Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

17 Aug 2010

The Secret Art of WR Screens

Mike Tanier will be writing a weekly column for Rotoworld this year. This week's entry discusses which teams use the wide receiver screen pass most and least often.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 17 Aug 2010

28 comments, Last at 20 Aug 2010, 9:55am by JMM*


by ZFarls (not verified) :: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 3:39pm

As guessed, NE rolls into the number one spot! Their playbook in madden reflects that for sure. Was looking for the giants and they are somewhere in the middle. They like to get it to Nicks in space as he is pretty good with the ball for a big guy. Plus if the QB has the ability to change the play at the line and coverage is backed up, your team might be apt to screen more!

by Independent George :: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 5:03pm

Admittedly I'm still playing the '08 version for PC, but can anyone even get screens to work in Madden on All-Pro level or higher? Either my QB gets nailed before the receiver is in position, or the linemen are too slow to set up blocks, or the pass falls incomplete. HB screens work, but the upside is usually about 12 yards due, again, to slow linemen & poor blocking AI, with the median gain about 4-6 yards.

by zlionsfan :: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 5:14pm

On Madden 10, yes, against AI, in the right circumstances. Mostly RB screens, though. Some of it depends on the ratings ... some personnel sets are probably better suited to execute screens than others. Some teams seem to defend screens better than others.

It also depends on user skill; I don't know how good you are, but I'm not that good, and that probably costs me anywhere from 5-50 yards on some screens. There are times when I end up 1v1 with a defender and make the wrong move, and I can see that a better player would have scored on that play. Setting up your blockers properly can definitely make a difference with respect to YAC.

by tuluse :: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 5:18pm

I have lots of success with RB screens.

I usually use them on 3rd and long, and I'd say I average about 20 yards per catch.

You need a fast back who is good at jukes. Favor juking to the outside. You can sometimes use spin moves in very specific situations.

Also, if you hold sprint right after snapping it, your QB will drop back extra quick, you just have to make sure you let go soon enough for else he'll turn around and enter scramble mode.

by Independent George :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 11:18am

I didn't know about the QB sprint back; was this in place in Madden '08? (I play a heavily modded version of '08 for the PC). My QB's speed tends to be around 60, and they usually get buried before blockers & receivers are in position.

I've had some success with RB screens, or WR screens with 2 TEs on that side of the field, but my linemen are never fast enough to get in position from a 'normal' formation. I prefer stiff-arms to jukes/spins, but my biggest problem has always been getting the blockers in the correct position.

by tuluse :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 3:16pm

I first noticed that trick in 10. I think they redid QB scrambling that year, so I can't speak to previous years.

Also, the timing is tricky. If you push sprint late or hold it too long, you just end up turning around and sprinting backwards.

by Rich Arpin (not verified) :: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 9:08pm

As I use the patriots quite a bit I've found that a few screens work really well. From 5 WR the screen to moss is dynamite against zone and can only really be stopped by 5 wide man, which is easy enough to spot and audible to the slant to welker.

I've also found that in one package (3 WR, 1TE, 1 RB, Shot) I have an audible that is flanker screen to moss and the quick pass audible is a screen to welker, which can really cause headaches.

You can certainly get the RB screens to work if you get your QB back soon enough (which is why I usually screen from shotgun), and the d is rushing 4 or 5. Any more and the ball will get knocked down or tipped, and any less and they'll be running some man-zone hybrid and will easily enough sniff out the screen.

As far as previous versions. Against the computer sometimes screens work, but against humans it was nigh impossible to get the screen to work until 10. Madden was actually updated mid year last year to help the defenders defend the flats (though PA to peterson then pass to peterson still draws defenders too often) because the screen game was too powerful.

