The Screen Pass. When It Should Be Used, and Why The Ravens Should Have Used It Versus Denver.

Sports and Bets — September 16, 2015 at 8:38 pm by

Back in my playing days as a middle linebacker, I thought the hardest play to defend was the screen pass. Dropping back into my zone, only to find a wall of huge lineman barreling down on me with a ten yard running start is not a fun experience. As an offensive coach at the high school level, I would go into every game with at least twelve to fifteen different screens in the game plan. At least one screen to each of the five eligible receivers was in my plans for every game. I was trying to accomplish two things; call successful offensive plays, and do my best Sean Peyton impression.

The screen pass is so successful as a play because it achieves multiple objectives. It slows down the opponents pass rush because the defensive lineman become wary of being allowed to beat the offensive lineman so easily. It also gets the ball in the hands of an offenses’ best play-makers in space, with blockers in front of them. Speaking of those blockers, the interior lineman love to hear screen passes called because they get to pull out and try to pulverize smaller defensive backs. It’s a win/win for your offense as a whole, and it’s proven to be one of the most successful play-calls in football. This is evidenced by the fact that offenses run some sort of screens from pee-wee football, all the way up through the NFL. The play just works.

My problem with the screen pass is that it has become such a predictable call. It’s almost inevitable when an offense gets called for a penalty that backs them up, that a screen pass is coming in one of the next two plays. Offensive coordinators are robotically calling screens in long down situations because they feel that’s the best option to get a chunk of the lost yardage back. That’s all well and good, but what’s being lost is the essential aspect if the play; the element of surprise.

I’ve watched two Atlanta Falcons games this year, the one Monday night against Philly, and their preseason game against Tennessee. Watching linebacker Justin Durant play the screen in those two games has been a real pleasure, one that any former player can really appreciate. Durant is so dialed in mentally to the down and distance, and the situation, that he is jumping the screen every time he sees it. In the preseason, the Titans had a second and 22, with rookie QB Marcus Mariota at the helm. This is my point exactly, as the Titans call the obvious screen pass to the tailback. Durant has the back in man coverage, and he knows what’s coming. At the snap he floats off to the flat, where the back is making his way to catch the screen pass from Mariota. Durant beats the wall of offensive lineman to the point of attack, and gets there so fast that he’s able to intercept the pass. Last Monday he did the same thing to the Eagles. He anticipated the screen coming, and beat the lineman to the flat before they could pull out to cut him off. DeMarco Murray was able to make him miss in the flat, but he still disrupted the play enough to where it was unsuccessful. What’s the common denominator in these cases? The predictable play call.

I mentioned Sean Peyton earlier because he is the best play caller in the NFL (in my opinion). The reason he is so good, is because he uses the screen pass on early downs and in unpredictable situations. By calling screens early in the down and distance, Payton’s offense gets back to accomplishing what the original objective of the screen pass is, to catch the defense off guard while rushing too aggressively. Now defensive lineman are so cognizant of screens on long down and distance, that they curtail their rush because they know it’s coming. But by calling it on early downs, or third down and medium yards, the defensive line is ready to pin their ears back and rush. This is when the screen pass is at it’s most effective. The ball is dumped just over the rushing lineman, who have essentially taken themselves out of the play because they can’t stop and change direction fast enough to chase down the play from behind. From this point on, the offense has a clear advantage with 3-6 blockers and only 5-7 defenders left to make the tackle (depending on whether the defense blitzes on the play).

I feel like Marc Trestman could have really helped Joe Flacco out Sunday against the Broncos by trying some first down screens. Even if they ran on first down with no success, a screen on 2nd and 8 would still catch the defense off guard because the defense isn’t thinking screen there. With the Ravens offensive tackles playing as bad as they both were, Trestman should have screened Denver to death to counteract the dominance of Demarcus Ware and Von Miller. Worst case scenario is that the constant threat of screen would slow down the outside pass rush at least a little, giving Flacco an extra half second to survey the field, and properly step into his throw. The screen game used properly can be a weapon both mentally and physically.

In summary, I want to see offensive coordinators get back to calling screens at the right time, instead of calling them in obvious situations.  Show some creativity and shake things up, babes.

Throwback…

 

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