The Screen Pass in Football

A Quick Explanation

screen pass
Running back Brian Westbrook #36 of the Philadelphia Eagles catches a screen pass which he then runs for a touchdown during the game against the Minnesota Vikings on January 4, 2009. Drew Hallowell/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

A screen pass is a play where the quarterback fakes a handoff or long pass but instead throws a short pass to a receiver who has positioned himself behind a group of blockers.

On a screen pass, the defensive linemen are allowed to penetrate the offensive line while a set of offensive linemen run to the side of the field to serve as blockers for a running back or receiver who receives a short pass from the quarterback. Screen passes are usually utilized against aggressive defenses that blitz often and put pressure on the quarterback.

In a traditional screen pass, a running back is usually the recipient of the short pass after he moves into the flat.


No other single play in football requires as much deception as a screen pass. Players on the offensive end have to pretend as though they running a different play, and get the defense to initially believe it, in order to complete a successful screen pass.

Offensive line: The overall success of a screen pass is dependent on many different factors, but it begins with the offensive line. The play side guard and tackle, as well as the center and backside guard must carry out proper pass blocking technique for the count of two. While blocking, players count silently, 'one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two'. The timing is critical for allowing the play to develop properly. After carrying out the proper pass blocking technique to the count of two, the two guards and the tackle release the defenders. They then slide play side, preparing to release down field to block. After the guards and tackle slide play side, the center will then release his defender. After releasing his defender, the center will then turn to the backside of the line and pick up any weak side defender in pursuit.

Quarterback: The quarterback has an extremely important job in selling the defense. He will take a five-step drop, and must convince the pass rushers (and the defensive secondary) that he is looking to throw a deep pass. It is critical that he sells the defense on the deep ball. When the offensive line releases the pass rushers, the quarterback will drop back two more steps and turn to loft the ball to the tailback.

Tailback: The tailback sets up to pass block to the play side. He will block any defender rushing his way. At the two-count, he will turn back to receive the lob pass from the quarterback. He will then turn up field and yell, 'GO,' which instructs the blockers to release downfield to pick up second level defenders.

Wide Receiver, tight end: The split end, slot receiver and the tight end will release down field and run vertical routes to force the secondary to play deep. This takes attention away from the running back, spreads out the defense and opens up the area of the field closer to the line of scrimmage.