Thanks to the FB Coaching Forum for giving me this great platform to write this piece. Getting your best athletes into space with the ball in hand is the mantra of Offensive Coordinators looking to generate explosive plays. We have consistently found that once we can get our ballcarriers with the ball outside of the hashes once they reached the second level, that is where we find our biggest gains in terms of yardage. However, we were having problems getting a consistent seal on the end man on the line of scrimmage, with the majority of teams we faced aligning that man wide to force us to run into their support in the box.
Searching for a solution to this problem took us down several paths, including experimenting with outside zone and a wide trap, however, this was proving to be a poor fit for our personnel. The running back swing screen became our answer, resolving the issue of needing to block the player in a wide alignment and getting our best athlete into the situation we were aiming for - to have the ball in space with the ability to get to the boundary and get upfield for big gains.
We treat the running back swing screen effectively like a bubble screen, both in the way we coach it and in the way we use it to compliment the rest of our scheme in creating a horizontal stretch on the defense. When we run this play, we send the running back in motion so he can clear the end of the line of scrimmage cleanly, as well as forcing the defense to react to the motion. A lack of reaction from the defense gives us a numbers advantage to the screen side, whilst any safety rotation or player moving out of the box in response to our motion and the threat of this screen becomes an area we can look to exploit & attack with one of our complimentary plays.
The back will typically motion behind the quarterback, and we always have them gain depth on their motion. We do this for two reasons: firstly it avoids any potential penalty for him moving forward when in motion, and secondly it allows him to receive the ball on the run by turning upfield and attacking the ball. The quarterback is coached to take the snap and throw the ball flat down the line, allowing the back to run onto it. This also gives us a larger margin of error with the pass, as the back can adjust and "fix" any problems occurring if the pass doesn't come out clean or isn't as accurate as we'd like.
When it comes to blocking for the screen, our point of emphasis to our receivers is to "capture the sideline". This means that we are looking to gain & maintain outside leverage on the defensive players, and in particular the corners, so that we can get the running back working up the hashes. As defensive players will often try to dive inside of these blocks to make the play early, this allows us to work against a player providing less resistance. Our key coaching point to the receivers when facing these players that will attack a hard inside angle is to take them on the angle you found them. In practice, this can mean washing a player either inside or downfield, but because of our emphasis on maintaining outside leverage, it will typically move the player inside and allow the back more time and space to react as he
comes upfield upon receiving the ball.
The running back swing screen is one we run from a variety of formations, as well as using the threat of the play that we generate when sending the back in motion to get more favorable looks for other concepts that we run. Primarily, we will use the screen from a 3x1 Trips alignment, with the back aligned away from the Trips side. As we are motioning the back to the Trips side, this in effect gives us a Quads look, creating an easy presnap check for the quarterback in terms of numbers, and a clean read on any player moving to react to the motion. When running this screen out of a 2x2 Spread look, we have the option of motioning the back to either side. As mentioned previously, we will typically motion the back behind the QB, but the balanced look allows us to go both ways with this play, based on the defensive strength that they show us presnap. This ties in with our wider philosophy of using the motion to set up other plays and compliment our offense as a whole, as by motioning the running back one way we might trigger a safety rotation, whereas the other way could bring a player outside of the box.
We also run the running back swing screen from an Empty look. Similarly to Trips, we will have the running back motion behind the quarterback. However, as the back is aligned in the slot, this in effect becomes an Orbit motion as supposed to the Push motion we usually make use of. When we run the orbit motion, we coach the back to attack flat initially before breaking behind the QB. We do this to create the threat of a touch pass jet sweep play to the back, which helps us further when using it as window dressing for other concepts.
Thanks to the versatility of the motion and the flexibility we have to tag it onto other plays, we have plenty of ways to compliment the screen look based on the defensive reaction to our motion. The key element for us is to see what the reaction is to our motion and treat it as simple as an IF>THEN decision. Typically, defenses will stay in their base alignment and have the safety come down as the ball is thrown to try and make the play in the flats. When we are seeing this, we will continue to run the screen as normal. We have enough playside blockers to account for the safety and, given that we are attacking the outside edge, it creates a difficult angle for any linebacker inside to flow and make the play before we have gained yards.
If the safety starts to roll down presnap, this is where we will look to attack more vertically off of the motion. Using a pump fake as a "play action" combined with route releases that mirror our blocking scheme for the screen, we can take a shot at the area vacated by the safety, often seeing the corner stay shallow with any route from our outside receiver as he thinks he has safety help over the top. Should the safeties roll to the motion side, this opens up the possibility for backside concepts, including receiver screens or isolated fade routes from our boundary WR. Finally, should a player vacate the box to cover the screen, this will typically leave the defense with a 5 man box. As we already run Power from a one-back set, we can use the same blocking scheme, just replacing the back with the QB as a runner.
The running back swing screen has become a key part of our offense, helping us to condense our playbook and use our practice and install time more efficiently. Getting our backs into space, in addition to the plays we run off of the motion, has helped open up our offense and created more explosive play opportunities, cutting down the length of drives and increasing scoring opportunities.
By Dave GIbbs