Definitions

screen-pass

Screen pass

A screen pass is a type of play in American football. During a screen pass, many things are going on at the same time in order to fool the defense into thinking a long pass is being thrown, when in fact the pass is merely a short one, just beyond the defensive linemen. Screens are usually deployed against aggressive defenses that rush the passer. Because screens invite the defense to rush the quarterback, it leaves fewer defenders behind the rushers to stop the play.

A screen pass can be effective, but it also can be risky because it is rather easy for a defensive player, even a lineman, to intercept this short pass if a defender gets in between the quarterback and the intended receiver. If the pass is intercepted, there are often few offensive players in front of the intercepting player, thus making it much easier for the intercepting team to earn a large return or to score a touchdown.

Screens come in all shapes and sizes. A screen to a running back to either the strong or short side of the field in the flats is often just called a screen. Screens to Wide Receivers come in four forms: The Bubble Screen, Middle Screen, Slot Screen and Slip Screen.

The bubble screen was essentially created by Joe Tiller, current coach of Purdue, when he was coach at Wyoming. The bubble screen involves a receiver taking a step forward, then darting toward the quarterback to receive the ball while the linemen release to clear a path for the receiver. The benefit of the bubble screen is it works against zone or man coverage, the downside is that it is timing, and a zone blitz or defensive end dropping into coverage messes up the timing, and this usually results in a sack.

The middle screen is like the bubble screen, except instead of being executed to one side of the field or another, the receiver continues his route to the middle of the field. The linemen release up the middle of the field in front of the receiver.

A screen pass is sometimes referred to as a shovel pass, which is also referred to as a shuttle or shuffle pass. Unlike a screen pass, which is a type of play, a shovel pass is actually a different throwing motion. To throw a shovel pass the quarterback palms the football, and "shovels" the pass directly forward to the receiver, usually with a backhand or underhand motion. When a designed play calls for the quarterback to use a shovel pass forward to a receiver it is, by definition, also a screen pass. Many times, however, the quarterback will be scrambling or about to be sacked and will shovel pass the ball to a receiver who was not the intended target of the called play. A shovel pass is useful in this situation because of its smaller range of motion and quick release. In this instance the shovel pass is not a screen pass.

Offensive action during a screen pass play

  • The quarterback drops back as if he's going to pass.
  • The offensive line sets up in pass protection for usually one to two seconds, then releases and lets the defensive line go.
  • The person receiving the screen pass will move behind the releasing linemen and wait for the ball.
  • The outside receivers run clear-out routes in order to make a path for the screen coming behind them.

If run properly, the defensive backs will be run out of the play by the receivers, and the defensive line will penetrate too far to stop the short pass from being thrown. The only defenders left will be linebackers, which will be picked up by the "screen" of offensive linemen in front of the receiver—hence the name "screen pass."

Types of screen pass plays

There are different types of screens that can be thrown, such as:

  • The "conventional" screen to the running back the action described above. This type of play is something of a scripted checkdown.
  • A tight end screen where the tight end takes the place of the running back in the above description.
  • The wide receiver screen (or "jailbreak screen"), where the linemen sprint out in front of the wide receiver catching the screen pass. However, the blocking may be as simple as one receiver blocking ahead of another. A wide receiver screen thrown to a receiver moving towards the quarterback, behind one or more blocking receivers, is also commonly called a "tunnel screen".
  • The "quarterback throwback" screen, where the quarterback will pitch to a running back and run the opposite direction, with releasing linemen in front of him. The running back will then "throw it back" to the quarterback, with offensive linemen leading him downfield.
  • The "middle screen", which has the same type of action as a "conventional" screen, but the linemen remain in the middle of the field rather than releasing to either side.
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