FF 210: Screen Package

Submitted by Space Coyote on September 27th, 2011 at 6:12 PM

Previous Classes

FF 101 - The Fundamentals: Syllabus & Day 1 (Overall), Day 2 (Offense), Day 3 (Defense), Day 4 (Offensive Line), Day 5 (Wide Receivers)

FF 201 - 3-3-5 Defense: Day 1 (Advantage/Disadvantage) (I still believe this), Day 2 (Against tight formations)

[ED: PGB - I took the liberty of adding each of these courses to the MGoHallofFame:  http://mgoblog.com/content/user-curated-mgohalloffame. ED: bump.]

FF210: Screen Package

Whatchya know, I still exist.  That’s right, I’m like either Santa Clause or the red M&M in that commercial.  If you haven’t been here for more than a year, or worse yet, if you have a life outside of here, then you either don’t know or don’t remember about the series above.  I’m formerly [name redacted] and am now a Space Coyote (deal with it, mostly because a Space Coyote from Space is awesome), and I’m going to do a slight continuation of the previous series.  Heck, let’s call it FF210: Football Packages.  Rather than talk about what the title suggests (wrong website), I’ll add this little section about screen packages.  Other classes could include: blitz packages, coverage packages, bunch formation packages, etc.  The fun could be never ending.

(Aside: If you’re wondering why the previous series seems a bit incomplete, like “where’s the defense?” it’s because it is incomplete.  If you’re wondering why I didn’t finish it…yes.  Also, I’ve been a bit busy.)

Lately there has been much confusion about screen type substances around these parts and I figured I would be a bit of a guest professor for a second and teach a few things.  If you are looking for how to install a screen door, this is not the place for you, so I’ll just let Menard’s do that for you.


Not all screens are created equal.  And as they are not all created equal, they are also not all designed to take advantage of the same things.  There is a lot in common with many screen passes, but there are also key differences.  There are lots of different types of screen passes, and I’m not going to cover them all.  What I will cover today is probably the more fundamental screens.  The discussion below will consist of what these screens are attempting to constrain (“constrain play” has become a favorite word around here), what the keys are to the type of screen, and how to successfully run the screen.  Note, as I said above, there are many, many more screens out there that I won’t cover.  There are also many variations of these screens that I won’t begin to touch.  This is only meant to be an introduction to these basic concepts.  The types of screens included are:

1. The ones where you throw to the WR, we’ll call those WR screens

  • Bubble Screen
  • Tunnel/ Jailbreak Screen

2. The ones where you screen to the RB, we’ll call those RB screens

  • Slow Screen
  • Crack Screen

Screens not covered: middle screen, TE screen, throwback screen, transcontinental (even though it’s a crowd favorite), etc.


Screens in College Football

In college football linemen can block down field at the snap as long as the pass play is completed behind the line of scrimmage.  This is not the same in the NFL, but is a big reason why screens are so successful at the college level.


Wide Receiver Screen

Just because you’re throwing a screen pass to a wide receiver doesn’t mean it is in an attempt to do the same thing.  There are two main types of WR screens that I will discuss, and each have very different keys and are constraints of different things.  They are the bubble screen and the tunnel/jailbreak screen.


Bubble Screen

Better image with some play action

mgoblog bubble screen picture paged

Against Michigan!


This is essentially a run play constraint.  The bubble screen is intended to strength the defense horizontally.  It is an easy way to reach the edge without a clumsy pitch out of the shotgun.  It is typically run to get defenders out of the box.  It takes advantage of defenders peaking into the back field and reacting quickly and out of control to flow.  Gap sound teams with safeties in the box with responsibilities in gaps will have trouble on bubble screens because they are not stretched horizontally and are focused on the play in the backfield.

Running the bubble screen will:

Running the bubble screen will open up lanes in the middle of the field as defenders must flex from sideline to sideline.  This will give gaps for RBs/QBs on Zone Reads, RB power, and QB draws.  This also opens up the deep middle of the field by often forcing safeties to play off the edge of the line rather than in the box as linebackers or OLBs out of the box to respect the sideline threat more.  This makes it much more difficult for defenders to play both the run and the pass.  If run correctly it will leave a WR one on one on a corner in space, or better yet, with both corner taken out of the play and a score up the sideline.


When to run it:

Typically you run it when corners aren’t pressing.  If corners are pressing the pass can become very dangerous.  More importantly, you run it when safeties and LBs are shaded too far inside in an attempt to play both run and pass.  The danger: make sure the corners respect routes enough to not quickly jump the bubble.


How to run it:

It’s not as simple as just taking a snap and winging it out there.  As I have been told before, a QB throwing a bubble screen is kind of like a short stop turning a double play as far as the importance of footwork, body position, grip, and not rushing.

