Coach’s Corner: The Importance of the Screen Pass

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Photo via John Glaser

Whether you are a running team or passing team it is vitally important to have a screen play or two in your offensive game plan. Let’s take a look at the screen play.

Definition of a Screen Pass:

A play designed to look like a down field pass so as to invite the defensive personnel up field in a pass rush mode only to have some or all of the offensive linemen release and get downfield to block as the ball is thrown to a skill player behind the line of scrimmage.

Offensive Advantages of a Screen Pass:

The advantages of the screen pass for the offense is multifold. First and foremost it will slow down the rush as mentioned above. Typically used in a passing down situation (3rd & long) when the defense is “pinning their ears back” and coming as soon as the ball is snapped. Secondly, it forces the defensive line coaches to prepare for the screen during the week as they must coach “retracing their steps” when they sense a screen pass. Finally, calling a screen pass when a defense is blitzing or bringing pressure is even more beneficial as there will be less guys to block downfield for the ball carrier and it will make that Defensive Coordinator second guess himself the next time he is tempted to call a blitz or pressure.

Fitting the Screen Pass into your offense:

The most important rule of adding any “special” play to your offense is to make it look like something else you already have in your system. For example, if you are a drop back passing team you might want to use a Running Back or Wide Receiver screen off of a drop back by the Quarterback. If you are a heavy sprint out team then you better have a throwback” screen off of a sprint out by the Quarterback.

Commonly Used Screen Passes:

The Drop Back Running Back Screen – Running Back fakes pass pro either on an edge or inside then turns around to catch the pass as the Offensive Line release downfield to block

The Wide Receiver Tunnel Screen – Outside Wide Receiver takes a few steps up field then arcs back into the middle of formation behind the line of scrimmage as the Offensive Linemen release and get down field to block second and third level defenders

The Sprint Out Throwback Screen – The Quarterback sprints out in one direction then throws back to a Tight End or Wide Receiver on the backside of the formation as Offensive Linemen on that side release to block downfield

The Double Screen – This screen is best used out of a four Wide Receiver set with two on each side of formation. On the snap the Running Back will release and swing out to one side. As the Quarterback takes his drop he is reading the Defensive End to that side who is unblocked. If that Defensive End continues to rush up field towards the Quarterback, the ball will be thrown to the Running Back. If the Defensive End turns his shoulders and chases the Running Back then the Quarterback will turn his shoulders to the other side of the field where the outside Wide Receiver on that side is running a tunnel screen. Offensive Linemen are setting, releasing, and getting downfield on both sides of the play.

Keys for Running a Successful Screen Pass:

1.) Most importantly, you’ve got to have a player that can run and weave through traffic on a screen pass or it won’t matter how you block it up.

2.) Offensive Line must be able to give the impression that they “missed the block” on the Defensive Linemen to make the defense feel good about rushing up field.

3.) Quarterback must be able to drop, sell the pass, and get on his toes to make an accurate throw, then get the heck out of the way of rushing defensive players.

4.) Timing! Making the call when the defense is planning on getting after the Quarterback with the rush and, even better, when they also bring pressure (blitz).

5.) Don’t be predictable as an offensive play caller and just call it on 3 rd & long. Mix it up sometimes. Keep the defense guessing.

6.) Devoting the proper time in practice to working on the screens you run.

7.) Coach the Offensive Linemen that are releasing to block downfield to run to an area, not to a specific defender as you may never really know where they will be at and Offensive Linemen downfield chasing a skill defender doesn’t usually work out for the offense as they will usually not get to them.

8.) Making sure the Quarterback understands what to do with the ball if the defense “sniffs” out the screen and covers the intended receiver (there is a proper way to throw away the football on a screen pass). Throwing it at the feet of that receiver where NO ONE on defense can pick it off.


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