What Your Defensive Line Must Know to Get a Pass Rush

Bills Defenders rushing the Miami Dolphins pass protection

Photo By Alan Kotok

Rushing the passer can be very simple to coach. It can also be the most complicated part of coaching the defensive line. It’s all in your approach!

If you are coaching Youth Football on up to High School football, regardless of the defense you choose, teaching pass rush moves is probably the least of your worries on the Defensive Line. You spend most of your Individual time working on defeating drive blocks, reach blocks, wrong arming trap blocks, and other run focused techniques. You are lucky to get much time beyond simply recognizing a pass set by the Offensive Linemen, and even then you still need plenty of time to teach your players to recognize a screen release.

Yet, at some point you need to teach some pass rush basics to your defensive linemen. They need to learn how to attack the half man, and work some basic moves to beat the pass set.

The Half Man Advantage

One of the first skills we want our pass rushers, whether they are Tackles, Ends or Linebackers, is to take the Half Man Advantage. It is very common to see pass rushers attack an Offensive Lineman head-up, making his block much easier.

Defensive Linemen are normally much more athletic, but smaller, than their Offensive counterparts. For Linebackers, quickness is the only weapon they will often have against a pass set by a big man weighing as much as 100 pounds more.

So we teach them to work the half man advantage. Pass rushers need to use their quickness and attack either the outside, or inside, half of the pass set.

Attacking the half man negates the size advantage of the blocker, and gets us in a position to use quickness to beat him to the hip.

Get to the Hip

What our pass rushers need to understand next, is exactly how to beat a pass set. We beat a pass blocker by doing one thing, and only one thing. We have to get our hip even with his hip. (The Bull Rush is the obvious exception here)

If the pass rusher can get his hip even with the hip of the blocker, he has put the blocker in a position that only one of two things can happen: 1) He can let the rusher go by, or 2) he can hold the rusher, in such a way that it will likely be called by the officials.

If the defender cannot get to the hip, the strength advantage of the Offensive Lineman is still in effect. And we all know that if the Offensive Lineman can hold on to the rusher without having to twist, turn, and stretch the jersey, it will not be called. Once we get to the hip, the Offensive Lineman’s strength advantage is negated, and holding is more likely to be seen.

Use Two Moves to Get to the Hip

At any level of football, even the best Defensive Linemen need just two pass rush moves. The problem is, not all pass rushers are created equally. The best strategy here is to give your guys a range of choices, and let them decide which moves they will work to execute.

Pass rush moves are similar to counter-punching in boxing. You need a way to deal with the Offensive Lineman in a couple of ways. We do not want two moves that accomplish the same thing, so that we have the ability to counter punch a couple of different sets.

Pass Rush Moves

This is just a brief refresher of Pass Rush Moves, but the ideas here can be applied in a number of ways. The key is to have answers for what the pass blocker does. Get his hands down, and get to his hip, as fast as possible.

  1. Bull Rush: Attack the man hard, punching up through his chin. Reset and work it again to get the blocker going backwards. You are trying to force the QB to move. When he moves, attack to the QB side when the blocker lunges back in response to the second push.
  2. Rip Move: The Rip is probably the most common pass rush move. Attack the half man, rip with your inside arm through his hip, while the outside hand is pulling the outside shoulder down. Pulling the outside shoulder down lets you get to his hip without him being able to reset his hands on you.
  3. Swim Move: Similar concept to the rip move, in that we work the half man advantage. Pull down on the outside shoulder pad and punch through with the inside hand over top of the shoulder (tight to the ear hold). Do not allow a big arcing swim move that actually looks like he’s swimming the 50m Freestyle, because your DL will get jacked in the rib cage. Once the punch comes through, bring the elbow down across the back of the shoulder to clear the move and prevent the blocker from resetting.
  4. Spin Move: Pressure hard to the hip one way, driving the inside arm to the hip. Then snap out outside (opposite) elbow around and into the player as you sit your hips back into the blocker. It is important to gain ground on the blocker here. If the rusher allows and separation, he’s giving the pass set too long to recover. As he drives the elbow across, he’ll push to the opposite hip of the blocker.


There are several other moves that you can work, but these are a good start. The Bull Rush is a great way to attack a deep setting Offensive Lineman. The Bull Rush is definitely something for your bigger Defensive Tackles.

The Rip Move and the Swim Move are more effective when the blocker is pushing into the defender with a lot of power. Taller guys can use the Swim Move, while the Rip Move is a must have for your speed rushing Defensive Ends and shorter players.

The Spin Move is excellent for blockers who over set to one side or the other. Defensive Ends who get Tackles trying to turn & burn them too fast will get some mileage out of the Spin Move, though we teach it as a last resort move.

You can learn more about pass rush lanes, another key aspect of the pass rush game, by reading this article.