Most of the time in the backfield there is some sort of zone read action.  This means that the play looks like a zone read it terms of what the running back is doing.  The process of the QB adjusting the ball and throwing means that an actual playaction is really necessary.  What is so different about the bubble screen is that it doesn’t typically require linemen to block for a “screen”.  The linemen also carry out the zone read play.  This causes LBs and Ss to flow down to play the zone read, leaving the WR open on the edge.

The blocking WRs come off on the snap as if they are running routes.  His job is to take the nearest threat, which is mostly the man covering him.  As they converge on the man covering them, they square their bodies and force and get their backs to the sideline, blocking those covering them to the inside and leaving a lane down the sideline.  If the defender does manage to get outside, continue to drive him to the sideline (this isn’t O-line blocking, there is a lot of space and the ball carrier will run off the blockers butt to the hole in the defense regardless).  In most cases the WR blocks the man head up on him (or the man that appears to be covering him).  In some cases the WR will crack down on the defender covering the screen receiver.  It all depends on how the defense plays it at the snap.  The reason that the WR usually blocks the man covering him is because it causes traffic for the inside cover guy to have to get through.  You can, in essence, block two guys with one blocker, leaving a seal down the sideline.  Some people crack the inside guy and hope the outside cover man follows inside, but you run the risk of the outside guy reading the play and blowing it up.  All these decisions must be made based on the defenses alignment.



Oregon. The first one suffices (some of the others aren't really bubble screens).  Note that they double the near man to the second corner.  The second corner jumps outside and the WR kind of just blocks him straight up, making this play a first down rather than TD.  This can be done with 3 or 2 WRs.

[Ed: others after the jump.]

Tunnel/ Jailbreak Screen

Diagram in motion (this is good)


The tunnel screen is a constraint for teams the blitz a lot.  It keeps the LBs who are responsible for covering RBs eyes in the backfield, and if they are on a delayed blitz if they read RB blocking, even better.  This is because blitzing teams have natural tunnels that form.  It can be run against man or zone, one high or two high safeties.


Running tunnel screen will:

Running the tunnel screen will prevent teams from blitzing or spying as much.  It will also cause safeties to stop peaking in the backfield as much and to force them and OLBs to check the parameter more often, rather than being able to focus solely on the backfield.


When to run it:

The tunnel can be run almost any time, but most importantly is when you have a numbers advantage to the outside.  It would be more apt to say when not to run it.  I’ll get there.  When to run is, as said above, against man or zone, one high safety or two high safety, press coverage or not.  When not to run it, or what to watch for, are safeties lined up about 10 yards off the ball.  These are safeties that are not necessarily “in the box”, but are focused on anything short.  They aren’t worried about people getting over the top, and they cover the seams, which is where the tunnel tends to attack.   Also watch for LBs gunning outside and becoming head hunters.  Works best with some sort of play action in the backfield to hold LBs.


How to run it:

To run it there is usually some sort of action in the backfield to hold the blockers.  This can come via roll out, play action, etc.  The RB stays in to block after the action, making it look very much like a typical pass play.

At the snap the receivers take several steps upfield to indicate they are running normal routes.  One receiever then stops and comes back to the ball towards the inside, making sure to catch the ball in the backfield.

There are many ways to block a tunnel screen.  Some release tackles, others don’t.  Some go to areas and look for a man, others have pre-snap “counts” for which man to block.  I prefer the counting method.  I also prefer to leave the tackle in, and I’ll explain on why.

The job of the tackle is to force the DE to drive upfield without letting him simply get a free shot at the QB.  Screen blocking is different than most, and usually includes counting and then releasing down field.  I prefer the tackle to stay on the DE and continuing driving him upfield, but there are valid reasons for him to release as well (I’ll get there).

Here’s the count system:

The first man inside of the WR receiving the tunnel screen for the most dangerous man, usually the corner covering the receiver (though if that CB bails then it will be someone else).  The next man inside has to get the force player, which is usually the outside linebacker (especially sense the DE has been forced upfield).  The next man inside has to is responsible for the next guy inside, usually a middle linebacker.  The reason some people like the tackle to release is that it means the tackle and guard release, giving better angles at their assignments.  My feeling is usually the run action gets the LBs moving, allowing for the guard and center to reach them, and the blocked DE insures that man won’t blow up the play.



Texas Tech: note the LB gets so drawn by the run action that the center moves on to the safety level.



Running back screen

Again, they aren’t the same thing.


Slow Screen

Check this too


This play is mostly run for teams that blitz and play zone behind it.  It is drawn to get teams that are running upfield at the QB out of control and not reading their surroundings.  Typically a good call on 3rd and long when D-lineman pin their ears back and everyone else drops into deeper zones.  It is also (for the most part) a safe play.


Running slow screen will:

Running this screen will cause the D-line to slow their roll to the QB.  It will also make a D-coordinator think twice about sending a nasty blitz or simply dropping everyone deep in coverage.


