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Oakland quarterback Kyle Boller lobs a screen pass over Kansas City pass rushers.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Screens and draws are football plays designed to deceive the defense into believing the quarterback will drop back into the pocket and throw downfield. Instead, the quarterback either hands the ball off or throws a short pass behind the line of scrimmage. In either case, the offense tries to exploit the defense's movement, allowing the ball carrier to break free for a long gain.
Screen passes come in several varieties, including plays that are really quick passes to wide receivers at or slightly behind the line of scrimmage. In the classic screen, several blockers let pass rushers slip by them. The offensive linemen then move into positions where they can block for the receiver after he catches the pass. The offensive linemen must give the impression that they're actually trying to block the pass rushers, so the defensive linemen will charge the quarterback. Once the defenders are running toward him, the quarterback throws to his receiver, who's typically just a few yards to the side. If the play works as planned the receiver is set up behind a wall of blockers, while the defensive linemen have taken themselves out of the play by chasing the quarterback.
The draw play begins with the same premise as the screen, but the misdirection comes mainly from the quarterback's actions. After the quarterback takes the snap he drops back as if he intends to pass. He typically looks downfield and generally mimics the actions he takes when he's preparing to throw. At the last possible moment, he brings the ball down and hands it to a running back, who typically charges straight ahead. The blockers do not let the defenders straight through, as they do with a screen. Instead, they try to angle the defenders away from the lane through which the runner will move. If the linebackers are fooled and believe the quarterback will throw, they'll typically drop into pass coverage and will be temporarily out of position when the runner takes the handoff.
In addition to the misdirection, draws and screens are often intended to slow down a team's pass rush throughout the game. For example, if a defense is fooled by a draw or screen and permits a long gain, its pass rushers may become more cautious and may not rush the quarterback as aggressively on future plays, until they're certain the offense isn't running another draw or screen. Slowing the defense's pass rush by even a half second can be the difference between a quarterback sack and a completed pass.
Defending Screens and Draws
Defensive linemen must be alert for situations in which they beat their blockers too easily, or for times when blockers disengage too quickly. If a defensive lineman recognizes a screen pass in progress, he can either locate the receiver, or simply follow the blockers, because that's the area the receiver will try to exploit. For draw plays, a good key is often watching the manner in which the linemen block. If they fire forward off the ball, the defense can expect a running play, even if the quarterback drops back. In other cases, offensive linemen will drop back as if to pass block, but will angle their blocks to open a hole for the runner, rather than simply protecting the passer. The defensive lineman's response when he recognizes a draw can be to hold his position, or to move in the opposite direction that the blocker is trying to push him. Linebackers should move forward to fill the running lanes as soon as they recognize a run play in progress.