View Full Version : The Art of the Pump Fake

01-20-2011, 10:06 PM
PITTSBURGH — There are times when Hines Ward, the Pittsburgh Steelers receiver, finds himself unexpectedly uncovered while running his route. He looks around and sees nothing unusual amid the traffic of a football game, except a safety heading the other way. After 13 seasons in the N.F.L., Ward is still bewildered when it happens.

“I’m like, ‘Why is the safety going that way?’ ” Ward said. “Whatever he did, I’m open. Then I look on tape. ‘Oh, Ben pump-faked.’ ”

The pump fake has been around since the invention of the forward pass, a bit of shoulder-based subterfuge designed to freeze rushers in their tracks or convince deep defenders that the pass is going one way, leaving the intended target wide open. In a league in which offenses often do not even pretend to be considering a run — witness the proliferation of spread formations — the pump fake creates a moment of doubt in the defense.

In his seven seasons, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has elevated it to an art form, winding up, pretending to throw, pulling his arm back and reloading so often that it looks as if someone is hitting the fast forward and rewind buttons while watching game tape. Roethlisberger uses the pump fake more than any other current quarterback except perhaps Peyton Manning.

There is a soft fake in which Roethlisberger barely raises his arm, a hard fake in which he goes so far into his throwing motion that it is hard to imagine how the ball does not fall out of his hand, and even a fake spike, in which, during a regular-season game against the Jets, he pretended to spike the ball so hard it looked as if it nearly touched the ground, before unleashing a pass.

All of them frustrate defenses, which struggle to figure out which way to run and how fast to get there. And all of them aid Roethlisberger’s propensity for the deep pass, buying a few extra moments for receivers to sprint downfield, and a few extra inches of space in which to catch the ball.

For Roethlisberger, then, the pump fake is as important to his game as his mobility, and is apparently as uncalculated as a scramble. He rarely practices it, his coaches and teammates said, and Roethlisberger cannot even pinpoint its origins.

“I have no idea,” he said. “I never thought about it that much.”

At 6 feet 5 inches and 240 pounds, Roethlisberger has the physical advantages that make the pump fake possible: big hands that help him control the ball no matter how far into his motion he goes, and the strength to shed defenders to keep the play alive. He has a quick release and a strong arm, allowing him to make up for the extra seconds it takes to start and restart his throwing motion. And he has the eye training that some quarterbacks lack, so he can quickly recover after a pump fake and find his intended receiver amid the chaos downfield.

“Ben is so competitive there’s never give-up in a play,” said Steelers quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner, who admits that even he has thought Roethlisberger was throwing one way, only to see him pull the football back down. “So if something wasn’t there, he might go to it, be able to pull it back and move to something different. Others might stay in rhythm and throw the ball away.”

Roethlisberger deploys the pump fake so often it sometimes seems like a detriment. Last week, in the Steelers’ divisional-round victory over the Baltimore Ravens, he twice pumped his arm, hoping to spring Ward free. Instead, Roethlisberger waited too long and was sacked. He fumbled and the Ravens returned it for a touchdown.

More often, things go exactly the way Roethlisberger directs them with the flick of his right arm. In one game in 2009, The Pittsburgh Tribune Review counted 17 pump fakes in 43 pass attempts. After fakes, he completed 12 of 17 pass attempts for 195 yards and a touchdown, according to The Tribune Review’s tally. When he did not use a pump fake on the other 26 attempts, he threw for 168 yards, no touchdowns and was intercepted twice.

When the Jets and the Steelers played in the regular season, Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie had Roethlisberger lined up on a blitz. Roethlisberger pump-faked, getting Cromartie to jump. The quarterback then ducked underneath what looked to be a sure sack, and completed an 18-yard pass on third-and-17.

The apotheosis of Roethlisberger’s pump fake came on the winning drive in the Super Bowl in February 2009, when he faked on nearly every one of five pass attempts, including on the game-winning touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes.

“He’s not the kind of guy that is going to drop back and have precise timing with receivers like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning,” said Ron Jaworski, the former quarterback who is now an ESPN analyst. “He likes to hang in the pocket. He’s not afraid to stand in there and get whacked. So he uses the pump fake to keep it going and he can move people around.”

Roethlisberger throws the deep pass more than either of the quarterbacks the Jets have faced this postseason, with 25 percent of his attempts going for 20 or more yards, according to figures compiled by Football Outsiders. That compares with 19 percent of passes for 20 or more yards for Manning and 13 percent for Brady. (The figure for the Saints’ Drew Brees is 15 percent.) A whopping 38 percent of Roethlisberger’s pass attempts are for at least 10 yards, with the next closest among the four, Brees, at 28 percent.

The Steelers, like most teams, like to take deep shots once they get past midfield. That puts pressure on the deepest defenders, usually the safeties. The pump fake is more of a factor against zone defenses because in man-to-man defense, the defenders are not looking at the quarterback.

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http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/21/sport ... 1fake.html (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/21/sports/football/21fake.html)

01-20-2011, 11:31 PM
Nice article, JAR, thanks!