As far as defending it, I use variations of cover one and use a LB pulled from a DL spot to spy/pattern read the play. Really, most players only use about 8 plays each and they end up being quite predictible, at least up to level 20 or so. The single most important madden tip I've learned is that to stop an outside rush plan using a quick back - you must use either a 4 or 5 man line and set the ends to contain (must be hot routed) and doing this from either cover three or cover two works best. Over half of my lost games came because NE's weaker LB's got destroyed by Dallas's and Pittsburghs pulling Guard and Center outside runs, they just could not contain the run and force it back inside. The 4-6 in the NYJ playbook is sufficient or sting pinch from 3-4 predator. The NYJ playbook is the only one to use because the variations on the nickel package allow for the most variations between zone blitzing, zero blitzing and max coverage concepts.

by Shattenjager :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 1:36pm

I'm not a master by any means, but I get pretty good results with WR screens against users and the AI (As long as I have a good receiver for it--Steve Smith, Johnny Knox, and Percy Harvin are the ones I've had the best luck with. I actually tried with Calvin Johnson in an offline franchise before and for some reason it just didn't work.), but I've noticed a vast difference in effectiveness between different WR screen plays. In the playbook I use, I have one that I run almost every game that probably averages 30 yards at this point (an average inflated by my insanely run-heavy offense), but there are two or three that I no longer use at all because I never got anything out of them.

by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 8:00pm

Clearly you're crap at Madden.

I've found that if you play on 'my skill' and your pass offense climbs above All-Madden then there's very little else that works with any consistency because the computer makes your qb spray the ball about at random in order to hinder you.

I played a game on all0madden earlier today and hit 2 screen passes to Frank Gore (hardly the quickest back) for two 50+ yard TDs. WR screens are my favourite hail mary play, you only have to make one guy miss and the endzone is yours.

N.B. requires quick receivers

Personally I'm sick of play action passes, I'm always getting hit before the recievers have begun to cut, I can only seem to make waggles and bootlegs work (probably because running away is built into the play)

BTW. I'm loving the new Madden with the gameplanning, sweet.

by Mr Shush :: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 8:47pm

My Madden play transitioned from not very good to bloody awful at the point where they brought in the QB vision cone and pressure sensitive passing, as I have never mastered either the second analogue stick or the pressure sensitive button. Consequently, I gave up on passing almost completely, and adopted a run-only, four down offensive strategy involving lots and lots of counter plays out of unbalanced 2TE sets. Winning on All Madden via this method is entirely possible in every version of the game I have played. I have never made a successful juke or spin move in my life, but I am quite good at defensive play-calling.

by tuluse :: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 9:26pm

You don't actually have to use the right stick. Pressing one of the trigger buttons and the receiver button you want to throw to, has the QB vision lock onto that receiver. That's what I did.

However, QB vision is gone from 10 and 11.

by tuluse :: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 3:50pm

I'm surprised at how high the Bears ranked. I remember screens being of mixed effectiveness. Which was probably better than most plays they ran which were generally not very effective.

by zlionsfan :: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 5:05pm

I was surprised as well. I have a few friends who are big Bears fans, and there are few words that upset them more than "bubble screen".

by Marko :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 5:26pm

Other words sure to upset Bears fans include "Gary Crowton" (whose entire offense seemed to consist of bubble screens), "John Shoop," "Dick Jauron," "Dave Wannstedt," "Cade McNown," "Curtis Enis" and "Cedric Benson." If they are really big Bears fans, "Dan Bazuin" and "Michael Okwo" also will do the trick. If they are serious longtime fans, try "Don Majkowski." Or better yet, "Charles Martin."

by tuluse :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 5:39pm

It's hard to get too worked up about a 3rd round draft pick. I would have put "Danael Manning is being asked to change position" above Okwo.

by Marko :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 5:53pm

I was limiting everything to two words. Otherwise, I would have included phrases such as "Rex is our quarterback," "We get off the bus running," ". . . and we'll go from there," etc.

And I think of Bazuin and Okwo together in that they were 2nd and 3rd round picks in the same draft who never came close to contributing anything to the Bears. They never even made the roster. They were completely wasted draft picks. You should get some contributions from 2nd and 3rd round draft picks.

by Arkaein :: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 4:35pm

I'm not really surprised to the GB near the bottom of the list. They use quick slants and smoke routes in the situations where they want to get the ball to the WR quickly to get some easy yards.

