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What Does PBU Mean in Football?

In football, there is a litany of acronyms, such as “TD,” “QB,” and “INT.”

One acronym that you may not be familiar with is “PBU.” A PBU in football stands for “pass breakup.” It is a defensive statistic credited to a player who makes contact with the football, resulting in an incomplete pass but not an interception.

In this article, I explain what qualifies as a PBU, what doesn’t qualify as a PBU, and whether or not PBUs is an effective gauge of a player’s performance.

Key Takeaways

  • PBU is an acronym for the defensive football statistic “Pass breakups.”
  • A PBU is credited to a player who makes contact with the football, resulting in an incompletion but not an interception.
  • All defensive players may accumulate PBUs.

How Does PBU Work in Football?

When a defender makes contact with the football, and the pass falls incomplete, a PBU is credited to the defender.

Many people associate PBUs with safeties and cornerbacks, as these players are most frequently involved in pass coverage. And while these two positions always acquire the most PBUs, any defender can earn a pass breakup.

A compilation of current Atlanta Falcons’ CB Casey Hayward’s PBUs and INTs

All 27 of Hayward’s Pass Breakups and interceptions

For example, if a defensive lineman cannot reach the quarterback before the pass is thrown, the lineman is instructed to time his jump to knock or disrupt the flight of the football at the line of scrimmage. We typically refer to these as “batted balls.”

A batted ball is recorded as a pass breakup, assuming it falls incomplete.

Again, if a defender makes contact with the football and the pass falls incomplete, the defender earns a PBU. [1]

Although less common, there is one additional way to acquire a PBU. For example, the 2022 NCAA Football Stats Manual states, “A defensive player who tackles the intended receiver simultaneously with the arrival of the football, thus preventing the reception, should also be credited with a pass breakup.” [2]

What Does Not Qualify as a PBU?

The definition of a PBU is straightforward: contact of the football by a defender that results in an incomplete pass. 

If a defender makes contact with the football, but the pass is ultimately completed, a PBU is not credited to the defender.

Furthermore, interceptions are not counted as PBUs; however, dropped interceptions are. [3]

Positions that Accumulate PBUs

While all positions may obtain PBUs, cornerbacks are the most likely due to their frequent coverage of wide receivers – the positions most targeted by quarterback passes. In the video below, football guru Cody Alexander breaks down PBU by Washington Commanders’ CB Benjamin St-Juste.

Image source: Cincinnati

MatchQuarters breaks down a PBU by the Commanders’ St. Juste.

Safeties are usually in the annual league leaders for PBUs due to their heavy involvement in the passing game.

Linebackers are often provided with a fair number of PBU opportunities. As they position themselves in the middle of the field, receivers often cross in front of or behind them as they execute their routes, providing linebackers with chances to disrupt passes.

Lastly, as mentioned earlier, defensive linemen who bat down passes at the line of scrimmage are credited with PBUs. [4]

Are PBUs an Effective Gauge of Football Performance?

PBUs, in and of themselves, do not tell you much about a cornerback’s performance.

First, offenses enter the football game with strategy, and that strategy often involves throwing passes to the receiver defended by the weaker cornerback.

Image source: Youtube


As a result, the better cornerback often sees fewer passes thrown toward him. Fewer passes mean fewer chances for PBUs.

Second, interceptions are not counted as PBUs. Therefore, assuming equal numbers of passes thrown to both receivers, the cornerback with poorer hands will accumulate more PBUs and fewer interceptions.

As interceptions almost invariably are more valuable to a team than PBUs, the less useful cornerback will acquire more PBUs due to his failure to intercept the quarterback’s passes.

Lastly, if a cornerback has five PBUs in a game, you might think he played brilliantly. However, if I also told you that he allowed twenty completions for four touchdowns, you would know that he had an awful game. [5]

In conclusion, like most statistics, PBUs are a useful but incomplete appraisal of a player’s performance.


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