize off shear power and force. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out the vicious reality of football and it most certainly doesn’t take a quantum physicist to realize the importance of speed, so when it comes to the defensive line, being able to possess both speed and power, while successfully converting the two traits, can help good players become great players.

But what does converting speed to power mean? The concept is pretty self explanatory; can the player attack the blocker with speed and quickness, acquiring said blocker’s hip or beating the blocker to his set point, while simultaneously being able to utilize his own play strength to out leverage his opponent and win the one-on-one matchup. This is converting speed to power in a nutshell and it can be used on many different pass rushing moves and techniques.

Above you see Von Miller (#58) in his rookie season, with an effortlessly executed ability to convert speed to power. The situation was a 3rd and 10 and Miller is in a prime spot to “tee off” on QB Mark Sanchez (#6).

The defensive lineman closest to Miller is lined up as a 4i technique, with an inside lean, which isolates the right tackle in a one-on-one situation with Miller. Miller attacks hard up the arc, with a very strong forward lean and excellent leverage; he then explodes low to high as he initiates contact, then works back inside while hand fighting and using his strength/leverage/low center of gravity to throw the tackle on the ground to earn a sack. In this move, there are elements of the bull-rush/hump move as well as an armover. The former move will be discussed in this article, but this is a classic case of converting speed to power.

Bull Rush

Attacking the half-man relationship by acquiring an opponent’s hip is one of the most essential parts of pass rushing, but not necessarily in the case of bull-rushing; this is more of a strength and leverage move that is executed to perfection by defensive lineman that possess a low center of gravity and excellent lower body strength. A pass rusher wants to explode low to high, put his hat directly into the chest of the lineman, keep his hips and pad level lower than the offensive lineman, and utilize his lower body strength to drive the lineman back into the pocket.

Gaining inside hand placement, while jolting the lineman with a strong initial punch, followed by lower leg drive will force the lineman to uncoil his hips too early, which will lead to balance issues throughout the rep if the pass rusher stays low, reduces the surface area of his chest, and continues to drive through the lineman’s soul.

You can see above Allen Bailey’s (#97) sack on Tom Brady (#12) in their Week 1 matchup last season. Lined up as a 1 technique, Bailey doesn’t initially engage the bull rush; he attempts to attack the opposite A-Gap. But New England Patriots center David Andrews (#60) is in good position to combat the initial move, so Bailey works back to his original position where he starts his bull rush.

Bailey gets low and underneath Andrew’s pads while constantly driving his feet upfield; this forces Andrews to uncoil his hips too early, which hinders his strength and renders him vulnerable. Bailey just keeps his feet moving and backs Andrews into Tom Brady, which results in a sack. Interior pressure with the bull rush will limit the quarterbacks ability to step forward and maneuver in the pocket, but the bull rush is not limited to the interior parts of the line and you can see that in the second clip of the video.

Khalil Mack (#52) is one of the best pass rushers in the league, especially when it comes to converting speed to power. He executes an excellent bull rush against the Broncos from an inward-leaning, 4-point, wide technique. Mack uses a subtle outside jab step to force the tackle to hesitate, while not being able to collect his balance, and that was enough to allow Mack to drive completely through the tackle. Mack is the lower, more balanced player, and he has a strong center of gravity, with feet that don’t stop. He overpowers the tackle and earns one of his many sacks from that cold December night in 2015.

The great Dwight Freeney (#93), who is known for one of the most lethal spin moves the NFL has ever seen, utilized an excellent bull rush in the third clip. The fact that Freeney had such a deadly move would really force offensive lineman to be cognizant of the spin at all times, and this would assist Freeney in having an effective bull rush.

Freeney comes off the edge and takes the tackle head on, while exploding through his body, with inside hand placement and a very powerful lower leg drive. He’s able to back Duane Brown (#76) right into Matt Schaub (#8), forcing a sack and effectively utilizing the bull rush from the EDGE position. The keys to winning the bull rush are lower hips/pad level, leverage, lower body drive, and superior strength. You’ll see the importance of these characteristics throughout the rest of the article.

Long Arm/Bull Rush    

As you can tell by the name, this move is a combination of two moves that we have already covered, and one of the best at executing this combination is Khalil Mack. There are a few physical advantages that player’s must possess to maximize this move. 1). The pass rusher must have excellent reach (Mack is in the 77th percentile in arm length for his position, according to Mockdraftable) and 2). The pass rusher must possess the ability to absorb contract, while maintaining fluidity and bend in their lower half. Usually, the pass rusher will have to corner or twist at the hips in order to contort their body around the tackle who can’t execute his assignment effectively due to the reduced surface area of the pass rushers’ chest and the lower body drive of the pass rusher.  

