Play Side Wide Reciever (X in the diagram above)
The play side wide receiver (PSWR) is one of the mainstays of making the screen play off Rocket action work. Normally, on Rocket away, this receiver is pushing hard across the field to cut off the near deep safety (NDS). This is done to allow the cut back if the ball gets into the alley and the NDS overruns the alley. The PSWR can in essence "pin" this defender in and allow the Rocket to cut back to the middle of the field (MOF), only once the ball has gone into the third level of the defense. The first part to making the screen work, is coaching the run up well enough the defense buys the fake. What I'm alluding to is the fact that many times you see WR's simply jog off the line and trot down field and do nothing when the play is away from them. This cannot be the case on Rocket Toss as it does nothing to harm the defense when running the screen, and in fact, will make the screen easier to read. The PSWR on Rocket Screen must run at the NDS with the same effort and relentless pursuit as if he were the backside wide receiver (BSWR) on Rocket Toss.
As shown above, the X receiver should attempt to block the NDS on Rocket Toss away, so therefor, when selling a deceptive play such as the Rocket Screen, this WR needs to be doing EXACTLY what he'd be doing if he were the BSWR on Rocket Toss. What this block turns into is the crack block that secures in the inside edge of the alley being created for the B back.
Play Side Tackle
The play side tackle (PST), will scoop hard and flat for 2 steps, and then will release over the top of the defensive end (DE), and work flat to the outside and attempt to kick out, or trap the corner. A key coaching point is for the PST to find the corner, as he may be in a few different places depending on the coverage being faced. If it's a hard squat corner, the PST's path will need to be flat, and aggressive to that he can kick out the corner and make the alley as wide as possible. If the corner is a zone corner, reading motion and bailing, then the tackle does not have to be as aggressive, and can work more down field, becoming more of a lead blocker for the back than a trap blocker. If the corner is playing the WR in man coverage, then the tackle will need to turn up and in effect "log" the corner and pinning him to the inside. In the video below, the tackle gets caught up and turned around, but saves himself and makes an excellent block on the corner.
Play Side Guard
The play side guard (PSG), is the same as the PST for the first two steps. He should scoop hard down inside, then release opposite. The PSG is generally the lead blocker for the screen, and will pick up the alley defender for the screen, which in many cases is a linebacker (LB) or rolled up safety (depending on what defense your facing). The key coaching point for the PSG is to simply take the defender where he wants to go. There is no right or wrong direction, as the back will make his cut off of the PSG's block. The idea is to maintain constant contact, and not have the blocker lose his feet. In other words, it's better to simply be in the way, than make a crushing block.
One point of contention with some coaches on this play is the PSG and what they do with him. Many coaches I've talked to do not pull this player on the screen. One main reason they give is that as we know in the Flexbone offense, the guards are both the "road graders" of the offense and are not really adept at pulling. Most coaches said they didn't want to put a guy out there that wasn't capable of blocking in space. This is really preference. I always pulled mine, but you don't have to.
The center executes the same two step scoop, and then climb technique similar to the PST and PSG, but the center is looking to cut off any backside trash that is coming from the second level of the defense. If nothing shows at the second level, the center should continue to climb and work on to the third level of the defense. Again, a crushing block is not necessary here, just simply making a defender change course may be enough of a block to spring the play.
Back Side Guard
The back side guard (BSG) has been one that I've toyed with over the years with doing a couple of things, and it really depends on what you're seeing and how comfortable you are with your QB play. In the early years of running this offense, I had the PSG simply scoop hard in the direction of the fake, looking to help vs. any blitz or stunt that I may have not anticipated. The more I ran this play, the more I noticed the guard was more of a "traffic cop" doing nothing than actually help sell the play. Later, I had the guard take a drop step and eye any backer on the action side for a blitz, and then pull around the back side tackle (BST) as he would if we were running Rocket Toss. Now, of course, I don't teach a delayed pull on Rocket, but the defense never seemed to catch on to this subtle change, so we kept it in. What I noticed was an even bigger jump by the defense, especially the LB's when they saw that guard pull. The idea behind the peeking for the blitzer, is that there is a time, when the QB, will have his back to defense (i.e. when he's faking the toss to the motioning A back), so the QB would be vulnerable to the blitz. The rule I gave the BSG was if you saw a blitz, or it looked as though they were going to blitz, simple scoop and pick up any blitzer. The backside of this play is very similar to the reach concept some teams employ for their sprint out passing game. If you choose to pull the guard, then he's really just "window dressing" in that all he's there for is to get defenders to over commit to the toss. If you have him scoop, he does have an assignment and that would be to protect from his inside gap to his outside gap the first thing that shows.
