The screen pass is a staple of every professional offense. It is used to combat an aggressive pass rush and to get a safe and consistent 5 or 6 yards. The offenseive linemen let the defense move past them and the quarterback tosses it over their heads to the runningback, who has several offensive linemen as lead blockers. It effectively becomes a running play that has a head start past the defensive line. There are many different variations of the screen, the ones to be covered in this article are the HB Screen (slow screen), the WR Screen, the Bubble Screen, and the TE Screen.
The QB begins this play by taking his regular 5-step drop, acting like a typical pass play. He will then backpedal as fast as he can, as the defensive line will have nobody blocking them. When the D-line has gained enough depth, typically only two or three steps, he will lob a pass over the D-Line to the RB. In this gif, you can see the QB taking his normal pass drop until the line releases and he starts backpedaling.
Note the QB is looking to his left, away from where the RB wil be. This causes the safety to move away from the play as well, as shown in this gif.
Note how far away the safety is from the play when the throw is made.
The RB initially moves up into the pocket, acting like he is going to pass block. After approximately 2 seconds, the RB will move past the line and into the flat. He will then receive the pass from the QB and look upfield.
The O-Line initially drops into pass protection and performs identical to a normal pass play. Then, at the same time the RB moves through the line, the O-Line will stop blocking the D-Line and let them by. They will then move in front of the RB and block the linebackers and safeties. This will usually only be done by 2 or 3 linemen on the play-side. The others will block as usual. In this gif, you can see #70, the circled lineman, shed his block and move upfield.
Notice how the RB stays directly behind his linemen before catching the pass.
The wide receivers will typically run deep routes to clear out the corners and safeties. Once the defensive backs attempt to make a tackle the receivers will block. The wide receivers may also be on the oposite side of the field in order to clear the DBs from the play side.
Almost identical to the slow HB screen, the only difference is in the receiver. Since the pass is going to the TE, it allows the runningback to be even more involved in the fake, and the fake can be more elaborate. It allows for a fake pass, a fake play action pass, a fake draw etc. The RB will execute his part of whatever fake is called. The TE will have responsibilites similar to the O-Line. He will pass block for 2 seconds, then release and move into the flat to catch the pass, while the linemen move in front of him. This play uses a fake play action pass, with a screen to the TE.
Note how the TE has 3 blockers in front of him as he catches the ball.
The WR Screen is fairly different from the HB Screen, with the biggest difference being it is much faster and thrown to a receiver.
The QB will take a quick 1 or 2 step drop and throw to the screen receiver. There is not usually a fake element with the QBs movements; he will keep his eyes on the receiver as the play is quick enough that reading his eyes will not give much of an advantage to the defense.
The RB is pretty irrelevant on this play. He will usually block and take on one of the unblocked defenders.
The outside receiver will initially take 1 hard step forward before moving back behind the line and towards the quarterback. This play is run with either a slot receiver or tight end who blocks the outside CB. The wide out will catch the pass behind the line and turn upfield behind the slot receiver and lineman.
On this play the O-Line will not pass block at all, and will immediately move in front of the receiver. The O-Line will usually only send 1 or 2 blockers in front of the receiver, as the only defenders able to make a play will be the 2 corners and a safety. The other linemen will run run block and move to take on the linebackers. You can see here, after the catch is made, the lineman #77 is moving to block the safety.
The bubble is another screen to the WR and is very similar. The key difference is the bubble screen is thrown to the inside receiver and moves toward the outside.
This is usually run with 2-3 receivers to one side. This play also does not involve linemen blocking in front of the receiver. The outside receivers block the DBs in front of them, while the inside receiver immediately takes a step back and moves toward the outside. The QB throws it slightly upfield of the receiver who catches it while running upfield. If all blocks are held correctly this leaves one DB unblocked, who is generally playing deep.
Things to Note:
- The Bubble Screen is a surprisingly difficult throw for the QB to make, as he does not throw to the receiver, but to empty space in front of the receiver.
- The slow screens are especially vulnerable to interceptions and tackles for loss when quickly identified by the defense.
- Sometimes the RB will yell ‘GO’ to tell the linemen when to release their blocks to improve timing.
- The bubble screen can be used to set up the zone read, as it punishes the slot cornerback for focusing on the QB.
- Why do screens only send 2 or 3 blockers instead of all 5?
- Why don’t bubble screens use linemen as blockers?
- Why are screens use to combat blitzes?
- What aspects of a screen can the defense use to identify it?
- If TE screens can be used with a wider variety of fakes, why are they less common than HB Screens?
- Why does the defensive line continue to go after the QB when he will just toss it over their heads?