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In Defense of the Screen Pass

Breaking down the different types of screen passes and how to run them.

Long maligned, the screen pass has maintained a firm grip on spread offenses as a whole, despite drawing the ire of many fans. In fact, many (if not most) spread offense coaches consider the screen game to be a true cornerstone of their offensive system. Although many claims exist of its inefficiency, when run correctly the screen pass can be a dangerous weapon for any offense.

What is the point of the screen?

Why would any team throw the ball but do it behind the line of scrimmage? The main goal of the screen pass is to get the ball into the hands of a great athlete in space. By isolating players that can make big plays with good blocking, a team has a good chance to make a big play with an easy throw and read from the quarterback. When combined with a high tempo, each of the four main types of screen passes can be a useful component of a good offense.

Now Screen

Now Screen:

A now screen gets the ball to your outside receiver on the edge of the formation.  From there, the outside receiver should have a chance to immediately get downfield and use his straight-line speed to gain yardage. In many cases, the goal is to get the ball to him as quickly as possible, before the defense has a chance to react to the outside play. Another popular use is with run action attached to the Now screen, watching for a numbers advantage to decide whether to hand the ball to the running back or throw the now screen. This forces the defense to cover the entire width of the field on any given play. Wesley Leftwich could, given proper blocking, use his straight-line speed advantage to get some big yards on a now screen.

Bubble Screen

Bubble Screen:

Arguably the most controversial play amongst many fanbases, the bubble screen can be an effective weapon in a spread offense. By giving the ball to an athletic slot receiver in space, you give yourself a good opportunity at a big play. If the other receivers are adequate blockers, you stand to gain good yardage whenever you have the numbers advantage. Like the now screen, this is popularly combined with a run option to the other direction. A school like Oregon will even go so far as to use this route in their modified version of the classic triple option play. During the spring game we saw the 3rd team offense run this play a few times to Raymond Wingo, and as he progresses as a receiver he should have a chance to create some explosive plays running the bubble. Incoming Freshmen Jonathon Johnson and Richaud Floyd could also make an early impact with this play thanks to their exceptional athleticism and ability with the ball.

Tunnel Screen

Tunnel Screen:

We saw DGB run this play very successfully in his ultimately short time at Mizzou. By getting the ball to the outside receiver running toward the middle of the field behind a wall of offensive linemen, you have an opportunity to get a big, fast receiver into a running lane in the middle of the field. If the receiver can properly "ride the wave" of the blockers in front of him, there’s a good opportunity for a big play. This is a very popular way to neutralize a quick pass rush, letting the defensive line get behind the line of scrimmage before dumping it off behind them. With Nate Brown’s size he should be able to more than handle the hits he will take when running this play, while his decent ability in space that he’s flashed make for the possibility of a big play.

Tunnel Screen

Slip Screen:

This is another good way to take advantage of an aggressive pass rush. The offense sells a normal pass play, encouraging the defensive line to get to the quarterback. As the offensive linemen throw the defensive linemen away (preferably attempting to make it look like the defender is beating them) the running back slips behind the defensive line, and is able to have running space with a wall of offensive linemen in front of him. It’s very important that the offense convinces the D-line that a normal pass play is happening, as an aware D-line can stop any slip screen easily. Russell Hansbrough’s vision and explosiveness mean he could be successful running the slip screen this season.