NFL Homonyms : What’s the rush?

football, definitions, rush

In a typical NFL broadcast you’re likely to hear a lot about the rush – rushing yards, rushing the passer, pass rush, stopping the rush, rushing attempts – and so on. Now, it’d be well within reason to think that the word rush and/or rushing pertained to the same action, seeing as how it is used to describe action occurring on a football field. And if there were different types of action happening on a football field, wouldn’t there be different words to describe it?

Apparently not. The NFL likes to keep you guessing!

But really, the difference between rushing terminology is not hard at all once you understand how it’s used in each context.


Rush can describe action on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. On offense, rushing plays are synonymous with running plays. Defensively, rushing plays are plays designed to get to the quarterback and prevent him from passing effectively. 


On Offense:

The official word used for running plays in NFL statistics and records is “rush.” (It didn’t start out that way, but for one reason or another running plays became rushing plays in 1937. We don’t know why.) So when you hear announcers talking about “rushing yards” or “rushing attempts” they are talking about how many yards a team is getting by running the ball or how many times a team is attempting to run rather than pass. Rushing, offensively, basically means advancing the ball downfield in a non-passing play.

It begs the question why running backs aren’t called rushing backs – even though that sounds weird – but that’s another question for another day. When asked why the NFL doesn’t just call it all running, Bob Carroll, NFL Historian, said, “Everybody on the field runs. Even big fat tackles run. Rushing is a precise term that describes running with the ball. After all, you don’t call passing throwing.”

Man’s got a point.

On Defense:

You’ll hear about rushing on defense in conjunction with passing plays, which is completely confusing because didn’t we just establish that rushing pertains to running plays?


Thank you, football.

But defensive players aren’t running with the ball (barring an interception), so the term can’t apply to running plays for them.* Instead, defensive players rush the quarterback – literally meaning causing him to hurry for fear of getting sacked. You’ll hearing it talked about in terms of “rushing the passer” or “pass rush.” Both terms mean that the defense is making it’s way into the backfield to disrupt the quarterback before he has a chance to pass accurately.

*”Stopping the rush” is a phrase used to describe a defense that is trying to stop the running game, so that’s the exception to the defense-rush-running rule. Just in case the mud was looking any clearer and you wanted to cloud it up again.

All in all: rushing on offense = running; rushing on defense = hurrying.

Potato…slightly different potato.

Got it?

(Add one more to the list – there’s also NFL Rush, the league’s kid-friendly initiative. Start ’em young.)