Back Side Tackle
The BST, is very simple, he just reaches. You can have him fight up field like he would on Rocket if you wish, it's really up to you. The idea here is pretty much the same as the BSG in that when he's scooping, he needs to look inside-out for the first threat to the QB. What really sells the play, is if the BST will actually turn his shoulders to the sideline, as if he were trying to rip outside of the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOL) just like he would on Rocket, and then come square and protect, inside-out. Since your tackles should be your more athletic linemen, they should be able to do this fairly easily. If they aren't that athletic, then just simply have them scoop.
Back Side Wide Receiver
The back side WR (BSWR) is another position that is very simple to execute. You can simply have him fire off and stalk block, or attempt to run off the corner. Either method will work and this is based solely on your preferences.
Play Side Slot Back
The play side slot back (PSSB), which would be the "A" in the above diagram, is also a "window dressing" player in that he's really only there to hold the defense with the fake. The key for this player is DO NOT WATCH THE SCREEN! Too often have I come in on Saturdays to watch game film and have us run this play only to see this player watching the screen. It's not that hard to read that it's NOT Rocket when the pitch back turns and looks opposite the direction the play is being faked. This back is the guy that sells it all. Yes, the BSG pulling is a nice touch, but we all know our high school (HS) LB's and even though we think they are reading the offensive linemen (OL) like we coach them to do, they still do stare at the backs. They also know, if you've been running Rocket successfully, how hard that play is to stop, and should be trying to get a jump on getting into their pursuit lanes. If the slot looks any different than Rocket, then this may cause the defenders not to commit as much, which puts them in a position to get back and pursue the screen. The coaching point you must work on here, is have the back fake recieving the pitch, and then he MUST turn up into the alley and run no less than five yards down field at full speed to get a positive film grade on this play.
Back Side Slot Back
Much like the PSSB, and the BSG, the back side slot back (BSSB) is a guy that's there to sell the Rocket fake. On Rocket, this player would be running a traditional arc path, looking to block there NDS and open up the alley for the pitch back to run in. The same must be true on this screen play. The BSSB must execute his crossover and run technique, staying flat into the alley until the NDS commits and then attacking downhill and looking to block this defender. Again, a key coaching point for this player is to not look in the direction of the screen. Sell his fake block, and make that safety or outside linebacker (OLB) commit.
The B back will do just what he does on Rocket Toss and cut off backside pressure by blocking the first defender to show outside the offensive tackle (OT). What you want to teach the B back to do here is attack the defender's inside shoulder aggressively, and "chip" this defender long enough to give the QB time to sell the fake. I usually tell him to chip block for a two count and then release the defender to the outside. If for some reason, the path of the B back and the path of the defender necessitate a log block, then the B back must hold the block for one count longer (i.e. count to three). I generally frown upon letting the defender wrong-arm us on this block, as it really shortens the edge to the QB, but the play is not dead, this action just needs to be prepared for, and the B back must understand how his block changes based on this change in attack by the defender. As the B back releases the defender he is to simply turn around, and settle into any opening he can find, where this defender left from. A key coaching point is to not allow the B back to "float" downfield. It's alright if he works laterally, just not downfield, as of course, the pass must occur behind the LOS to be legal. Once the B back settles into place, he should be looking for the football. Once the ball is located, and caught, the B back should turn to the outside and get into the alley being created for him. As he turns and runs into this alley, he should look to locate the PSG's block and cut off of that block. He may cut inside or outside this block, but MUST NOT look to cut back opposite the direction the screen is going. The idea is that the back should never work back inside the original alignment of the PST. If the back tries to cut it back, it means a shorter distance that fooled defenders have to run to defend this play. Once the B back makes his cut, he now simply runs to daylight, again, working to stay inside the alley being created for him by the PST and the PSWR.
The QB has to be the Blackjack dealer on this play. He's got to slight of hand enough to sell the pitch fake, but keep his balance and wit about him to set up and drop back to set up the screen. The QB should take his normal Rocket pitch steps, and make a fake toss to the motioning slot back. The fake pitch is done by extending the arms out and simply not letting the ball go. The key to the fake is not to be so long and drawn out that the defense gets a jump on rushing the QB and can sack him, but not so short that the defense isn't fooled either. This technique takes some finesse and some refining, but don't over coach it if you can help it. The idea is getting the ball off and into the hands of the B back. The motion fake, the pulling guard, and the arc blocking slot are also helping to fool the defense, so keep that in mind as well. Once the fake is made, the QB should then drop back two more steps as if to set up, and then add a third, shorter drop step and deliver the ball to the B back. If the B back is covered, the QB should simply throw the ball at the feet of the B back. Never take a sack on a screen. Also, it is never a good option for a QB to scramble on a screen play either. Throw the ball in the dirt towards the intended receiver and live to fight another day.
