We break down Wide Receiver Bubble Screens.

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WR Screens are quick hitting plays where the receiver either a) curls back around, or b) takes a couple steps back, catches the ball and looks for blockers to lead him down the field. They are completed behind the line of scrimmage (LOS). They are at times called slip screens.

There are several types of screens, but we’ll only address two. The bubble screen to a WR and/or TE is a bit different than that of a screen pass to a running back. These are really incumbent on the quarterback and offensive line to get right. The screen pass to a running back will be addressed in a future post concentrating on RB routes out of the backfield.

They are called a screen because originally they were to occur behind the OL, giving the QB and WR/RB cover. They’ve morphed to passes being completed anywhere behind the LOS. They’re used for a couple reasons. If a defense wants to keep blitzing the QB (sending extra defenders to sack him), there’s less defenders behind them so if the OL makes a hole, the guy with the ball can go streaking down the field.

Second, a good QB can use them against a defense, get them to do what he wants. If a team doesn’t blitz or send a heavy rush, he’ll toss screens all day until they move forward. When they do, boom, a strike downfield. When they back up, another screen because good screen plays requires it looks like they’re going deep, but they’re not. They’re turning right back towards the QB, finding a hole the OL made and boom, quick easy yards.

These can be deceptively difficult, though. On paper it’s just a quick toss, but it requires a lot to go right. If it’s planned, the QB needs to know who’s coming and from where. The OL needs to hold up just long enough to let a defender through and then make a hole. The QB needs some scrambling ability. He needs touch, too. If he tosses the ball too hard, too shallow, not enough arc to get it over a coming defender’s head, it’s a drop, knockdown, or interception (often a pick six).

When they work, they’re powerful weapons. 2013 is a great example. Because Peyton Manning was a whiz, he played defenses like symphony. He and DT killed defenses because of them. This is one area where being tall has its advantages because if the QB needs to toss one over the head of a rushing guy, being able to see and have the reach helps. Manning’s first touchdown pass as Denver Broncos was on a quick hitting screen pass to Demaryius Thomas vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2012 opener. Which is similar to the version shown above.

The video here is a bit primitive, but it is an experiment.

As far as technique in route running goes, not a lot is needed because the onus is on the QB first and foremost. All RBs and receivers need to do is sell the play and catch it, afterward it’s vision and/or brute strength to break any tackles. Why spend so much time on these? Because in all likelihood we’ll be seeing a lot of them.

Defenses love to pressure new guys, which between our OL and QB we will have in spades, so can see using screens often, planned or not. Plus, Lynch can scramble, is tall and has the arm that McCoy can use to play the same game Manning did. Suck them in, toss it deep, when they drop back, use the screen. As an extra bonus, Jamaal Charles has great hands and can read defenses, same for CJ Anderson. Both will be huge assets.

Finally, language is a key component to the offensive playbook, and each coach can have their own version. At times a new coach will be the one adjusting the language so that some previous terminology is used. This means that some names we used above can called something different depending on the coach/playbook. Once you grasp seeing the above routes in a game, you’ve got enough understanding to talk football all day.

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