Smoke The Defense
It’s third and long, an obvious pass situation for your team. Or it’s first and 10 for your pass-oriented team. Your opponent is coming with a heavy rush, including blitzes and stunts, to pressure the quarterback. There are more rushers than blockers. Or the opponent is dropping seven or eight defenders to cover the pass.
How do you, the offensive coach, turn the defensive strategy into your advantage? At Liberty High School, we “Smoke” the defense with a variety of simple “screen” passes to counter the heavy rush or numerous defensive backs.The “variety” is using five different receivers, while the “simplicity” is using only two blocking schemes for the linemen.
Personnel and Alignments
Our base set is a “One-Back” look. The wide receivers are X and Z, the tight end is Y, the slot back is H, the quarterback is Q, and the one back is F. X and Z align 8 – 12 yards from the tackle on the LOS; H and Y align 1 – 3 yards from the tackles, one yard off the LOS. Q and F are generally 5 yards deep from the LOS and set behind the center and one of the guards. (See Diag. 1)
“Smoke” is our middle screen. (We use easily remembered names for our plays – hence, “smoke-screen.”) Smoke is thrown to F, H, or Y; we try to get the ball to our best inside receiver or the one who is being least covered by the defense. We call the play by the receiver: i.e., “H Smoke.”
The Q receives the snap and proceeds to drop quickly, looking at receivers downfield, encouraging a heavy rush (the Q must remain calm during this rush).
The F pass-blocks to his side or a blitzing LB. If F is the receiver, he lets the rushers by after a one-count block (one-thousand-one), then steps to the middle behind the center, showing the Q his numbers. (Diag 2)
If F is not the receiver, he replaces the called receiver (H or Y), or we may motion him out of the backfield to give the defense a decoy receiver to cover.
If H or Y is the receiver, he blocks for a count then pivots to the inside and moves to the middle, showing the Q his numbers for a target. (Diag. 3)
If H and/or Y are not the receivers, they run quick out patterns to draw outside linebackers away from the middle.
The linemen block the defender on them for one count. In a ‘Four’ defensive line look, guards pass block the DT’s, tackles block the DE’s, and the center shows pass block. The tackles release to the outside linebackers. The guards release to the inside LB’s on their side. The center blocks the MLB or the right side LB in a two LB look.
The receiver takes the pass, turns up field following blockers, and then runs for “daylight” when an opening appears.
Coaching Points For “Smoke”
We have the entire offensive team (11 players) introduce and explain a screen pass for the first time. This introduction will help the players visualize the execution and purpose of the screen. Players have to be reminded that because linemen are downfield, the receiver must be on the offensive side of the line of scrimmage when the catch is made.
Linemen have to be instructed to “disengage” the defensive linemen quickly (only a one-thousand one count). We tell the linemen – ‘Step, Punch, Release’ – “make the D-line all-starters on the rush.”
Once the offensive linemen move to the LB’s, they put their hands on the defender’s numbers and then just run with them; keep their body between them and the LB. Let the receiver make his move off the OL’s blocks and run north – south on the field.
“Jersey – Jello”
These are our screen passes to our receivers on our wide sides – X and Z, (Diag. 4). Jersey is thrown to our right and Jello to the left. After a Smoke or two, the defensive linemen will become less enthusiastic about a heavy rush and hang around in the middle looking for “Smoke.” Their delay will usually take them out of making the play on a side screen.
The Q takes the snap and back-pedals five quick steps slightly away from the call side of the play, looking at the middle of the line. He sees the rush, his line of vision also makes the play look like a middle screen. When X or Z comes open, Q tosses him the ball.
The F back steps laterally to the away side with the Q and blocks the DE after the away tackle releases him. he F may also pick up a blitzing LB rushing in.
The wide receiver (X or Z) on the play side runs a “J” route; three steps down the field, then back toward the Q. On the catch, he turns inside and starts up the field again, following his blockers. The backside receiver runs a “Go” pattern.
The slots (H and Y) usually “flex” slightly from the linemen to spread out the defense. The slot on the play side sprints to block the defensive back covering the wide receiver. (The “flex” also gives the slot a better angle on the defensive back.) The DB is usually backing up and all the slot has to do is screen him from the receiver. The away slot blocks the safety and tries to take him deep.
The linemen block for one count, then quickly release and move downfield to the call side picking up the LB’s or any defender in the second level, just as in Smoke. The play-side tackle must block the outside LB. The backside tackle blocks the DE, then moves downfield to play side.
Coaching Points for “Jersey – Jello”:
As with Smoke, the linemen will be downfield, so that the receiver must be behind the LOS. The pass must not be a “rifle shot” as the receiver will be coming back to the Q; a hard – thrown pass is tough to catch straight on.
The play-side slot and tackle have the key blocks. If they do not carry out their assignment, the play will not be successful.
Our tackles love this block. It will usually give them a hard, clean block on the OLB. For the Q’s: If the receiver is covered or the play is not there, the QB will either run the ball and get back to the LOS or throw the ball at the reviver’s feet.
It is not intentional grounding because a receiver is there. We will not throw the ball over the receiver’s head (there’s a defender being blocked in that area) nor will we throw the ball down field (we have linemen down field.)
Our receivers like this play. After an easy catch, they will be running in the open field, weaving their way through blockers and tacklers.
A variety of this play is to send the wide receiver on a “Go” route and flair the slot or F back out as the receiver, i.e. “F Jersey.”
A Final Word: Screen passes have been a great complement to our downfield passing game. We get the ball to our best receivers, usually in the open field, where they are difficult to tackle. Utilizing simplicity and variety, we will throw at least six screens a game. This will really slow down a heavy rush or come under a coverage drop of seven or eight defenders.
Whatever the defensive strategy, our Screen Pass Series can be successful against it.
The author would like to thank Brian Hassett and Derek Leonard (Illinois H.S. football coaches) for their knowledge and expertise in executing screen passes.