Atlanta Falcons: Screen pass has become an extension of the run attack

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White ran for a 39-yard touchdown during the second quarter against Detroit on a screen pass. (Duane Burleson/Associated Press)

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White ran for a 39-yard touchdown during the second quarter against Detroit on a screen pass. (Duane Burleson/Associated Press)

By MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM

FLOWERY BRANCH — After 16 regular-season games it’s clear the Falcons no longer can reliably run the ball when they need tough yards.

They may not have to do it much in the playoffs, though, if they can keep slicing opponents with screen passes.

“The screen game for us is an extension of our run game,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “It’s putting the ball in our backs’ hands and our wide outs’ hands in space with short, quick throws.”

As advertised, first-year offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has used screen passes as a big part of his game plans. The results have been overwhelmingly positive.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, before the Falcons played the Lions on Dec. 22, Ryan had completed 50 of 57 screen-pass attempts for 374 yards and five touchdowns. The completion and attempt numbers on screens were second in the NFL at the time, and the touchdown passes led the league.

Ryan finished the season 62-of-69 for 495 yards and six touchdowns on screen plays. That’s 7.2 yards per attempt and a touchdown every 11.5 screen plays.

Contrast that with the Falcons’ rushing numbers: 1,397 yards on 378 attempts and 12 touchdowns. That’s 3.7 yards per play and a touchdown every 31.5 rushing plays.

The Falcons’ embrace of screen passes has been a major difference between Koetter and his predecessor, Mike Mularkey. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Ryan completed 16 screens for a total of 68 yards with no touchdowns last season.

Screen passes are thrown behind the line of scrimmage, usually to one side of the field or the other, with blockers fanning out to clear lanes for the receiver.

“Our philosophy is to try to turn it into a punt return,” Koetter said. “The screen game is good when you’ve got good guys to throw it to. We’ve got good guys who can make plays. Our linemen have bought into it.”

Atlanta’s power running game, once a staple, has floundered. Rather than force the issue, the Falcons have supplanted their rushes with screen passes.

Ryan has thrown screen passes to running backs Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling. Those typically have been traditional screen plays to the short flat with Ryan and multiple linemen selling a drop-back pass before setting up the screen.

But Ryan also has thrown screen passes to wide receivers Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas; even tight end Tony Gonzalez has been a target. Those usually have been quick passes to the outside with wide receivers and one lineman blocking.

“(Koetter’s) got a good design, and they are probably the best screen team in quite a while,” Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said before the Falcons gashed his team with one such play.

White’s 39-yard touchdown pass against Detroit was an example of the creativity and deception behind Koetter’s use of screen plays.

The Falcons sold the play as a toss to the right to Rodgers. One way they did this was to motion wide receiver Drew Davis tight to the formation as a blocker, a role he has filled regularly this season.

It looked like a run to the Lions, but Ryan faked the pitch to Rodgers and threw a screen pass left to White. He had room to maneuver because Detroit’s linebackers and safeties flowed toward Rodgers, and Gonzalez and left tackle Sam Baker delivered key blocks as White ran untouched to the end zone.

“That’s great play-calling and great game-planning by the Falcons,” ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said during the telecast.

The Falcons didn’t score a touchdown on a screen pass Sunday against the Buccaneers, but as usual, those plays were more effective than running plays.

The Falcons rushed for only 65 yards on 16 attempts against Tampa Bay, but Ryan completed all six of his screen passes for 66 yards. Jones’ 28-yard reception on a screen pass was Atlanta’s longest play of the day.

Normally the drawback to passing frequently is the potential for interceptions, and when time management is the goal, stopping the clock with incomplete passes. Screen passes eliminate those risks for the most part, making them about as safe as running the ball.

“You could make that case,” Koetter said. “I don’t think we look at it that way.”

Instead, Koetter said he likes that screen plays force defensive linemen to run more than usual when they react to them. They also can slow down an aggressive pass rush.

More important, Koetter said the Falcons believe screen plays are a potential source of big plays without much danger of negative yards by throwing behind the line of scrimmage.

“Normally on a screen play, if you can just get it started and get it blocked at the point of attack, you are going to make yards,” he said. “And when you have good players, ‘make yards’ can turn into explosive plays.”

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49 comments Add your comment

Esquire

January 2nd, 2013
12:07 pm

WE ARE THE MIGHTY MIGHTY FALCONS!!!

lowdownjj

January 2nd, 2013
12:07 pm

Better than beating a dead horse I guess…cause the run game is nonexistant

US Sports News | GroveCityDailyNews.com

January 2nd, 2013
12:22 pm

[...] Atlanta Falcons: Screen pass has become an extension of the run attack [...]

