Read CHAPTER VII of The Forward Pass in Football, free online book, by Elmer Berry, on


There is no defense for the forward pass. In reality the pass cannot be prevented, particularly in the center of the field. Yet from the unwillingness of some of the great football leaders to adopt this style of game one would infer that it is a worthless game, difficult to succeed with and easy of defense. This is the point of view of a number of teams. Yet it is interesting to note that these are the very teams that have had no adequate forward pass defense.

Thus far most teams have trusted to luck against the forward passing game. The inefficiency and mechanical errors of its offense, aided by the restrictive legal measures adopted, have conspired to make this possible. Signs are not lacking, however, to indicate a greatly increased use of the passing game, an improved understanding and appreciation of its fundamental principles and a much greater degree of success for it. The defense for the forward pass will need to be studied with great care in the immediate future.

The writer does not pretend to have solved this problem. His interest has been rather on the other side. The following suggestions are offered simply as a beginning:

First, “hurry the pass.” Some man or men, not the entire line, should go through and force the pass at the earliest possible moment, downing the passer, blocking the pass or forcing it to be made before the eligible men are ready or the passer has been able to locate them. This greatly increases the chance of mechanical failure. Generally this should be done by the ends. Some teams send the tackles in also. Some send tackles in and have the ends wait. This frequently helps against the pass but makes end running very easy.

Second, block eligible men. This of course can only be done before the pass is made. But there is often an appreciable time before the pass is made when eligible men could be blocked on the line of scrimmage. This is the best work of the center trio rather than charging through.

Third, play a zone defense having each defensive back cover an area and play the ball coming into that area rather than attempt to follow individually eligible men.

Fourth, use the open defense; that is, play the center out of the line and with the full back about three yards behind tackle. This defense is supposed to make center bucking easy, but it does not if the defensive line is properly coached. This first line of secondary defense is in position to intercept short passes or to help stop eligible men on the scrimmage line. They are also in the best possible position to assist on outside tackle and end runs while still in position to block center bucks. In the judgment of the writer this is the best all-round defense yet devised for the modern open game of football.

The open defense should be played as follows: Guards play to the center, low, hard and stalling, not knifing through. Tackles fight their way into the play through opposing end. Ends play as close as possible, often not over two yards outside their own tackle and tear into every play smashing the interference and hurrying passes. Center and full play about three yards behind tackle, usually a trifle inside and wait until they diagnose the play, then meet it. These men must be the best tacklers on the team and fast, for if the tackles and ends accomplish their work these men have their opportunity. Backs play from seven to ten yards back and nearly straight behind end. Quarter or safety man should play as close as he dares to, considering the possibility of quick punts. This may be generally closer than most quarters play.