The title to this article is a little misleading. It probably implies that I have managed to save my sanity. Let me clarify, what is on paper does not always happen on the field. Screen passes have had me tearing my hair out for years!
Between defending the run, and stopping the pass, from multiple fronts and coverages, it is easy to run out of time to teach defending the screen pass. But you have to! If you can read it, you can stop it, and get back to defending all the things you designed your defense for.Here we have a pretty basic screen. The Quarterback is faking a Sprint Pass to the right, with the sprint side receivers running typical flood routes. This gets the Linebackers flowing, and the free safety as well. Of course, your Defensive Line is also pinning their ears back to get to the QB out there.
The QB plants his foot, spins back and his the #1 receiver to the left, who’s blocking has been setting up during the sprint action. The slot handles the most dangerous receiver, while the screen side offensive linemen handle the rest of the bodies on the field. And we’re off to the races!
Screen passes are becoming a crucial part of defending opponents. The popular Air Raid Offense utilizes screens and draws as their running game. You have to be able to stop the Screen to stop spread offenses who are trying to slow down your pass rush.
Not so fast, my friend!
Is that copyrighted? I hope not. Anyway, we can defend any screen if we know how to fit it. The keys to screen play are:
- Recognition and reaction by the Defensive Line
- Recognition and block destruct by the Linebackers
- Recognition and fit by the Secondary
And so, the first key is… RECOGNITION!
How to Recognize the Screen
Screen Recognition is crucial to stopping the play. Screens, for all they try to do, have a totally different look from any other play. Unfortunately, your players do not always get same look. If they could stand up in a press box from 50 yards away and realize how fast we can see a screen, they might have some sympathy for us (doubt it). Then again, if we had to stand in the middle of the field and stop it, we might have more sympathy (double doubt it).
Defensive linemen need to realize that they are just, plain, not that good. No one worth their salt is going to block you for a half a second and then just completely release you. Hold you? Yes. Tackle you? Absolutely. Scream “LOOK OUT!”? Maybe. But release you and RUN!? No, that’s a screen. Recognize it.
Linebackers have to see elephants on parade, running into uncharted waters, without trying to drive a defensive lineman in front of them. When Offensive linemen release, the Linebackers have to figure out where they are going and start fitting it up. They may also be tipped by the hard QB shoulder to the flat, for some WR screens. In general:
- Back side Linebackers fit to the outside of the blockers (or inside, depending on how you look at it)
- The Middle Linebacker or Linebackers need to fit up in the screen blockers, between two of them.
- The play side Linebacker needs to fit inside of the outer-most blocker (unless he is the box player!)
Defensive Backs need to recognize the route running, or the tilt of the QB shoulder. The Cornerbacks, as always, fit outside of everything. One thing that can destroy a great screen defense is the corner ducking inside of his blocker, revealing a lane up the sideline that never should have been. The Safety may be the box player, in which case he needs to fit outside. Or he may be a Free Safety running the alley, where he should be able to sift through the other defenders getting blocked and bust through to the play.
A Best Case Scenario
Want the “Best case scenario” against the Screen Pass? Everybody on your defense recognizes it. They run with reckless abandon – the number 1 answer to stopping the screen, tremendous pursuit. They get there, and gang tackle – the number 2 answer to stopping the screen being Open Field Tackling, when the gang is a little late to the party.
The perfect scenario in defending that beautiful looking screen pass we started with, is that more hats arrive to the point than they can stop. Does it always happen? Absolutely not, or no one would run this stuff. But if you put enough focus and clarity on this topic for your kids, you can effectively defend the screen pass.