When to run it:

Run it when you think the defense will be playing zone, blitzing, and/or the D-line will be rushing the QB without remorse.  It is best run when defense is thinking deep, usually when safeties have bailed to cover deep zones, corners are covering receivers making sure nothing gets behind them, and LBs are in la-la land doing their not so great immetation of zone coverage.  It can also be run against man, typically a cover 2 man under or something of the ilk.  This can be great or can suck.  It can be great when the O-line picks up the man responsible for covering the RB because once he is out of the play, everyone else has essentially been taken deep, or it can suck if the O-line doesn’t pick up this assignment and the RB is covered.  This cause the RB to get popped, the QB to get popped, the O-line to have to run about 20 yards more than they are used to, the WRs have run deep, and all you managed was to throw it into the ground if you’re lucky.


How to run it:

Again, many ways to block this.  The key to this is timing.  Suck the blitzers and D-line upfield and get everyone else to drop.  This will cause a huge gap to exist between the second level and the first.  After the O-line does their required amount of “pass-blocking” they release downfield.  This gives the offense a huge numbers advantage with blocking and a lot of space to work with. 

The running back will count to two or three seconds while acting like he is protecting the QB, similar to the O-line, he will then release into the flat.

The tackle will invite the DE upfield on a short corner and continue to drive him upfield.  The next man inside (the guard) will two or three count then release to the first man to the outside.  The center or backside guard (depending on the rush) will do the same, but will look for the first man inside to upfield (usually a linebacker).  The last man to release (again, center or backside guard) will then release the same way and peal back around to make sure no one is coming from the inside to disrupt the play (this is usually a D-linemen or blitzing LB).

The WRs usually just take their man down field, sometimes the block the corner if he doesn't look engaged.



A-train at the 7:33 mark (sorry, I tried to embed it so it went straight there but I'm not good with those things so you'll have to deal).  Don’t close that window when you’re done, you will use it again in a second.


Crack Screen


The crack screen is a way to get the RB to the edge.  Michigan ran it a few times with RR.  Carlos Brown scored a TD on it the only time I actually saw it run successfully while RR was here.  It is a constraint against heavy pass rushing teams that play a lot of man behind it.


Running a crack screen will:

Give the running back a lane up the sideline.  It will make the defense think about playing man, and make the LB think about not having his head on a swivel.  This will cause the LBs to read pass as quickly.  It will also force CBs to play in more of a trail position, opening up crossing routes.


How to run it:

Similar to the slow screen, but typically the line releases sooner (after about a one count).  The main difference is that instead of the WR running his man down field, he cracks the inside guy who is covering the RB.  Because the CB follows the WR inside, the RB has blockers in front of him leading downfield with no one covering the RB.



Ah, remember the A-Train going bonkers on this play.  I do. (5:28 mark).  Note, the TE releases down field as if running a route and catches the LB inside, sealing him there.  The WR in motion essentially doubles him.  The tackle forces the DE upfield and the guard forces the DT inside and upfield before releasing.  The center (uncovered) releases right away.  No one is outside so the confoy just goes downfield.  The play destroys souls of OSU.







Space Coyote

September 26th, 2011 at 10:21 PM ^

Each screen has their place in the screen package.  Michigan should prepare all of them in my mind and run the ones that the defense gives them.  I think the tunnel will be tough for now because of how defenses play Denard.  In the future it might be one of the best though because teams will blitz a lot trying to disrupt the QBs timing, which is essential in the west coast offense.  I love the RB screens and think that they work great and can if Denard learns to actually throw the ball and set his feet rather than aiming it and throwing like a dart.  Of the 2 RB screens I think the crack screen works the best because of how teams will match up against Denard, but on 3rd and long the slow screen would probably be the best as teams settle into a zone and try to make Denard beat them by making good decisions and being accurate.  And the bubble is a great addition to teams loading the box. 

Blue in Seattle

September 27th, 2011 at 7:48 PM ^

The way defenses are playing Denard, coupled with how Al Borges has been running the Zone Read and QB ISO plays, anything that let's the defense converge on Denard, and then let him throw to a forgotten RB is going to be very effective.  I think the WR screens happen too fast to really take advantage of the defense going after Denard.  That RB screen against SDSU was just crazy.  I've never seen it where there is NO ONE for three lineman to block and the RB essentially has to dodge his own team to get into the open.  It's like it worked TOO well.

I think Al Borges is now getting a handle on the fact that the offense starts with Denard, and then punishes the cheating with other plays.  He is used to starting with passing to open up things for the RB, but now he runs his QB to open up things for the RB.  I don't even think RR had originally thought Denard would have such an affect over the RB's.