Mack takes advantage of excellent defensive position, while lined up wide of the tackle on the Broncos goal line. Mack attacks upfield and initiates contact with his inside arm on the tackle’s inside shoulder but Mack is working the outside half of the tackle. His hips are lower and he has excellent bend throughout his body while utilizing the type of force/power needed to drive a 300-pound man backwards. Mack is able to keep the tackle from gaining his chest, which puts the tackle in a precarious situation, while bending around the edge to effectively corner to Brock Osweiler (#17). The main difference between the long arm and the stab move is that the long arm is more of a power move, whereas the stab is used to initiate contact, jolt, or set up another move. Mack is one of the best in the game at utilizing a long arm to impose his dominance on offensive lineman. The next move isn’t necessarily a power move, but it sure is effective and fun to watch.  

Hump Move

This move is best employed when a pass rusher has been abusing a tackle on the edge all game with speed and quickness to the outside. This forces the tackle to overcompensate to the outside and ensure that he can protect that part of the field. This overcompensation, combined with excellent leverage, adept hand movement, and superior upper body strength, really enhances the hump move’s effectiveness.

The defensive lineman starts by attacking the outside hard while getting to the outside hip and selling an outside move like the rip. The defensive player has done two things by attacking hard outside with a strong outside move: 1). He gets the tackle’s momentum going outside, with unsettled footwork and 2). He creates a wider gap between the guard and tackle, which allows for an inside move.

By the third step up the arc, the defensive player wants to pull the outside arm of the tackle downwards, while simultaneously coming across the body of the tackle with a hard inside arm hump move. The aiming point is right underneath the tackle’s armpit and, ideally, the defensive player wants to use the meaty part of his forearm to toss the tackle off balance.

Once the defensive player makes contact with the hump part of the move and if the tackle isn’t already on the ground, he wants to follow through with an outside arm over/slap down to ensure the tackle is done. Leverage, core strength, and having the tackle fear the outside move is the key to an effective hump move. The Cincinnati BengalsCarl Lawson executed a variation of the hump move in his rookie season against the Green Bay Packers.

You can see Lawson (#58) lined up wide of the tackle Kyle Murphy (#68). Lawson attacks with speed up the arc, forcing Murphy to set vertically and square up to Lawson while his feet were still moving; Murphy fully extends both of his arms to initiate contact but he is not fully balanced and Lawson stabs him with his inside arm. Lawson has excellent bend throughout his entire body and his hips are significantly lower than Murphy’s, which allows Lawson to maximize his already excellent leverage.

Lawson then swats Murphy’s outside arm downward and starts to work back inside of the tackle. Lawson uses Murphy’s momentum against him, while taking his stab arm and utilizing a hump move by attacking right underneath the inside armpit of Murphy. The strength of Lawson, combined with the unbalanced nature of Murphy and his natural momentum, forces the tackle to tumble to the ground and results in a Carl Lawson sack. Lawson’s center of gravity and core strength are excellent throughout this rep and it’s no wonder why he is primed for a very promising career if his health holds up.

Terrell Suggs (#55) utilizes a strong upfield burst outside, with excellent forward lean and leverage to earn a strip sack on Andy Dalton (#14) in the second clip. Suggs gets the tackle to really commit upfield and overcompensate for his speed, which provides him with an easier opportunity to work back inside and use his inside forearm to toss the tackle outside.

In the third clip, you can see Reggie White utilize the hump move. White made this move famous and routinely embarrassed his opposition by out leveraging offensive tackles. White starts by attacking upfield and then he simply dips his inside shoulder, acquires the area underneath the inside part of the tackle’s armpit, and utilizes leverage and brute strength to toss the offensive lineman away like a ragdoll.

Even though White totally dominated this rep, you can see how he brings his outside arm over the top of the tackle and adds a finishing shove, just to really ensure the clear path to the quarterback. Now, don’t get anything misconstrued, there really isn’t anyone that can make the hump move look as easy as Reggie White, but that is why he is an all-time great player.

Inside Spin Move

The dreaded inside spin move has caused many sleepless nights to offensive tackles throughout the years. Although the moves are incredibly different, there are a lot of parallels between the hump move and the inside spin. Firstly, the move will start with the defensive player aggressively attacking the outside, which will force the lineman’s momentum up the arc. Secondly, the defensive player can go into a fake rip to oversell the outside commitment. Finally, both moves end up with the defensive player crossing the inside part of the tackle, while showing an excellent ability to counter off what the tackle is doing. Enjoy this excellent inside spin move by Tim Williams below.

