Chicago Sun-Times

Initial screening: Timing is off

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The third time was not the charm for the Bears with their screen passes in Sunday’s 20-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

It happened to be the one Rex Grossman floated into the hands of linebacker Napoleon Harris with his intended target, Garrett Wolfe, lost behind his blockers. It was a disastrous play and one that served to highlight the Bears’ ineffectiveness running screens.

We review the plays and talk to two offensive coaches in the league about what it takes to run these plays properly.

Before we embark, the Bears had two nice screens last regular season that we recall off the top. Thomas Jones had a 21-yard gain on one at St. Louis, and Adrian Peterson picked up 32 yards on a middle screen against Minnesota.

``It depends on the defense, but it’s something we’d like to do more of,’’ play caller Ron Turner said at the time. ``It’s something we probably should have been doing more than we have.’’

Prior to 2006, there was a 41-yard screen from Kyle Orton to Jones in 2005 when C Olin Kreutz got out in front and showed his athleticism by taking out Tampa Bay S Dexter Jackson way downfield. The year before at Tampa, Jonathan Quinn dumped off a screen to Jones that went for 77 yards and a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. You might not remember it as it was called back because of an offensive pass interference penalty on David Terrell, just one of DT’s many infractions that season when he inexplicably led the team in penalties.

Back to the screens at hand, or at least fresh on our minds:

1. Second Quarter. First-and-10 from the 41-yard line. Grossman tried a bubble screen to Devin Hester. RT Fred Miller failed to bring down DE Tamba Hali, who forced Grossman to retreat eight yards before throwing off his back foot. Desmond Clark was out in front blocking, and Kreutz was already in position, but the throw was a little hot and went through Hester’s hands.

Errors on the play: Grossman, Miller, Hester

2. Second Quarter. Second-and-10 from the 42. Trying to drive for a score just before halftime, a middle screen was attempted to Adrian Peterson. Kreutz and LG Ruben Brown got out in front and might have done so a little early as the timing looked off. Consequently, Chiefs CB Patrick Surtain sniffed this thing out right away. Peterson didn’t do a very good job of selling that he was stepping up to the line to block. Grossman dropped 11 yards before lobbing this one, and by that time LT John Tait had lost his block. It ended up floating and Peterson got only his right hand on it. It’s probably best this one was incomplete.

Errors on the play: Grossman, Peterson, overall timing

3. Third Quarter. First-and-10 from the 49. Out of an I-formation, Grossman faked a handoff to Wolfe, who got caught up behind Kreutz and RG Roberto Garza. Brown was already in front, but the Chiefs’ defensive linemen began retreating before Grossman released the ball after an 11-yard drop. He missed Wolfe by two yards, and it looked like the back never got where he was supposed to be. Kreutz could have caught it, though.

Errors on the play: Grossman, Wolfe, overall timing

So we checked in with an offensive line coach and an coordinator from other teams who spoke about screen plays on the condition their names not be used.

The line coach: ``The thing to me about screen plays, the No. 1 thing, is how the quarterback can get the ball to the back. A lot of times it goes back to the quarterback because if he doesn’t get the ball in the right spot, where the guy has to turn around to catch the pass, or it’s behind him, the play’s dead. The quarterback has to have that feel of just when to cut it loose, and he’s got to time it up with the linemen. When teams have run it well, it was because the quarterback had a great little knack for getting the ball right there, in the perfect spot.

``Those Bears linemen are good, mobile kids, so they can run a screen. They’re smart and they’re going to recognize if it’s man or if it’s zone and maybe someone is going to peel off. Those linemen really have to do a job of selling it though, and not giving it away until, boom, the ball is there and the guy can catch it and run with it. That’s what I would look for: Where is the back getting the ball? I’d think Rex would be pretty good at it because he’s kind of one of those backyard players.’’

The coordinator: ``Your tackle, whichever side you’re running this to, is the first key. It’s how he plays that’s going to tell you if you’re going to be successful from the start of the play because there are so many things that end could be doing. What if he rushes? What if he doesn’t rush? The tackle has to give ground or he has to get that end out of the way so he creates a window for the quarterback to get the ball in there.

``When are you calling these things, too? If it’s second-and-long every time you call it, or at the start of the two-minute period, those are downs when there are real screen tendencies. You have to call these plays at the right time, OK, because the defense is taught to look for these in certain situations.

``And a short quarterback, he’s going to have a tougher time. There’s got to be that window for him to get the ball there. The back really has to step up toward the line of scrimmage and sell that he’s there to block. He’s got to get there and that’s where you can lose guys. Brett Favre traditionally been one of the best screen guys and it’s because he makes it appear like it’s going to be something else for the longest possible time, and at the last second he’s dumping the thing off. Ideally, you don’t want 6-1 guys doing it, but there have been good screen guys who are shorter.’’

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2 Comments

I completely agree with Carol Slezak's comments. Grossman's strength is throwing intermediate slant routes across the middle. Having him dink and dunk down the field is a recipe for mediocrity, if not disaster. The Baltimore Ravens were an anomaly when they won the Super Bowl. Teams that just ask their quarterbacks to "manage the game" simply don't win championships. That may have been the formula at one time, but with the exception of the Buccaneers and the Ravens, that hasn't been the case over the last twenty years. As George S. Patton said, "He who is willing to risk, wins". Play to win, Bears! Don't play "not to lose"!

It all starts with the offensive coordinator. He has to teach his players in practice how to run the screen, and then make sure that they practice it until perfection. Turner claims that he uses the west-coast offense, but in reality, his play calling is anything but. The west-coast offense is based on controlling the ball and moving the chain with short passes, screens, and running out of a spread formation. The Bears don't do any of this with any consistency.

Any good football coach knows that one of the best ways to counter a blitz or an aggressive pass rush is to run the screen. Yet, Turner does not know how to use the screen effectively and therefore, rarely calls it. You can't do anything well if you only do it once in a blue moon. Until the Bears can run the screen effectively and consistently, they'll continue to see a lot of blitzes and aggressive pass rushes.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on September 18, 2007 5:20 PM.

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