A "bubble screen" (also called a "slip screen" or "quick screen") is an offensive play used in American football at the high school, college and professional levels. A common feature of the west coast-style or "spread" offense, a bubble screen is a short pass designed to quickly get the football into the hands of a wide receiver or running back who "bubbles" back behind the line of scrimmage.
They key to a successful bubble screen is blocking. The goal of the screen is to get the back or receiver to catch the ball in front of him while an outside receiver (or two) blocks the nearest defensive player(s). Offensive lineman can then sprint to an outside position to offer more support. While the play is designed to gain four to five yards, a well-timed and -executed bubble screen can result in a much larger gain.
The execution of a bubble screen is different in high school and college football as opposed to the professional National Football League. Under NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations) rules, offensive players are allowed to block downfield while the ball is in the air only as long as the ball is caught behind the line of scrimmage. In the NFL, the timing of the play is critical, as outside receivers cannot start blocking until the ball has been caught.
Since the bubble screen is designed to develop quickly and involves a short throw for a quarterback, it is often used in lieu of a running play. Modern spread offenses regularly utilize an empty backfield (a formation in which there is no running back behind the quarterback when the football is snapped), and a bubble screen can be a relatively low-risk option when a team without a backfield runner is faced with a short-yardage situation.
Bubble screens are most effective when deployed against an overly aggressive defense. For instance, a run-stopping defensive scheme with eight defenders on the line of scrimmage and only two deep safeties can be vulnerable to screen plays. In addition to well-executed blocking, the success of the play is dependent on the ability of the back or wide receiver to run after the catch.
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