Space Coyote

September 26th, 2011 at 10:13 PM ^

The reason Michigan isn't running more bubble screens is because the CBs are jumping all over any cuts. This is why you see so many double moves and deep routes. I still think against Easter, who had their corners playing off and it seemed like they were not biting nearly as hard, that the bubble could have worked. If my memory serves me right it wouldn't have worked well against any of the other teams.  The reason is because of the corners in most cases (I haven't really watched for this in any of the film so I may be a bit wrong here, but this is my assumption).

Against SDSU, a team that blitzes a lot, a tunnel screen is a great idea.  The 3-3-5 creates tunnels with all the blitzes and a gap between those attacking the QB and those dropping into zones.  Bubbles are more difficult because of the alignment of the strong safeties (box safeties) outside the ends.  

I think tunnel screens are good.  They work.  Michigan's timing is terrible at this point though and the O-line is getting used to blocking them still, this is why it hasn't been successful. Tunnel screens might not be the best option with Denard either as most teams won't blitz him like SDSU did, but will play with more spies and the like.  In the future of Michigan's offense it will most likely work great as teams try to blitz the QB to disrupt the timing of the west coast offense.  

I would like to see bubble screens too.  Part of the problem is that I don't think Michigan has installed the constraint off of the bubble yet.  RR ran it as the fake block and seem route.  Or Michigan could just be saving it.  I would like to see the field stretched more sideline to sideline though to open lanes.  The RBs aren't really fast enough to get there (I think Shaw might be, but I seem to be in the minority there) and it's difficult to get Denard on the edge when safeties fly up in run support to contain him.  I think the bubble should be something implemented if it isn't already to go along with Michigan's other screens.


September 27th, 2011 at 10:03 AM ^

This is amazing and so timely given all the questions about why the bubble screen hasn't been run more.  These kinds of informational posts are what make MGoBlog the go-to source for Michigan football.  Many thanks!


Mr. Yost

September 27th, 2011 at 12:39 PM ^

I've been calling for this for WEEKS!


(Also the shovel pass, slant and quick hitch routes)


It gets the the QB in rhythm and puts the ball in the hands of other playmakers. Hemingway on a jailbreak screen, Gallon on a bubble screen? Fitz, Smith and Shaw on a screen to the RB? Ahhh marvelous.


...and you're star QB isn't running around in circles trying not to get hit all the damn time.

buy sunglasses

Space Coyote

September 27th, 2011 at 12:56 PM ^

At least two crack screens (ND and SDSU) and at least 3 tunnel screens that I remember.  They also threw a throw back screen.

Denard's timing is still way off on the tunnel screens and he doesn't actually throw the ball on some of his RB screens (his footwork gets lazy and he kind of flicks it like a dart, which is why the one against ND resulted in an interception).  The only one that I would have liked to have seen is a bubble screen and that probably only would have worked against Eastern the way their corners were playing and their safeties were inside the box.

Slants won't work for now.  Most teams are lining up their safeties right in that lane (about 8-10 yards off the LOS) and not worried about WRs getting behind them.  Hitches will struggle because CBs are jumping Michigan's routes.  That's why Michigan is running so many double moves.  The WRs are open deep, but Denard needs to hit them to open up the easy throws you are talking about.  And Denard needs a lot of work in the screen game to make it an easy throw for him still (a lot of practice as far as timing, footwork, etc. goes into a successful screen play, it isn't as simple as just playing catch when you haven't practiced it a lot).

Space Coyote

September 27th, 2011 at 2:36 PM ^

Hitches/curls: CBs are jumping any routes and Denard's timing with his receivers (it's a combo of both them not being on the same timing, it could be the fault of either or both).  So on the WR's first cut the CBs are jumping them.  As the CBs aren't in a backpeddle (because they don't respect the deep ball) they can break quickly on those types of routes.

Quick Outs: Same as above combined with the fact that Denard really doesn't have the arm strength/ accuracy combo.  He has a strong arm, he can throw hard, but that is a long pass to make very accurately and requires good time, especially if CBs are jumping the routes.

TE Drag: Shallow drags mostly because it is difficult for Denard to hit that pass at his height.  If he gives the drag time to develope he could hit it on the backside but again, safeties could jump those routes.  I would say the biggest reason he isn't hitting drags though is because he isn't going through his progressions.  He has actually had drag routes open but has decided to go to the deep pass.

HB Checkdowns: He has hit this a few times (Smith fumble) but again, many times he just isn't checking down.  Checkdowns are used when the other options usually aren't open, it's usually a third or forth read in the progression, not a designed play itself.


SC Wolverine

September 27th, 2011 at 6:40 PM ^

My guess is that Hoke is dying to use the transcontinental with Denard.  Just imagine!  He must be saving it for tsio or maybe Nebraska.  After all, it's traditional UM football!


September 27th, 2011 at 8:00 PM ^

Thank you for putting this diary together.  Reading the materials in the context of the plays we are actually running really makes your information relevant.  Very much appreciated.