what is a pbu in football

What Is A PBU In Football

Football involves a lot of running and passing. These plays lead to scores. It’s up to the defense to stop most of these plays. The defense can cause an interception in a passing play, changing defense to offense.

But what happens when they just knock the ball off without intercepting it? When defenders do so, we call that PBU. So, what is a PBU in football?

A PBU in football simply means pass break up. It’s a type of play where the defense knocks down a pass without intercepting it. The contact from a defender leads to pass incompletion. When this happens, a PBI is credited.

Any knockdown or deflected pass from defensive players prevents pass completion. They are PBU, as the passes are not intercepted.

Are pass breakups common in football? What positions do they happen most?

Join me below as I discuss more about PBU in football.

What Is The Other Name For Pass Break Up

A pass breakup is also known as a pass deflection in American football. It’s an incomplete pass deflected by a defensive player without intercepting it. Other names for a PBU include:

  • A pass knockdown
  • Pass breakup
  • Pass defense
  • Pass defended

What Is Considered A Pass Breakup?

A pass breakup in football is a play where a defensive player deflects a pass or throw from a quarterback. It’s a scenario where the pass is knocked down without intercepting it.

Some of the situations where pass breakups are considered include:

  • A defensive player slaps or blocks the ball with their hands
  • Part of the arm knocks the ball down
  • Hitting the receiver the very moment he catches the ball and knocking the ball down
  • Hitting the receiver shortly after catching the ball
  • Dropping an interception
opposing players catching the ball

But it’s important to note that a defender hitting the receiver before catching the ball leads to pass interference.

What Positions Get The Most Pass Breakup In Football

Now that you know what a PBU is in football let’s see where they happen most. As a defensive player, causing a pass interception or pass breakup is the most important thing you can do. It helps change the game’s possession and momentum. 

Below are some of the positions in football with the most pass breakups.


The cornerback position does experience a lot of pass breakups throughout the season. One can understand why considering they are the closest players to the wide receivers.

Statistics from the 2020 NFL season show that cornerbacks experienced the most pass breakups. In the season, cornerback Davis Carlton led with 21 pass breakups.

If you go a few seasons back to 2017, Detroit Lions’ Darius Slay led the league with the highest pass breakups and interceptions.


Another leading position with many pass breakups is the linebacker. You’ll find linebackers lining just under the coverage. They are well-positioned to intercept passes to quarterbacks.

When quarterbacks want to send passes downfield to wide receivers, they send them over linebackers. When quarterbacks attempt throws, linebackers will raise their arms, trying an interception.

The results are interceptions and pass breakups throughout the season. A fair amount of balls are hit by the linebacker’s hands, leading to PBUs.

Additionally, linebackers take roles in man-to-man coverage and can intercept or deflect balls. However, most pass breakups result from their hands tipping long passes from quarterbacks downfield.

Defensive Tackles

A defensive tackle position is the least you can expect to have pass breakups. Defensive tackles rarely take roles in providing coverage for passes.

However, defensive tackles know when they cannot get to a quarterback during a rush. In such situations, they will watch quarterbacks keenly and know when they are about to make a throw.

football players getting possession of the ball

When the throw is made, the tackle will jump in the air in an attempt to catch it. When they get their hands on the ball, a pass interception or pass breakup can occur.

Defensive tackles are well-positioned to know where the quarterback is likely going to throw the ball. Most pass breakups from tackles happen at the line of scrimmage.

The balls are usually hit high in the air. In the process, they are then caught for an interception.


The last position where a PBU occurs is safety. It’s a great position, and safeties can easily accumulate a lot of PBUs. This is a position in the backfield.

Safeties are designed to protect against deep passes into the backfield. They are tasked with blocking and preventing any deep passes into the backfield. The safeties make sure the ball doesn’t get to a wide receiver.

A simple contact by safety is considered a pass breakup.

Are PBUs a Useful Tool for Measuring Cornerback Quality?

How can coaches and scouts use PBUs? Can they use them to measure the ability of cornerbacks?

Sometimes, one might think a cornerback with many PBUs is good at tackling. However, PBUs are not a good tool for measuring the quality of cornerbacks.

While stats from PBUs can give you a good idea of a cornerback, it’s never a good tool to measure their quality. Most quarterbacks understand the strengths and weaknesses of the cornerbacks they are playing against.

When playing against top cornerbacks, they will avoid throws on their way. This leaves them with very few chances of deflecting the ball. Fewer balls on their way mean fewer PBUs.

When considering how good a player is, several factors must be considered. The same applies to safeties and defensive tackles. You cannot fully use the number of PBUs on their stats to measure their quality.

However, the number of tackles they make in a game can indicate how good they are. However, the quality of the opponent needs to be considered too.

Does a Dropped Interception Count as a Pass Breakup?

A dropped interception also counts as a pass breakup. It is one of the toughest plays for fans and coaches. With an interception, fans expect the defense to drive a run and score a touchdown.

american football plays offense and defense

However, the defender sometimes drops the ball for one reason or another. When this happens, then the play is considered a pass breakup.

This is another reason you cannot use the number of PBUs a defender has to measure their quality.

PUB In Football FAQs

What Is A Pass Interception?

A pass interception in football is when a defensive player catches a backward or forward pass from a passer before falling to the ground. Quarterbacks make passes to wide receivers. However, defenders can sometimes catch/intercept the pass, leading to a pass interception.

Who Has the Most Pass Deflections in NFL History?

Champ Bailey has the most pass deflections in NFL history. Playing from 1999 to 2003, Champ accumulated 203 pass deflections.

Is an Interception a Pass Defended?

An interception is a pass defended since it prevents the ball from reaching the intended receiver. Most players take advantage of a poor touch to block a dribble or a pass by intercepting it before it hits the ground.


A PBU in football is a pass breakup where defenders deflect passes with their hands, arms, or any part of their body. It’s not the same as a pass interception where the ball is caught before hitting the ground.

Pass breakups in football are great since they ensure a throw from a quarterback is incomplete. However, PBUs can’t be used to measure the quality of cornerbacks or safeties.

If you play closest to ball receivers, you’ll likely get most pass break-ups. This is often with many cornerbacks whose position favors them with pass break-ups. As a coach or a player, you may begin adding your number of pass break-ups and enjoy a great season as Carlton Davis did in 2020.

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