What Is A Screen Play In Football?

There are tons of different formations, schemes, and plays in the game of football. This ends up leaving many fans wondering what terms like “screen play” mean.

A screen play in football is a passing play in which several players will abandon their usual assignment in order to move in front of the intended receiver as blockers.

Screen plays are often passed to running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends. Some screen plays are going to involve offensive linemen running around the formation to block for the ball carrier.

While outside screens to wide receivers are going to involve using other wide receivers as blockers.

At the beginning of screen plays the quarterback and the intended receiver need to be sure to fool the defense. If they are able to tell a screen is coming they will be able to get into a position to stop it.

For this reason, the quarterback and intended receiver will pretend to run a passing play or rush only to quickly throw the ball a short distance for the screen pass.

Popular Screen Plays

Now that you understand what a screen play is in football it’s time to see some popular examples. Below we will cover a few of the screen plays you are most likely to see when watching football on television.

The Slip Screen

The slip screen in football is a passing play in which rushers are intentional left unblocked in order to get more blockers downfield.

On this play, several players will be given the assignment of blocking in front of the intended receiver. Some of these blockers will allow defenders to slip through into the backfield thinking they are about to earn a sack.

The quarterback will then quickly throw the pass over the defenders head to a receiver waiting near the line of scrimmage.

By this time the blockers that let the pass rushers slip through will have made it downfield to block in front of the ball carrier.

If the timing is right this can result in a big play.

RB Screen

One of the most popular screen plays in football is the running back screen. These sorts of screen passes are very similar to a check down the main difference being the running back on this play is going to have blockers in front of him.

On a running back screen a few players will abandon pass protection in order to get into position in front of the running back. The quarterback must be sure to get this pass off quickly as there will usually be unblocked pass rushers on this play.

If the quarterback is able to get the running back the ball he will be past the majority of the defensive line and will have several offensive linemen in front of him to block.

Bubble Screen

A bubble screen in football is a play typically run towards a wide receiver that involves him taking one step downfield before sprinting laterally across the field towards the quarterback.

As he moves toward the quarterback the offensive lineman will run downfield in order to block the defenders in front of the receiver.

The quarterback will then quickly throw to the wide receiver as he moves toward him. Once the receiver catches the ball he will immediately cut down the field and navigate through his blockers towards the opponent’s endzone.


In short, a screen play in football occurs when a player who catches the ball has a “screen” of blockers in front of him.

These plays typically involve a quick short pass and often intentionally draw pass rushers into the offensive backfield in order to create more opportunities for a big catch and run.

These plays can often result in incomplete passes and short gains but when timed properly a good screen can be a handy tool for an offense.

If you want to learn about other football plays similar to screen plays see our guide to hail mary plays or trick plays in football.

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