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Screen-Pass Options: the new phrase to give analysts, fans a headache

SPO’s are the new catch phrase in football

Miami v Pittsburgh Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

I’m sure the phrase Run-Pass Option or RPO has been beaten to death for you at this point. Fans and Greg McElroy often get them confused with read options- which they’re not. Kirk Herbstreit never has figured out what an RPO is, even calling them RPI’s on camera. I’m guilty of the hype having recently discussed the impact of RPO’s on college football for you on SOTU. But a Screen Pass Option is a new phenomenon that I hope:

  • a) you haven’t heard before
  • and b) I can thoroughly explain

Noel Mazzone

Noel Mazzone changed a lot of my ideas on how to name offensive football plays and formations, and on how to tag RPO’s to my system. After spending two years in College Station with Kevin Sumlin, Mazzone will now join Sumlin’s staff at Arizona as the quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. The Mazzone cronies are loyal and his son is one that follows him from job to job which is a constant switch as he’s onto his fourth stop since the 2010 season. You can even purchase his materials called the NZone System and his followers are regular teachers at Glazier Clinics.

Mazzone worked with Josh Rosen during his freshman year which was really Rosen’s healthiest and most successful in the wins column. Mazzone uses a lot of stick routes, snag routes and RPO’s in his offense. It helped UCLA move the football in Rosen’s freshman year and it helped Mazzone’s offense that Rosen is as bright as he is to pick up as much as he does so quickly.

Mazzone calls his snag route “Chevron” and I believe his screen route is “Sally.” If you combine Chevron and Sally he has dubbed that a Screen Pass Option or SPO.

Stick Route Refresher

We’ve talked a ton about the Snag concept and Stick concept here on SOTU. Stick is when the #3 receiver (furthest inside) sits down in space on an inside hitch, if the inside linebacker plays tight the receiver continues to the sideline at around 5 yards depth. I really like to run #2 (the middle receiver) on a vertical to chase off the safety. The outside receiver, or #1, I like to run on a 10 yard out route. Normally on stick the quarterback will read the inside linebacker, if he doesn’t play the sit down then you drill that in on #3. If he does and a flat defender stays home in the flat, the QB should be able to throw the harder 10 yard out.

Above- you can see Christopher Herndon IV running the stick route in the GIF, and below is a video I created about the stick route and Herndon.

Snag Concept Refresher

The Snag concept is one of my favorites. It entails the outside wide receiver or #1 to run a “stop” route or a slant and sit in space. In my version of it the #2 or middle receiver runs a bubble to lure the flat defender away from the stop route. The #3 or inside receiver runs a vertical route to chase off the inside linebacker and safety creating space for the stop route.

In the GIF below, you can watch how the bubble lures the flat defender and how the stop route becomes open. It’s an easy read for the quarterback as he can pre-snap read the cornerback leverage (if it’s outside the stop is open) and post-snap read the flat defender. But what if the flat defender plays the stop and the cornerback plays the bubble like a cover 2 look? Do you want your QB throwing into what could be a huge hit or pick 6?

Screen Pass Option (SPO)

This is where the idea of the Screen Pass Option comes from for offensive coordinators. For years QB’s have been told if they do get that cover 2 look, to either eat the ball and run or throw it away. Now with the back side screen, the QB can still make a throw and avoid a loss of down or taking a hit.

The “Stick” side as the front side option

The quarterback has a lot to read on a play of this magnitude. The QB will read the inside linebacker as shown below. If the linebacker plays tight the receiver needs to break out and attack the sideline while looking for the football.

If the flat defender stays at home and is in the flat, the QB will flip his hips and run the screen portion of the SPO on the backside of the play. This eliminates the quarterback from making a bad throw into traffic. If his internal clock feels like it’s taking too long for his #3 to hit the sideline, he can just flip and throw.

The “Snag” as the front side option

The Snag is easier than the Stick if it’s in your playbook. It’s much easier for a QB to pre-snap read the cornerback- if he plays outside leverage the QB knows the stop is there as far as leverage from the cornerback. Post-snap, the quarterback reads that flat defender. If he runs with the bubble the QB throws the stop, if he bails hard the QB can throw the bubble. But again- what if it’s cover 2 and the corner plays the bubble and the flat guy (linebacker or safety- whatever they call him it’s the same) plays the stop? Now your QB can open up and throw the screen pass to the back side.

The “Screen” side is the back side

I’ve drawn up some Mark Richt screens before, and we know he’s used them for some success since coming to Miami.

Like on any other screen pass, the offensive tackle (and depending, maybe the guard too) will get out to the second level after a pause block on the defensive linemen. The running back will settle down behind the linemen and look for the screen. The wide receiver will stalk block the cornerback.

Below is a great example of the delayed running back screen.

Screen Pass Option aka SPO, examples

It’s hard to see exactly what you’re getting in this clip but you’re getting what looks like a snag to the bottom of the screen and the screen pass to the top of the screen. That flat defender that’s over the slot pre-snap- if he stays in the flat the QB will look to the back side which is the screen pass.

And this example is from the man himself, Noel Mazzone:

In the ‘Canes playbook

Much like the Swing/Draw that Mark Richt used with Malik Rosier in 2017, the Screen Pass Option is going to be a quick read for the QB. Rosier would have to post-snap read the inside line backer and the flat defender against the stick route. If he doesn’t like what he sees, he’ll then flip his hips and throw the screen. While Richt loves both routes I’m not sure if Miami is ready to combine them at this time. However as the season progresses it could be a wrinkle that can free up Rosier (or Perry, or Williams) to not be stuck making a bad throw in the Stick or Snag concepts. I’m not sure if this is a “once a drive” sort of play, as I see this working once a quarter like a good running back delayed screen would.