US Sports News | Edinborodailynews.com

January 2nd, 2013
12:22 pm

[...] Atlanta Falcons: Screen pass has become an extension of the run attack [...]

ijonathan

January 2nd, 2013
12:26 pm

Hmmm…non-existant screen game under Mularkey to one of the league’s best this year. With virtually all of the same players.

1 and Done

January 2nd, 2013
12:26 pm

24-2 can’t get any worse.

Marcus

January 2nd, 2013
12:26 pm

gotta do something …but next year, there HAS to be a more effective rush attack.

One of these three, RB Stepfan Taylor (Stanford), TE Zach Ertz (Stanford), RB Montee Ball (Wisconsin) would look good in Falcons Red and Black, come 2nd/3rd round in 2013 draft, presuming that Falcons brass get the best available OL/DL in whatever round 1 slot we end up with. Fallback for R2/R3 would be Joseph Fauria (TE-UCLA),LeVeon Bell (RB-Michigan State) or Zack Stacy (RB-Vanderbilt).

falconfanriseup

January 2nd, 2013
12:29 pm

Falcons can’t be stopped in the postseason Falcons RISE UP!!!! Superbowl here we come

[...] ***OFFICIAL FIRE MESSINGHAM THREAD*** Atlanta Falcons: Screen pass has become an extension of the run attack | Atlanta Falcons Interesting article on how effective the Atlanta Falcons have been with replacing a struggling [...]

DP

January 2nd, 2013
12:54 pm

Screen passes as a strategy to offset a bad running game are just one more reason why Jacquizz Rodgers should be on the field for 70-80% of the snaps and Michael Turner should be on the bench. It has become obvious that the Falcons can’t line up and run the ball, so the strategy is pass first and uses screens, traps, draws and shovel passes to slow down the pass rush. Turner in his current state doesn’t fit that type of system. I’m not sure what type of system he does fit in his current state.

Ladies and gentlement, Wrestling Two!

January 2nd, 2013
1:12 pm

DP: I’m not sure what system he fits in either, but it will have to be extra large to match his gut and butt. I’m not hating on the guy, but he’s eaten and drank hisself right out of the league. I don’ t believe for one minute that all the hits he’s taken are the problem when he stretches his uniform to the point of stitching failure. The dude is literally a human sphere. Sorry, Michal, but you should have taken some lessons from T, Gonzalez. Don’t tell me he hasn’t taken more hits than you. Stay out of the friggin Waffle House, please, for the next 2 weeks.

NumberOneDirtyBird

January 2nd, 2013
1:16 pm

Agreed DP…Turner doesn’t fit in his jeans let alone this new offense. He could have dropped 20 pounds in the off season but he is as FAT ever. He can’t change direction with any speed so the defense doesn’t worry about the cut back with him so the fly side the ball is run to to fill up the gap…I hope those scouts are looking for a serviceable running back to pick up in the draft!

warfalcon

January 2nd, 2013
1:24 pm

NO MORE BAD GAMES,LETS GO FALCONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mike

January 2nd, 2013
1:27 pm

Let’s hope that, unlike the rushing attack, it gets more than 1-2 yards per play. Hey oh!

North FLA Falcon

January 2nd, 2013
1:29 pm

Turner is a joke! Save him for maybe 5-10 touches per game. Rotate in Snelling and Rodgers.

Vu Ḉa Avant

January 2nd, 2013
1:38 pm

It will be one and done, as usual, if you can’t see that coming, it’s only because you don’t want to see it.

LOL at The Aints

January 2nd, 2013
2:07 pm

Didnt the Aints get swept this year by Carolina, LOL

LOL at The Aints

January 2nd, 2013
2:11 pm

The Falcons will go as far as Matt Ryan will take them,, come on Matty,, time to get pi$$ed off and man up! Gor Birds!!

realfalconfan

January 2nd, 2013
2:13 pm

Vu Ḉa Avant who ever you are stay off our blog you don’t belong. You are probably a anits fan…..which is jealous your not in the play offs

cowbellhell

January 2nd, 2013
2:27 pm

Snelling should start and keep quizz with same reps in my opinion, it’s Coetters fault for running his fat butt out there.

