If not for Taylor Swift, the "Tush Push" would be the NFL's unrivaled biggest storyline of the 2023 season. While Swift has taken some of its thunder, the Philadelphia Eagles' version of the quarterback sneak continues to be a major talking point.
Also referred to as the "Brotherly Shove," the "Tush Push" has been part of the Eagles' offense since 2022, Jalen Hurts' first full year as the team's starting quarterback. The play -- which is basically a sneak by the quarterback while being pushed by teammates behind him -- has paid significant dividends for the Eagles. Philadelphia has converted on 17 of 21 of their "Tush Push" plays this season (81 percent).
Being a copycat league, other NFL teams have incorporated the play into their own offense. The league's 31 other teams have attempted 55 "Tush Push" plays. Of those attempts, 40 were considered a success for a success rate of 72.7 percent. Not as good as the Eagles, but pretty a good percentage nonetheless.
Given the success of the play, and the amount of attention its received this season, we decided to take a look at how we got here by looking back at the evolution of the quarterback sneak -- and more specifically, the "Tush Push" -- to help determine whether or not the "Tush Push" will continue to have a place in the game moving forward.
Origin of the QB sneak
So where did the QB sneak come from? There may not be one person who invented it, or used it first, but it was popularized in the NFL in the late 1930s when Bears head coach George Halas started using the T-formation, making the QB the centerpiece of the offense.
Prior to that, the direct snap to a QB under center was uncommon, especially prior to 1933 when you had to be at least five yards behind the line of scrimmage to even attempt a legal forward pass.
Hall of Fame QB Sid Luckman said as a rookie on the difference between college and pro football, "Well, one difference was that when I joined the Bears I learned George Halas had eight plays off the quarterback sneak."
Luckman scored on a QB sneak in Chicago's 73-0 win over Washington in the 1940 NFL Championship game. In 1952, the Dallas Texans capped a miracle upset over Halas' Bears on a Frank Tripucka game-winning QB sneak. It was the Dallas Texans' only win in their only season of existence.
While it has seemingly always been a part of the modern NFL, usage of the QB sneak has skyrocketed lately. Pro Football Focus began tracking data on QB sneaks in 2017. There's been a considerable increase in QB sneak attempts over that span and especially over the last three years, as you can see below.
Quarterback sneaks through Week 8
If anything, you could argue the play is still underused, by a lot. Quarterback sneaks have been successful 85.9 percent of the time on third or fourth-and-1 since 2017, while all other plays have converted 69.1 percent of the time in those situations.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Tom Brady is the greatest QB sneaker of all-time. The seven-time Super Bowl champion has the most conversions (124) and second-highest conversion rate (90.5 percent) on QB runs on third or fourth-and-1 since 2000, including the playoffs (minimum 50 attempts). Only David Garrard (91.1 percent) has a higher conversion percentage than Brady this century.
While known more for his prolific passing, Drew Brees was also highly successful when it came to QB sneaks. A former Super Bowl MVP, Brees has the third-highest conversion percentage and the third-most third/fourth-and-1 conversions by a quarterback since 2000 despite retiring after the 2020 season. His 73 conversions in those situations trails only Brady and Cam Newton (108) and is ahead of Josh Allen (64), Hurts (56) and fellow former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco (56).
Brady's authored one of the greatest sneaks in NFL history when he leaped over a pile (while taking a shot from Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis) for the game-winning score in New England's 2011 AFC title game win over the Ravens.
Pain Week #6— Packers History (@HistoricPackers) July 11, 2023
Sept. 20, 1970: A harbinger of things to come, the Packers open the year with a 40-0 blowout loss to the Lions. Green Bay fails to get a first down until the third quarter.
The most embarrassing moment? Detroit backup QB Greg Landry's 76-yard QB sneak. pic.twitter.com/6WlBNMU3Zc
The best current quarterback as far as sneaks are concerned is also not a surprise. That title belongs to Hurts, whose 65 sneak conversions since 2020 is more than twice as much as Allen (31). Surprisingly, Jimmy Garoppolo's 27 conversions over that span is tied with Jacoby Brissett for the third-most since 2020.
Hurts was unbeatable when it came to QB sneaks in Super Bowl LVII. He converted on each of his six attempts against the Chiefs while joining Terrell Davis as the only players to run for three scores in a Super Bowl. Hurts' six conversions in that game were more than his counterpart that night, Patrick Mahomes, has tallied in his entire career (more on that later).
Newton and former Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart are two other notable sneakers. They are two of only four quarterbacks in NFL history (Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts being the others) to throw for at least 20 touchdowns and run for at least 10 more scores in the same season.
