The WR Screen is a very effective tool against blitzes, as long as you have a WR who can generate yards after the catch, and QB with a quick release, and good accuracy. Enter WR Keenan Allen and QB Philip Rivers.
Secondly, the WR Screen is what's often referred to as a "constraint play." In other words, it's not a play you'd be likely to use against a defense playing "honestly" (i.e. straight-up). Rather, it's the kind of play you'd use to punish a team for regularly blitzing, or attacking the QB without regards for the run or short pass. Enter the St. Louis Rams, and their aggressive Defensive Coordinator, Gregg Williams.
Thirdly, when using a WR screen, it's a play you ideally use when the defense's aggression presents the offense with a numbers advantage (i.e. 2 blockers and 1 WR vs. 2 defenders).
The Play: 8:19 remaining in the 4th Quarter. 1st and 15 Chargers at the St, Louis 29 yard line.
The Chargers use "11" personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR). Here's a diagram of the play.
The Chargers' Offense, from left to right.
- WR Seyi Ajirotutu (16) blocks downfield.
- WR Keenan Allen (13) runs the WR Screen.
- TE Ladarius Green (89) blocks downfield.
- RB Branden Oliver (24) runs a Crossing Route.
- WR Malcom Floyd (89) runs a Go Route.
The Rams' Defense (from the defense's right to left).
- Up Front: DE Robert Quinn (94), DT Aaron Donald (99), DT Kendall Langford (98), DE William Hayes (95).
- In the Middle: CB E.J. Gaines (33), LB James Laurinaitis (55), LB Alec Ogletree (52).
- In the Secondary: CB Janoris Jenkins (21), SS T.J. McDonald (25), FS Rodney McLeod (24), CB Trumaine Johnson (22)
- The Rams are running a 4-2-5 nickel defense by personnel. However, with Gaines lined up in position of an OLB, the look is closer to a 4-3-4.
Elements of the Play
Figure 1 shows the pre-snap business. Rivers shifts the position of Allen and Ajirotutu. On the Rams' side, Jenkins and Gaines don't move with their men, meaning they've either switched assignments, or are playing zone. Following the shift, Rivers doesn't send Oliver or anyone else in motion to force the Rams to indicate whether they're in man or zone coverage. The Rams are presenting a Cover 2 look. However, just before the snap, you'll see 3 things. #1 Gaines starts crashing towards the left side of the offensive line - showing blitz. #2 Laurinaitis starts cheating to his right. #3 McDonald comes up to pick up Allen.
At the snap, Figure 2 shows the Rams using a 5 man rush - Gaines blitzes, accompanying a 4 man rush. As McDonald comes up to cover Allen, McLeod retreats to the deep middle. As we saw with the Raiders last week, the Rams are playing Cover 1 on this play. However, instead of playing the "Robber", Laurinaitis is moving right to pick up off-man coverage on Green. The 4 remaining defenders (Jenkins, McDonald, Ogletree, Johnson) are also playing Off-Man Coverage.
At this point in Figure 3, you'll notice that LT King Dunlap, LG Chad Rinehart, and C Chris Watt have already released to block for the screen downfield. Because of the blitzing Gaines, the Chargers have an immediate numbers advantage to their left - a free WR, and 3 blockers against 3 defenders. The last real chance for the Rams to stop a big play is for Quinn to knock down Rivers' pass, which he almost does.
In Figure 4, Allen has just received the ball. One of the most important rules regarding blocking on WR screens is that offensive players moving past the line of scrimmage to block may be called for Offensive Pass Interference if they make contact with a defender before the WR makes the catch.
As we can see here, none of the Chargers' players have made contact with a defender before Allen catches the ball. Ajirotutu, Green, and Dunlap are all in position to block their men, while Allen will have a free blocker to run behind in Rinehart. The Chargers have a blocker for every defender on this side of the field, and no one to account for Allen - a 5 to 4 numbers advantage.
Interestingly, Watt blocks Gaines, who's trailing the play. I'm not sure if Watt's job is to close off the backside pursuit of Gaines, or if Watt should have gone up field and blocked Ogletree, who's moving fast and becomes the only defender with a chance to stop the play before Allen reaches the 1st down marker.
Figure 5 shows that Rinehart just barely gets a piece of McDonald - and maybe gets away with a block in the back, while Allen manages to shake off Ogletree's attempted tackle. From this point forward, it's a free run for Allen into the end zone.
Here's a GIF of the play
A combination of smart play calling, good recognition by Rivers, and good, unselfish play from his offensive teammates provided Keenan Allen with the chance to score his 2nd TD of the season. What I like best about this play - although it's a constraint play - is that it takes advantage of so many disparate elements: Rivers' release and accuracy, Dunlap's athleticism, Green and Ajirotutu's blocking, and Allen's ability to run after the catch to generate a positive result.
Hope everyone involved with BFTB has a Happy Thanksgiving this year. Stay safe.