Joshua Brown

January 2nd, 2013
2:29 pm

This is so true, check out this story for more insight on our “running game” http://jb3football247.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/gearing-up-for-the-postseason/

realness

January 2nd, 2013
2:36 pm

Funny how they are dogging Turner, if im not mistaken, at least he scored a touchdown during our last game…

LegionOfDome

January 2nd, 2013
2:37 pm

The “power running game” left with Ovie Mughelli. We still have the same MT33 and O-line.

Falcon James

January 2nd, 2013
2:38 pm

Great story. The Falcon faithful have been talking about the screen for several years. Hard to believe it changing the OC before the team start utilizing it. It has been great to watch it. We could very easy have a running a running game as well if the Falcon would use Quizz more. Turner should be well rested by now as well.

Esquire

January 2nd, 2013
3:17 pm

Many of us have wondered loudly why was the screen game all but abandoned in years past.
Did Mularkey take any resemblance of a screen game to Jax?

(reprinted without permission)
The Vikings defeated the Packers to earn a playoff spot in the final week of the regular season. This marks the fifth time over the past 10 seasons that two teams will meet in the Wild Card round after facing off in Week 17. In the previous four occurrences, the regular season winner is 2-2 in the wild-card rematch

Adrian Peterson rushed for 409 yards in two games against the Packers this season, including 230 after first contact. No other player had more than 46 yards after contact against Green Bay in 2012 and, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 409 yards are the fourth-most by anyone against one opponent in single-season NFL history.

Tiger Woods turned 37 years old today.
Woods has been stuck on 14 major titles since the 2008 U.S. Open. In 2012, he failed to break par in rounds three or four of any major for the first time in his career. If Woods is going to pass Jack Nicklaus’ mark of 18 major championships, he’s going to make more history in the process. Only one player since 1900 has won more than four majors after turning 37 years old: Ben Hogan, who won six, including the 1950 U.S. Open at age 37.

dean

January 2nd, 2013
3:30 pm

My feeling is the Redskins are going to be in town a week from Sunday. The team that runs the ball the best will win.

Uh oh.

goFalcons

January 2nd, 2013
3:56 pm

Pitch it to Rodgers, run slant plays to Rodgers, and Screen passes. We know the Falcons can not run it up the middle but that does not mean the Falcons can not kill the clock if that is what is needed in the 4th QTR. I really would abandon Turner all together. As far as who the Falcons play…I really don’t care because nobody is going to beat the Falcons so bring anybody on

dean

January 2nd, 2013
4:03 pm

I hope you’re right goFalcons.
Out of curiosity, how long have you been a Falcons fan? The only reason I ask is if you have been around since their first season you would understand the skepticism of some of us. (Skeptic does not equal hater. We’re just worn down over the years.)

goFalcons

January 2nd, 2013
4:11 pm

since 1974. Falcons are not a glamorous team. Only Falcon fans are born Falcon fans. I was to young to really remember the Dallas game but my parents have a pix of me crying after the game. I remember dancing to the video of to legit to quit with the Falcons led by D. Sanders and Coach Glanville. I remember william Andrews carrying 2 ppl on his back and he wore a neckbrace pad. I remember getting buddy curry’s autograph, and my dad had tommy nobis as his hero,,,,,,,i had head hunter SCOTT CASE AS MY HERO….I am a huge Braves fan and UGA fan as well but i don’t think about the past as what is going to happen……….I expect us to win the Super Bowl

Esquire

January 2nd, 2013
4:29 pm

LOL at The Aints
January 2nd, 2013
2:07 pm

Didnt the Aints get swept this year by Carolina, LOL

*******************************************
The caints, roflmao, I have never seen so many people jumping off of a bandwagon in my life. It’s a comedy down there. What a joke of a team……………if you can call it that.

Have you ever noticed that Tom Benson looks just like that idiot Uncle Joe on Petticoat Junction, the old tv show.

goFalcons

January 2nd, 2013
4:33 pm

Everybody likes Denver in the AFC,,,,,,,,Falcon fans like them also………The Falcons have the Manning Brothers trophy this year. John Elway took our dreams away in 98, I would love to take his dream as VP of the Broncos winning a Super Bowl away from him.

Esquire

January 2nd, 2013
4:35 pm

goFalcons
January 2nd, 2013
4:11 pm

since 1974. Falcons are not a glamorous team. Only Falcon fans are born Falcon fans. I was to young to really remember the Dallas game but my parents have a pix of me crying after the game. I remember dancing to the video of to legit to quit with the Falcons led by D. Sanders and Coach Glanville. I remember william Andrews carrying 2 ppl on his back and he wore a neckbrace pad. I remember getting buddy curry’s autograph, and my dad had tommy nobis as his hero,,,,,,,i had head hunter SCOTT CASE AS MY HERO….I am a huge Braves fan and UGA fan as well but i don’t think about the past as what is going to happen……….I expect us to win the Super Bowl

*****************************************

Great memories for you!! You didn’t cry alone after that Dallas game.

