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NFL linemen use 3 different pass blocking sets. Here’s how to tell the difference.

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Not all pass protection is the same. Free agent NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz explains the differences and how teams use them.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend! I hope y’all are enjoying the weekend of family, food, and football. I’m here to bring some more joy to the weekend by breaking down the three different types of pass sets offensive linemen can use.

Last week, I wrote how a quarterback can sack himself. In that piece, I explained the most basic fundamentals of pass protecting. Now, I will expand on that.

There are multiple types of pass protections. Drop back passes which include three-step drops, five-step drops, and rare for today’s game, a seven-step drop. With the heavy use of shotgun now, these drop numbers have changed. There are play action passes, screen passes, and bootleg/nakeds. Each of these protections uses a different style of pass protection.

A set is how you go about pass protecting. The same technique principles apply to all sets — balanced base, great punch, and targeting — but how that technique is applied is determined by the set. There are three types of pass sets for offensive tackles. We will focus on that position because they get paid to pass protect. As one offensive line coach told me “we can find guards at the local grocery store!”

The three types of pass sets are a jump set, 45-degree set, and vertical set. A jump set and the 45 are closely related, using the same principles, but vary based on the alignment of the defender. A vertical set is its own beast. Each of these has its uses and issues.

Jump set

A jump set is commonly used for a play action pass or a three-step drop when the ball is out quickly. The goal of a jump set is getting your hands on the defender as soon as possible and in the process, sell the run action while keeping your pads down. If you sell run action, the defensive lineman will stop his feet and look around. The linebackers will read run, step up, and the offense is able to throw behind them.

A jump set is best used when the defender is touching your body. When you jump set, it’s important to get your feet into the ground quickly with a good base, staying inside out on the defender. Ideally, you’d make contact on your second step or first kick.

The issues you run into with a jump set is setting too wide on the defender and allowing him to beat you inside. Also, you can run into problems with stopping your feet on contact. It’s very tempting to stop your feet when the defender also stops his feet. This set is less common among offensive tackles because there are fewer passes from under center. A true jump set must be used when the defender is on your body, and in shotgun, that’s less likely.

Here is a textbook jump set by Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith, No. 77. It’s a play action pass with a short roll by the quarterback. Smith sells run action, gets his hands right on the chest, brings his feet. The defensive end is playing it as a run.

When playing guard, this set was my ideal set. I loved it. Because defenders play on your body more often, it’s easier to get on them quickly and stop their power.

Packers’ No. 70 T.J. Lang, has mastered the jump set. Here, he’s playing against Haloti Ngata, one of the strongest and most powerful defensive tackles in the NFL. Haloti is a tad wide, but T.J. jumps him anyway. If the offensive lineman can get his hands on a powerful defensive tackle early, they have the advantage. T.J. stays inside out and gets it done.

45-degree set

Moving on to the 45-degree set: it’s a jump set mentality, but used on a defender off your body.

If you try to jump set a defender who’s too far away, you will get beat around the edge. A 45-degree set is the next option and used most often by tackles when they want to get on the defender quickly.

It’s an aggressive pass set literally on a 45-degree angle. Instead of a jump set where you make contact on your second step, or one kick, contact on a 45-degree set is made on your second kick. The same technique principles apply here. Strong balanced set, punch from your back with a tight core and target the nearest point.

A 45 set can be used on play action, three- or five-step drops or by a tackle who knows he has inside help from the guard. The issues are inside moves and line games. When you’re setting firm, defensive line stunts will be an issue.

The idea of being aggressive when setting, either jumping a defender who’s on your body or setting on a 45-degree set, was made popular by long time famed offensive line coach Howard Mudd. In his system, all the lineman “jumped” their defenders every play until third-and-long.

I’ve played for two offensive line coaches who are Howard Mudd disciples. This is by far my favorite style of pass protecting. Everyone across the line is aggressive and we know the issues that can arise from these sets. If we are all on the same page, then it’s easier to adjust. Personally, I’m a big body who doesn’t want to move much in pass protection. These systems allowed me to play at my best.

Here are two examples of offensive lines being aggressive. The guards are jump setting because their defenders are on their bodies, and the tackles are setting at a 45. The Chiefs offensive line is being aggressive across the board. The guards are jump setting and the tackles are setting at a 45. Both tackles do an excellent job of timing up their punches with their sets. There is also no rush or panic in the set. Both guys take the battle to the defender now.

The Lions across the board are jumping defenders, using a jump set and a 45 degree set. I want you to notice the left tackle on this clip. Jumping a wide 9 technique can be terrifying for a young tackle. Not for Taylor Decker (No. 68). This is textbook. He smoothly kicks out to cut off the rush angle of the defensive end, punches and stops the bull rush. The left guard is jumping the three technique and the right tackle is 45 setting the defensive end.

The vertical set

The third and final pass set is the most common for tackles, the vertical set.

When a defender is off the body and you have a longer pass, the vertical set allows you to stay square longer and be ready for multiple moves. You’re also able to pass off line games easier and pick up pressure. It gives you time.

Tons of offensive line coaches exclusively prefer a vertical set. However, the vertical set is hard to master. Lots of things can go wrong.

You don’t stay square by dropping your back foot as you can deep. When you’re setting back, you’re vulnerable to a bull rush and there isn’t much wiggle room. By the nature of your set, you’re close to the quarterback.

Kicking one step too far is common, as well, giving up the inside or having a soft inside shoulder. Timing up a punch can be difficult, too. The longer you have to wait for contact, you naturally drop your hands so they aren’t ready on contact. I wasn’t my best when I had to vertical set. All those things I mentioned above, happened to me constantly. I much rather preferred to get my hands on defensive lineman and go to work.

Saying all that, if you master the vertical set, you’re almost unbeatable. The best vertical setter in the NFL is future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns. That is his set most of the time. It’s smooth and consistent, and his punch is always on time.

Here is Joe Thomas (No. 73) against Terrell Suggs of the Ravens, two elite players going at it. Joe sets vertical and stones Suggs. Notice how he resets his hands and hops back when he gets a bull rush? When he hops back, he resets his hips.

Joe is also one of the only tackles who uses the vertical set-jump. He will set vertical for kick, then attack the defensive end. It’s his way to protect himself from twists or movement on a three-step drop, or he uses it against a defensive end who’s not a speed rusher.

When you’re watching games this weekend and eating leftover turkey, try to notice the different sets your favorite lineman are taking and send me a note on Twitter!