Red-Hot Strategies for Building Screens into the Run Game

This article originally appeared in AFCA Weekly. It has been reprinted with permission from the author.

Contributed By Mike Peck, Offensive Coordinator, Battle Ground High School (Wa.) & Quarterback Trainer, Roots Football Academy, Longview (Wa.)

With the rise in the number of Run-Pass Options (RPOs) being used by offenses at all levels of football, defenses are beginning to make adjustments. As such, offensive coordinators are feeling the need to become more creative in the ways they package run and pass plays together.

This article takes a look at a simpler form of RPOs – and shows the approach we have used to successfully package our run game with quick screen passes.

While this isn’t a new offensive concept, we have implemented certain things into our attack that has made it an extremely efficient tactic for us, and more importantly, added a dimension to our offense that has been hard for opponents to defend.

A few years ago, RPO’s really started to become a popular offensive strategy that many teams began using. After studying it’s merits, our coaching staff decided to dive in and package some of our quick screens with our run plays.

When we first began to package quick screens with running plays, we used a pretty rudimentary system. We would simply call both the running play and whatever quick screen we wanted to attach as an option on that particular call.

This simple method worked to a degree, but it wasn’t very efficient from a verbiage standpoint and the signaling turned out to be a much more cumbersome process than we had anticipated.

Another thing we had not anticipated, was that doing it this way didn’t create set rules for our players, which not only made it more difficult for them to learn, but it didn’t make the concept “automatic.”

In other words, screens were only used on running plays when we would specifically call them. As such, there were games where we missed out on some golden opportunities for some potentially game-changing, big-yardage plays.

Our staff knew that there were some things we needed to change.

Constants: RPO Pillars
To build screen-pass options into our running game, we knew we needed to develop a different system that worked for everyone involved in the offense. At the end of that season, we took a long look at how we could make this a more efficient play-calling process, while making it easier for players to learn, and at the same time, improve our offensive productivity.

After researching and discussing protocols that would best accomplish our goals, our coaching staff created three “constants” that would serve as RPO pillars.

Constant No. 1: Every inside run is packaged with quick screens to the outside.

Our offense utilizes a gap scheme, so for us, this meant that our inside run-game included veer, power and counter run plays.

By developing Constant No. 1 as an offensive concept, our players are now instantly aware that any time an inside run-play is called, there is a quick-screen to the outside attached as an option.

Constant No. 2: The most-inside receiver, regardless of personnel or formation, is always the designated quick-screen target.

By developing this second constant, it meant that the most-inside receiver would depend solely upon our formation, and as a result, player-assignments became an automatic by-product of the system, rather than a play-by-play assignment situation dependent upon a player’s memory.

Using Constant No. 2 also opened up a teaching and learning process that made it easy for players to remember offensive assignments. For each formation, for example, the assignment for the most-inside receiver is as follows:

  • If there is only one WR, then that player is taught to run a two-step hold route.
  • If there are two WRs, then the No. 2 WR is taught to take two quick steps forward and backpedal with his chest facing toward the quarterback.
  • If it’s a 2×2 set, both sides run the quick screen.
  • If there are three WRs, then the No. 3 WR runs the screen with a bubble route.

The goal in these types of screen passes, regardless of who catches it, is for the receiver to catch the ball as close to the numbers as possible. Doing so helps create the horizontal stretch on the defense that we always want to achieve. A horizontally stretched defense, is a vulnerable defense.

Once again, though, this horizontal stretching of the defense was achieved as a by-product of the system, rather than a planned-out, in-game decision to attack the perimeter.

Constant No. 3: WR blocking rules and assignments depend upon “the most-dangerous threat.”

We developed Constant No. 3 as a method to assign particular defenders for each WR to block. Post-snap, however, defenses can change, and as a result, our WRs use the rules as mandated by Constant No. 3, to identify and block the player who is the most-dangerous threat to the outside screen.

WR blocking rules to neutralize the most-dangerous threat are as follows:

Rule A: If the screen is thrown to a two-receiver side, the No. 2 WR backpedals, while the No.1 WR blocks the first threat. To assess the most-dangerous threat, the No. 1 WR’s rule is to think about blocking the corner, while keeping an eye on the outside LB. If the corner drops into deep-zone coverage and the outside LB shows, then the No. 1 WR knows he must block the outside LB.
Rule B: If we are in a 3×1 set, the same rule applies for the No.1 WR. The No. 2 WR, meanwhile, focuses on the outside LB, but also keeps an eye on the safety. He must block the defender who shows first.
By establishing Constant No. 3, it helped teach our WRs their blocking assignments as a matter of automatically identifying the two most-dangerous threats to an outside screen, and then executing their blocks as a reaction to post-snap defensive movement.

To further teach and reinforce Constant No. 3, we’ve implemented a practice drill that our receivers perform almost every day called, “The MDM Drill” (MDM stands for “most-dangerous man.”) The MDM Drill works on all the various blocking scenarios as described by the rules in Constant No. 3.

There is a heavy emphasis for skill-position players to become good blockers in our football program. Skill-position blocking has become big part of our team culture and our skill players take great pride in their blocking abilities.

Our Receiving Corp motto is, “If you want the rock – you’ve gotta block!”

Run-Screen Options Keep Defenses On Their Heels
Another benefit of attaching screens to our run game, is that it has forced opposing defenses to defend us differently. Since we’ve paired inside runs with quick outside screens, it is amazing how often we see…

  • The outside LB aligned outside the box, pre-snap.
  • The outside LB fly with the backpedal/bubble route on the snap and completely take himself out of position to defend any run play.


VIDEO Playlist: Pairing Inside-Runs w/Outside Screen-Passes
The following video clips show a dozen in-game examples of successful plays made possible by using our RPO system of Inside-Run calls paired with Outside Screen-Pass Options.

You’ll notice that the success of the plays shown in each video, all stem from the players executing their offensive assignments as mandated by the three “Constants” – in a manner that seems almost instinctive.

Building Screens into the Run Game Playlist

Efficient, Productive Offense
Creating “constants” as foundational pillars, not only allowed us to add screen-pass options into our running game, but it also streamlined our entire base RPO package, while at the same time, utilizes a system that makes it easier for our players to learn and retain their assignments.

Best of all, though, is that the addition of these RPOs increased our overall offensive productivity. In each of the last two seasons, we have averaged more than 7 yards-per-catch on quick screen passes.

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