Fundamentals : Screen Pass

football, basics, screen, books

Remember that other conversation for another time about screen passes? We’re having it today!

So…what is a screen pass?


A screen pass is a deceptive short pass used to take advantage of aggressive defenses. It’s set up like a long pass, but instead of going long the quarterback throws a short pass to a receiver who has slipped behind the oncoming defensive line and is protected by a “screen” of offensive blockers.


Let’s break that down a little further. A traditional screen pass usually consists of 3 steps:

1. The quarterback drops back to pass, which would indicate a long passing play.

2. While the quarterback is dropping back, a receiver will make his way into the flat (the area 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage in the defensive backfield) and members of the offensive line will release from their blocks, letting the defensive line plow ahead toward the quarterback. The offensive blockers will run ahead of the receiver and form a “screen” of protection in front of him.

3. The quarterback throws the pass to the open receiver before the defenders arrive. The receiver then tries to gain as many yards as he can (Yards After Catch) with the help of his offensive blockers.

Make sense? Not so much?

Either way, this might help:

football, basics, screen


Let the record state that this is a highly unlikely play. But I thought it might help to see a visual you’ve seen before and go from there. Because, hypothetically, this could be a screen play under the right circumstances. The quarterback would drop back, the receiver (a tight end, in this case) would go into the flat, and the left guard and left tackle would release from their blocks and form a screen in the flat for the tight end.

It would help if you could see the defensive backfield. So let’s just add that into the “flaws” column for this visual, which seem to be mounting by the minute.

Be that as it may – the concept makes sense, right?

All of you smart people might be wondering how this concept is even possible since offensive linemen are not allowed to go past the line of scrimmage during passing plays. And that would be an excellent question! On screen plays, offensive linemen are allowed to cross the line of scrimmage. It’s the exception to the rule, a football phenomenon you’ve likely come to expect.

The traditional screen clearly takes some doing. It’s a whole lot of timing and execution, especially as far as the offensive line is concerned. But there are a BUNCH of other types of screens, and not all of them employ movement by the offensive line. The most popular in the NFL is likely the bubble screen, so we’ll take a look at that one.

A bubble screen is a receiver screen – meaning that the receivers are the ones who are going to be forming the actual “screen” part of the screen pass, not the offensive linemen. In a bubble screen, one or more receivers cuts off oncoming defensive backs. In the meantime, another wide receiver moves slightly back and then up again to give the screen time to get in place before catching the ball and running upfield in the area cleared by his screen to gain as many yards after the catch as possible.

Using the same visual, it might look something like this:

football, basics, screen


(Just so we’re clear: that is a conversation bubble labeled “football.” Oh yeah, I went there. Flaw #800. We might have to forget this post ever happened.)

Ok, so in the bubble screen, the quarterback still drops back, only now he’ll have a bit more time to throw since the offensive line will be blocking for him the entire time. The wide receivers go out and pick up the defensive backs, and the receiver in question – tight end, again – bubbles out and then goes upfield after catching the pass.

More on screens in Film Room this Wednesday. Until then, you might want to pop over to this excellent post on all things screen over at ESPN. They don’t use conversation bubbles as footballs over there. I know…shocking! And 10 points to whoever can name where the then-college quarterback named in the article is playing now in the NFL.

Author: Beka