The ball should be delivered in a manner that it can be easily caught. No need to drill the back with the ball. If anything the QB should make a soft deliberate toss in the direction of the B back's outside shoulder so as to lead the back in the direction we ulitimately want the play to go. This is another skill that you don't need to over coach. All you have to do is tell the QB he's making a long handoff to the B back. I'd be more crucial of his fake than I would be of the actual pass.
Another segment of the Featured Play series is going to be game planning these plays. It does us no good to know how to run a play, if we don't know the best time to run said play. Rocket Screen is a play that, in a few ways, is like a well-timed trick play. Now, it's not as gadgetey as some trick plays, but you must admit, the more you run it, the worse the outcome is. Rocket Screen is more like a well-timed reverse. Not only is it well-timed, but it's well calculated also. When looking back at this past season's Army-Navy game, one will see that Navy didn't run all that much Rocket in the game, but did run it enough. What was key, was Army's reaction to Rocket. Army sold the farm to stop this play. Army and Navy also know each other VERY well, so Army's defense knows when a Rocket Toss play is potentially going to be called. Third and five is an excellent down to run Rocket on. What should've given away the play to Army was the timeout just before they ran this play. Whether the initial play call was Rocket Screen or not, I think as a defensive coordinator (DC) you have to be aware when a team takes a timeout when these two situations align:
- It's third or fourth down
- The team your facing is against the ropes
Navy was desperate to get some sort of offense going, and the Rocket Screen provided it. Navy's OC, Ivan Jasper had to have been watching how Army was reacting to, not only Rocket, but other wide run plays Navy had been attempting to run throughout the first half of play. I think the call for the screen had actually been made in the locker room at halftime because of what they were seeing out of Army's first half defense. The situation presented itself and Navy hit Army at the right time.
So where does this lead us in our quest for when to call Rocket Screen. Well, the answer to this question is tricky, because it all depends on the success you're having with Rocket. If you haven't run Rocket well, or haven't run it much, I see no need to run a play that isn't going to fool the defense very much. With a play like this you're looking to, at the very least, secure a first down. That being said, you're really wanting this thing to go the distance because of how thin Rocket Screen spreads the defense (it truly makes them defend all 53 1/3 yards of the field).
So, assuming Rocket has been a staple of your run game, I'd look to run this play in a critical situation in which you think:
- You cannot make the yardage you need with Rocket due to the defense getting more acclimated to defending it (i.e. they are over committing to defending Rocket Toss)
- You feel you cannot throw sprint out, three or five step and get the same result.
- You feel you cannot protect your QB long enough to get the ball down the field with either sprint out, three or five step passes.
With a "when to run it" there must also be a "when not to run it" as well. I would not look to call this play in the following situations:
- Early in the game. Most times when I've seen Navy run this, it has been in the second half. That is not an "always" rule, but generally that has been when they seem to take this play off the shelf.
- When the defense is not over committing to stopping Rocket Toss. This is simple math. If you look at the Navy situation, and it's third and five, and on the last attempt at running Rocket you gained 9 yards, why would you not call Rocket again? This is also a "feel" thing as well you have to have. You know when you've run a play and gained yards and it seemed easy, and when it seemed difficult. If the previous attempt was difficult, or your ball carrier simply made one hell of a run, I'd consider calling the screen, otherwise just run Rocket.
- On the goalline. I've been a mixed bag when it comes to screens on the goalline. I've had success with them, but more often than not the defense is in closer proximity to the QB, and the reduced field makes the deep ball harder to be a threat, so screens lose their value the closer you get to the goalline. However, playaciton screens, such as Rocket Screen, keep their value in that the field width never changes, and Rocket Screen stretches the defense across this entire width. Again, though, a lot of moving parts down near the goalline makes me a bit nervous. I wouldn't say never, but I'd really have to be feeling my inner riverboat gambler to call it in a goalline situation.
- If the defensive line (DL) are playing heavy read techniques. If you are getting a DC that is using a lot of squeeze and spill concepts with his DL, then you might want to think of something else. A DL that plays a lot of read techniques, or "hands on" techniques and are very disciplined are going to hard to run a screen against no matter what offense you run.
None of the above are an end-all-be-all to the calling of an offensive play. If you're reading this, I'm sure you have an idea on play calling. I'd call this more of a guide than a cookbook. Offensive play calling comes down sometimes to gut feelings based on careful film breakdown and study.
Hopefully this post will be a springboard to future feature play posts that will shed a more in-depth guide than my original Flexbone playbook posts did. You probably won't hear from for awhile, I'm not planning on any sort of schedule for these, they are just sort of "when I feel like writing" types posts, but hopefully they'll be helpful. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!