Not just a Brady thing
Bill Belichick has had immense success with the play both before and after Brady. Belichick's teams have converted on 184 of their 205 QB runs on third or fourth-and-1. The second-closest conversions by a coach since 1991 (Belichick's first year as a head coach) is Baltimore's John Harbaugh's 113 conversions.
Drew Bledsoe, who proceeded Brady in New England, actually led the NFL in third/fourth-and-1 conversions during his nine-year career with the Patriots. Newton, who followed Brady in 2020, led the NFL with 14 sneak conversions that season while rushing for 12 touchdowns, two more than he had during his 2015 MVP season in Carolina. Mac Jones, the Patriots' current starting quarterback, had a league-high 15 QB sneak conversions in 2021.
QB sneak and West Coast Offense
The sneak has been synonymous with the 49ers for decades. Joe Montana scored the first-ever Super Bowl touchdown off a QB sneak during the franchise's first Super Bowl win over the Bengals back in January of 1982.
Steve Young was also a successful "sneaker" whose touchdown run clinched the 49ers' win over the defending two-time champion Cowboys in the 1994 NFC title game.
The 49ers have continued to have success running the sneak under Kyle Shanahan. San Francisco's 61 QB sneak conversions since 2017 is the third-highest total in the NFL over that span.
The most famous QB sneak
That title goes to Bart Starr, whose one-yard touchdown run gave the Packers a 21-17 win over the Cowboys in 1976 NFL Championship Game that is better known as the "Ice Bowl."
On the play, Starr successfully followed the lead of Hall of Fame guard Jerry Kramer, who was able to create enough room to aid his QB across the goal line. The play had to work, as the Packers were out of timeouts and wouldn't have had enough time to get their field goal unit on the field had Starr been stopped short.
While it appears that he is celebrating Starr's score, Packers running back Chuck Mercein is actually raising his arms to show the official that he did not aid Starr on the play, for that was illegal in the NFL until 2005.
The score allowed the Packers to advance to Super Bowl II, where they defeated the Raiders in what was Vince Lombardi's final game on the sideline for Green Bay.
The most famous QB 'push'
In 2005, Reggie Bush helped USC win an epic game in Notre Dame by virtue of his shove of Matt Leinart during his game-winning touchdown. The play immediately earned the nickname "Bush Push" while becoming one of the most memorable plays in college football history.
The play also created controversy, as shoves were illegal at that time. Bush ended up winning the Heisman Trophy that season while helping USC make a return trip to the BCS National Championship Game, where they fell to Vince Young's Texas Longhorns in one of the greatest football games ever played.
QB sneak isn't for everyone
Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is among the NFL's past and current quarterbacks who have had success despite not using the sneak on a regular basis. Tagovailoa has yet to attempt a sneak this season, while Mahomes, the reigning league MVP, hasn't attempted a sneak since suffering a knee injury while sneaking back in 2019. Four-time league MVP Aaron Rodgers' six sneaks since 2017 are tied for the 49th most in the NFL over that span.
Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning also wasn't much of a sneaker with a 68 percent career conversion rate on third/fourth-and-1 runs (15 of 22).
The future of the 'Tush Push'
Upon looking at history, there is enough evidence to suggest that the "Tush Push" is likely at its pinnacle as far as popularity and its effectiveness.
While many teams have benefitted, the tush push has generated some backlash from those who feel it gives the offense an unfair advantage. When asked about it earlier this season, Steelers head coach and NFL Competition Committee member Mike Tomlin said that, while no changes to the rules would be made in-season, the Committee would likely review the matter when they meet during the offseason.
Rules aside, the "Tush Push" doesn't always work. The Eagles were actually stopped while running the play during Sunday's win over Washington, as Hurts fumbled on the play while putting the ball on the ground for the first time in 74 career sneaks. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 attempt earlier this season against the Chargers, leaving him to say afterwords, "They didn't push my tush enough." 49ers linebacker Fred Warner blew up the Vikings "Tush Push" play on "Monday Night Football" late last month.
As you can imagine, the play also has the potential for injury. Brock Purdy sustained a head injury after running a sneak back in Week 7. Putting the QB in harm's way on a sneak is the likely reason why it isn't part of the Dolphins' offense.
You also have to have the right players in order to make the play work. Hurts, a phenomenal athlete, is very adept at running the sneak. Jason Kelce, the point man on the play from a blocking standout, is a likely future Hall of Fame center. Those two make the play seem easy when it is anything but a sure thing.
Barring a rule change, it's safe to say that the "Tush Push" is here to stay. But like the Wildcat, which took the league by storm behind Dolphins' backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams back in 2008, the "Tush Push" will probably be used on a less frequent basis in the years to come as defenses adapt to the play.
In the meantime, expect the Eagles and other teams to continue to implement the play into their weekly game plan. Who knows? The play may end up providing the game-winning score in this year's Super Bowl, thus further etching the play's place in history.