The pass is a little more difficult than a screen pass, but when completed will gain a minimum of 4-5 yards. For offense that don't make heavy use of slants in their basic plays it probably wouldn't be wise to use them in these "silent audible" situations, but slants are second nature to any GB QB.

by johnny walker (not verified) :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 12:16am

Also important to note that the Packers have been terrible at executing the screen throughout the McCarthy era. The current crop of linemen can't pull off the blocks (though apparently Bulaga is looking like a welcome exception thus far) and McCarthy gives up on it quick to boot. Not that it helps when their main back is Ryan Grant.

Though I suppose we were talking more about the WR variety, weren't we. Still with the blocking problems.

by johnny walker (not verified) :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 12:17am

Ryan "Stone Hands" Grant that is.

by Arkaein :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 9:40am

Brandon Jackson was actually surprisingly good last year. He had an 81% catch rate and a 40% DVOA across all passes, and got a special mention in the recent article about receiving plus/minus.

Apparently although he never broke a big gain on a screen, he had a lot of successful screens in terms of DVOA in the 8-10 yard range. From a viewer's perspective these plays probably seemed like missed opportunities, being one block or move away from being bigger plays, but still provided value.

Totally agree about Grant though. While he's a bit under-appreciated in the running game, he sure doesn't offer much in the passing game.

by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 8:08pm

With regards to the 49ers screen game as mentioned in the article, the niners do suck at screens (all screens, not just WR screens) and as far as I can tell with my amateur diagnosis the main reason is that the line does a terrible job of selling the fake. They just don't hold the blocks long enough, so the defense sees it all coming and then what you have is a very obvious, crappy play. Those little details are key. I hate Dallas but quite like watching their offense because Garret does a fantastic job in getting his players to execute the misdirection plays.

by Michael LaRocca (not verified) :: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 8:50pm

I will follow Mike Tanier anywhere, but I mean that in a good way, not a stalker way.

by CuseFanInSoCal :: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 9:08pm

I'm not a big fan of WR screens. They work in college because you often have wideouts that are much more talented than the DBs covering them, but that's rarely the case in the NFL. Or even in games between two good college teams.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 10:38pm

Yeah, it takes some particular cricumstances for it to be a consistently effective play in the NFL. When Randy Moss was at his peak, the Vikings had a lot of success with it, because even with a safety rolled over the top, most cornerback's bowels loosened at the thought of playing within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. The Vikings would use it to force the corner to sneak up, and then let Moss go play jump ball fifty yards downfield, with an outmatched safety, and the corner five yard behind the ball.

Strangely, this strategy doesn't work as well with Nate Burleson or Bobby Wade.

by Bobman :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 12:37am

I was mildly surprised to see the Colts so high. I felt they threw it a LOT more in 09 than previous years, but didn't realize they'd be among the league leaders. The Garcon game winner vs Miami is the iconic bubble screen for them in 09. And he's pretty physical for a Colts receiver.

Any other Colt fans have the feeling that this is a pretty new wrinkle? If so it could be related to the departure of Harrison, whose strengths included evading guys, running crisp routes, double moves and other downfield stuff, but maybe not creating something when he got the ball one yard behind the LOS...

Yet again Dallas Clark gets disrespected.... sigh.

by dbostedo :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 10:21am

"Yet again Dallas Clark gets disrespected"

How so?

by Sidewards :: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 10:45pm

He probably means the throwaway comment about Dallas Clark not counting as a TE when he's in the slot. Of course, this makes perfect sense, as a TE screen isn't a TE screen if the TE isn't lining up as a TE. (I had fun writing that)

by JMM* (not verified) :: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 9:55am

I expected Pitt would have 2 a game on average. Is there some definition that eliminates some quick passes to the wide out who catches it at the line? Do you need to have a blocker in front?

They throw it a lot from their trips package.