A Critique of the 3 Man Rush

Submitted by Enjoy Life on September 24th, 2009 at 2:01 PM

Let me start this by saying that I HATE the three man rush. Every time it happens there are only two possible sounds coming out of my mouth: “Nooooooo” or “God Dammit!” But aside from my emotional response, I truly do not understand how the three man rush makes any sense in any football situation. My reasoning is based on the following:

1) In just about every football game (college and pro) you hear: “If you give any quarterback that much time, he will pick you apart.” By definition, the three man rush gives the QB more time and violates this axiom. How is the extra time given to the QB offset by having just one additional defender? It just doesn’t make sense.

2) Basic math tells us the three man rush is a bad idea. You reduce pressure on the QB by 25% (1 less rusher out of 4) but increase the defenders by only 14% (1 added defender out of 7).

3) The three man rush is the completely wrong approach to defend the Hail Mary. There is only one way to guarantee the Hail Mary will not work (and, no, it is not “knock it down”) – prevent the QB from having enough time to set up and heave the ball 50 yards! The three man rush almost always results in giving the QB enough time to set up and throw the ball. After the ball is thrown anything can happen as evidenced by the three man rush in the Michigan/Colorado game in 1994. (I was there and have never heard the stadium so quiet and in such disbelief.)

Here is a table showing every three man rush in the Michigan/Notre Dame game.





1.00 1st

3rd &5


Floyd open in end zone, no pressure but pass is overthrown – INC.

4:00 2nd

3rd &10


Screen, 19 yard gain. Penalty ND negates the play.

3:30 2nd



Short pass for 8 yard gain. Tackle by ROH who dropped out of rush.

6:50 3rd

3rd &11


Screen INC.

13:04 4th

3rd &10


13 Yard Pass, First down

12:14 4th

2nd & 15


10 Yard Pass

9:56 4th

1st & 10


21 Yard Pass, TD

Anyone have some good reasons why the 3 man rush (and in the NFL, even the 2 man rush) is used?