From three different camera angles you can see how Tim Williams (#56) completely owns the Michigan State Spartan right tackle. Williams attacks hard up the arc, clears the tackle’s hands with excellent lean and bend to force the tackle to overextend at the hip and continue to protect the outside. Then Williams plants his outside foot and sells the rip move by shooting his inside arm underneath the tackles outside armpit, which further stresses the edge and almost certainly ensures that Williams is trying to beat the tackle outside, but we know that is not the case. With the tackle’s momentum and footwork going outside, Williams improvises and counters with an excellent spin/outside club combine that sends the tackle flying and leads to Williams abusing the quarterback.

Just like the hump move, the outside hand/club can be used to ensure that the tackle falls to the deck, which provides a much easier alley to the signal caller. To achieve this level of execution, players must remember these three rules:

1). Really stress the edge to fool the tackle, while clearing the his hands, which forces balance issues.

2). Further sell the outside move with a rip to really force the tackle’s momentum outside.

3). Spin inside and club with the outside arm.

Then you see one of the best pass rushers of our time, J.J. Watt (#99), in the second clip. Watt has an inward lean, while being lined up in a wide-9 technique and he attacks hard up the arc and beats the tackle to his set point while clearing the tackles hands up the arc. He even starts to corner on the tackle, but realizes how off balanced and unset the tackle was, so he dips his inside shoulder and the tackle lunges outside, which allows Watt to easily spin and club inside to effectively counter and earn a sack on QB Blake Bortles (#5). The hard sell upfield allowed the guard to hesitate just long enough to not be able to stop Watt as he spun inside and separated from the tackle.

Pass rushers like Watt are an absolute nightmare for tackles because they posses many of the moves that we have covered throughout these two articles while also being able to convert speed to power. Tackles can never get a true feel for what is coming next and it leaves them very vulnerable in one-on-one situations. But before I conclude this section, I would be remiss if I did not end the inside spin portion with a short video showing the excellence of Dwight Freeney.

The first three clips show Freeney utilizing his trademark spin move, while adapting and showing just how lethal he really was as a pass rusher. His ability to recollect his balance after a spin and get his hips and feet pointed right to where they need to go is so excellent.

The last two clips of the video also show how his inside spin move was so effective even though he didn’t use that move to earn the sacks. I mentioned earlier in the article about how tackles had to be cognizant of Freeny’s ability to attack inside when they don’t have help. This fear led to tackles being vulnerable in other parts of their ability to protect the passer; essentially, it kept these tackles guessing throughout the rep and Freeney was way too good of a pass rusher to not take advantage of this hesitation.

In the fourth clip, you see how the Panthers’ tackle, Mike Remmers, over compensates to the inside, even though Freeney starts hard up the arc. Freeney fakes the inside spin and Remmers (#74) inside leg shoots towards the guard, over compensating for the inside while Freeney also pushes him in that direction with an outside shoulder bump. But Freeney’s footwork and ability to recollect his balance allows him to go right back outside and earn a sack on that year’s MVP in Cam Newton (#1).

The final clip is similar, a tackle overcompensating to the inside, which shows Freeney bull rushing right through the outside shoulder of the tackle. Saints tackle Andrus Peat (#75) is isolated on a wide-9 Dwight Freeney; Peat is slightly inside, which gives Freeney the opportunity to bull-rush through his outside shoulder. Freeney uses his lower body strength to drive right through while being much lower and playing with excellent leverage. It’s no surprise that Freeney is one of the best pass rushers of our era. But when you have deadly counter moves like an inside spin and a unique ability to collect your balance and utilize rare short area quickness, then you’re that much further along than your contemporaries.

The art of rushing the passer will never fade and the game has a ton of promise in their young pass rushers. Players like Myles Garrett, Joey Bosa, and Aaron Donald will be around for a very long time and one can learn a lot about rushing the passer by watching their film. Even as pass rushers age and lose their athletic ability, the subtleties and nuances that we covered in this article do not fade and can be utilized to be productive at a position that is mostly predicated on speed and power.

As I stated in the first Art of the Pass Rush, football is a game of attrition that is just as much mental as it is physical, so having multiple moves in your arsenal, while being able to physically beat your opponent, can lead to a more demoralized offensive lineman and limit the ability of the offensive play callers. Being able to win the point of attack, with leverage, while effectively countering and keeping your opponent guessing is a vital part to mastering this art. One can possess incredible speed or power, which is very important, but to become a pass rushing virtuoso, one must understand how to play a refined brand of football. Not everyone gets that far, but the ones that do usually end up in Canton.   

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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