WE ARE THE MIGHTY MIGHTY FALCONS!!

Esquire

January 2nd, 2013
4:44 pm

goFalcons
January 2nd, 2013
4:33 pm

Everybody likes Denver in the AFC,,,,,,,,Falcon fans like them also………The Falcons have the Manning Brothers trophy this year. John Elway took our dreams away in 98, I would love to take his dream as VP of the Broncos winning a Super Bowl away from him.

*********************************************************

I have to disagree. Eugene Robinson took our dream away in 98′, not John Elway. And the only thing I would ever take to task on Dan Reeves was giving Robinson the choice to play or not to play. He played and played poorly. But his selfishness and desire to celebrate his christian award in his own unusual way doomed the Falcons before the teams ever took the field.

goFalcons

January 2nd, 2013
4:58 pm

I never will forget waking up on that real cold morning and seeing the news of Eugene Robinson,,,,,we knew it was over then. Tim Dwight tried to keep us in the game late in the 4th but by then it was to late.

goFalcons

January 2nd, 2013
4:59 pm

I just remember the whole team staid up all night and into the morning trying to make him feel better. It is the Super Bowl and I would of played him as well but he had a very very bad game

dean

January 2nd, 2013
5:00 pm

Good stuff, goFalcons.

Your Eugene Robinson memory is exactly what I said at 0630 that morning: “We just lost the game.”

Amnesia

January 2nd, 2013
5:15 pm

You guys are setting yourselves up for another heartbreak.

goFalcons

January 2nd, 2013
5:18 pm

I would rather be in a position to have my heart broken again,,,,then watching my team not in the playoffs

goFalcons

January 2nd, 2013
5:23 pm

Infield fly rule BS, UGA 5 yards short,,,,,bring anything on,,, I like that my teams are in the mix and not watching as a .500 ball team. Heartbreak has made the Atl. sports fans (yes Atlanta sports fans consider UGA as one of our teams) the best fans in sports…..Every year we get hurt but we come back for more……We are so unlucky that the Braves won the WS in 1995 and idiots like me were on strike as a baseball fan that year…….man we are use to heartbreak,,, it will just make this Super Bowl win more sweeter

Esquire

January 2nd, 2013
7:47 pm

dean
January 2nd, 2013
3:30 pm

My feeling is the Redskins are going to be in town a week from Sunday. The team that runs the ball the best will win.

Uh oh.

**************************************************
I dunno, Seattle’s been playing good ball.

Esquire

January 2nd, 2013
8:12 pm

Southern bell

January 2nd, 2013
9:58 pm

I think we are going to face Seattle who can’t win on the road, but are very mighty at home.

BillyBob

January 3rd, 2013
10:58 am

Off topic but next year please do an update on this system of posting comments. Allow users to vote up or down on comments and to be able to reply directly under a comment. Just look at FB or YouTube. This would be so easy for a programmer to do and would make this experience more enjoyable.

Thanks!

Go Falcons!

single white dove

January 3rd, 2013
5:24 pm

The secondary wanted to party and not win a championship in 98. Plus, probably the oddest play from the falcons on defense from playing during the year. The secondary was too hung over to handle Elway.

[...] As noted by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s D. Orlando Ledbetter, Atlanta’s screen pass attack already has become an extension of the running game, accomplishing the same goals as those listed above all while being a threat in itself. Case in point, Ryan finished the season 62-of-69 for 495 yards and six touchdowns on screen plays this year according to Ledbetter. [...]

Mora less Petrino

January 4th, 2013
12:02 am

Vu Ḉa Avant is French, it means “Seen this before”

PlanB

January 4th, 2013
9:20 am

BillyBob

January 3rd, 2013
10:58 am
Off topic but next year please do an update on this system of posting comments. Allow users to vote up or down on comments and to be able to reply directly under a comment. Just look at FB or YouTube. This would be so easy for a programmer to do and would make this experience more enjoyable.
*****************************************************************************
I completely agree

DieHardFalconsFan!!!!

January 4th, 2013
2:46 pm

Its gonna be up to the O-line to keep matt ryan on his feet. If they can do that then we have a shot! Also i think we should try to pull out some college plays and not be so predictable! GO FALCONS!!!!!

[...] As it stands now, the screen game is essentially an extension of the run game. [...]