What Is a PBU in Football? Exploring Defensive Playmaking

A defensive player earns a pass breakup (PBU) in a game of flag football.

Football is a thrilling sport with exhilarating plays, and the phrase “PBU” is frequently used. A well-timed PBU has the potential to alter the outcome of a game.

So, what is a PBU in football?

A PBU (pass breakup) in football refers to a defensive player successfully preventing a completed pass by disrupting the receiver’s ability to catch the ball. It is a crucial defensive play that can halt offensive momentum and change the course of a game.

Throughout this article, we’ll dive into the world of PBUs by learning more about what they are, how they’re recorded, and how they affect assessments of defensive prowess. With that in mind, let’s go on a quest to learn more about PBUs and how they fit into the game of football.

What Is a PBU in Football?

When a defensive player actively blocks a pass play, resulting in an incomplete pass, it is called a pass breakup (PBU). It happens when the defender touches the ball and the receiver is unable to make the catch. There are several methods that can be used to do this, including:

  • Swatting the Ball: The defender swats the ball away from the receiver’s grasp by firmly striking it with their hand or arm while it is in the air.
  • Deflecting the Pass: The defender adjusts the trajectory of the ball by using their hands, arms, or bodies to change its direction rather than directly striking it in order to stop a completed pass.
  • Interfering with the Receiver: By exerting physical pressure, blocking the receiver’s path, or timing their jump to coincide with the receiver’s effort to make the catch, the defender prevents the receiver from catching the ball.

It’s crucial to remember that a defender must take a clear and decisive action that immediately leads to an incomplete pass in order for a play to qualify as a PBU.

What Position Has the Highest PBU Rate?

Based on their defensive roles, certain players frequently have more possibilities to make pass breakups. The following positions typically accumulate the most PBUs:


Also referred to as “corners,” cornerbacks are largely in charge of stopping wide receivers. They frequently engage in one-on-one coverage and have numerous chances to obstruct passes meant for receivers. They are incredibly good at recording PBUs thanks to their speed, agility, and coverage abilities.


Safeties are defenders who line up in the defense’s deep secondary. They are in charge of supplying over-the-top support and coverage while frequently defending against deep passes. When defending tight ends, slot receivers, or making plays with the ball in the open field, safeties still have the chance to break up passes even though they normally accrue fewer PBUs than cornerbacks.


In pass defense, linebackers are primarily responsible for covering short-to-intermediate routes and stopping the run. Linebackers who excel at pass coverage can still produce significant plays by intercepting passes meant for tight ends or running backs, even if they may not rack up as many PBUs as cornerbacks or safeties.

Defensive tackles

Due to their interior defensive line positions, defensive tackles primarily concentrate on stopping the run and rushing the passer and have fewer opportunities to score PBUs. They might be able to raise their hands to deflect or obstruct passes at the line of scrimmage under some circumstances.

It’s important to note that a player’s skill, technique, playing time, and defensive strategy used by their team can all have an impact on how many PBUs they rack up.

Alternative Names for PBUs

A linebacker crushes a receiver, earning a PBU (pass breakup) in the process.

Although “pass breakup” is the most frequently used term, other titles for the same defensive action can also be used interchangeably:

  • Pass Deflection: This phrase is frequently used to refer to the act of modifying or deflecting a pass in order to stop a completion.
  • Defended Pass: A pass that has been actively blocked by a defensive player and results in an incomplete pass. It includes the idea of preventing the receiver from successfully catching the ball.
  • Incomplete Pass: An incomplete pass is any pass that is not caught by the intended receiver and is not specifically related to defensive plays. One of the possible causes of an incomplete pass is a pass breakup.

These phrases are frequently interchanged and denote the same action: a defensive player successfully stopping a pass from being completed. Pass breakups are a crucial defensive statistic that shows a player’s capacity to sabotage the passing game and prevent opposing offenses from gaining ground.

Most PBUs in an NFL Season

Darrelle Revis, a former cornerback for the New York Jets, holds the record for the most pass breakups in a single season. Revis’ astounding 31 PBUs throughout the 2009 NFL season demonstrated his excellent ball-hawking and coverage talents.

Here’s a table of the top 10 most PBUs in a single season:

1. Darrelle Revis312009
2. Sheldon Brown272005
Troy Vincent272001
4. David Amerson262015
Marcus Peters262015
Darius Slay262017
7. Donnie Abraham251999
Brandon Carr252010
Deltha O’Neal252001
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie252009
Table showing the top 10 players with the most PBUs in an NFL season.

Most PBUs in NFL History

Champ Bailey, a cornerback who played for several teams in his career, currently holds the record for most PBUs in a career. Throughout his stint in the NFL, Bailey amassed 203 PBUs, illustrating his propensity for sabotaging opposing passing attempts.

Here’s a table of the top 10 most PBUs in a single season:

1. Champ Bailey203
2. Johnathan Joseph200
3. Ronde Barber197
4. Terence Newman183
Charles Woodson183
6. Asante Samuel164
7. Joe Haden155
8. Brian Dawkins153
Tramon Williams153
10. Dre’ Bly150
Table showing the top 10 players with the most PBUs in NFL history.

Do Dropped Interceptions Count as PBUs?

Pass breakups do not include interceptions that are dropped in play. Although a defensive player’s role in stifling the passing game is present in both a dropped interception and a pass breakup, the two events are recorded differently. When a defensive player is in a position to intercept the pass but is unable to do so, the pass is incomplete.

This is known as a dropped interception. The term “pass breakup,” on the other hand, refers exclusively to a defensive player’s effective action of preventing a completed pass without necessarily being in a position to intercept the ball.

Pass breakups show the defender’s ability to disrupt the passing game by preventing receptions, whereas dropped interceptions are frequently perceived as squandered opportunities for the defense to generate turnovers.

PBUs: Are They a Good Stat for Player Evaluation?

Pass breakups are regarded as an important statistic for assessing defensive players’ effectiveness, particularly those in the secondary. PBUs show a player’s capacity to stop the passing game, interfere with the quarterbacks’ and receivers’ timing, and stop throws from being completed. They demonstrate a player’s awareness, technique, and coverage abilities.

PBUs should not, however, be the only factor considered when evaluating a player’s performance. When assessing a defensive player’s performance, other elements like interceptions, tackles, and overall impact on the game should also be considered.

A high number of PBUs may show a player’s coverage prowess. Still, it’s vital to take into account the environment in which those PBUs were attained, including the level of opposition, the defensive plan, and the performance of the entire team.

When a defender actively contests a pass, whether by swatting it away, diverting it, or hindering the receiver’s ability to grab it, it throws off the offensive rhythm, prevents potential yardage gains, and, if the ball is not recovered by the intended receiver, may even result in turnovers.

It’s important to remember that a PBU’s significance extends beyond the current play. Pass breakups can affect the outcome of a game over time because they alter the offense’s tempo, requiring the quarterback to make changes that may result in more hesitant and inaccurate throws. Quarterbacks may be more likely to throw interceptions when their passes are repeatedly interrupted, which can lead to turnover opportunities.

Pass breakups can also affect the way that receivers think. If a defender continually disrupts their ability to make catches, it can lower their self-esteem, cause them to lose focus, and result in drops or less efficient routes on consecutive plays.

Due to their frequent one-on-one coverage situations, cornerbacks tend to accumulate the most PBUs, followed by safeties, linebackers, and defensive linemen. PBUs are a crucial metric for assessing a defensive player’s capacity to stop the passing game and sabotage offensive plays.

Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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