PLAY I: Single Bubble
Denver lines up in an off-set right, power run formation. The Colts counter by placing eight men in the box, with five along the line of scrimmage. This leaves just two defenders outside the left hash. WR Demaryius Thomas (red) is in the slot and will swing left at the snap. Out wide, WR Emmanuelle Sanders (yellow) will serve as the lead blocker.
As Thomas catches the ball, notice just two defenders between him and the end zone. Sanders locks up the wide corner, meaning all Thomas has to do is make one guy miss and he’ll have clear sailing to pay dirt.
Thomas is unable to break a tackle but the play still goes for five yards.
Analysis: This was likely an audible by QB Peyton Manning, who saw the Colts far too heavily weighted in the middle of the field. With single coverage out wide and just two defenders outside the left hash, the Broncos played the odds. Had Thomas been able to slip the tackle, the play would have resulted in a big gain, and possibly a touchdown.
PLAY II: Trips Bubble
This again will be a bubble screen to Thomas (red), yet this time he’s the inside receiver in a bunch formation with two blockers in front of him.
Thomas gets two good blocks (yellow) by the receivers out front, allowing him to turn up field. At this point, he hast two avenues through which he can pick up a good chunk of yards.
Analysis: This was a designed screen against two-deep zone coverage. With the secondary giving a cushion at the line of scrimmage, Thomas swings behind his two teammates and follows their blocks for the first down.
PLAY III: Play-Action Bubble
The Broncos line up trips right with Manning in the pistol and RB Montee Ball behind him. At the snap, Manning will fake a handoff to Ball before firing a pass to Thomas (red) out wide. The two inside receivers will serve as the lead blockers.
It’s only a token fake, yet the play-action does its job in forcing both the play-side linebacker and defensive end toward the left hash. Notice the right guard and right tackle (white) already clearing to the second level to serve as the third and fourth lead blockers.
As Manning releases the pass, notice the inside receivers lining up their blocks, while the right side of the offensive line are positioning for inside seal blocks.
Sanders and Wes Welker (yellow) get good blocks out wide, while the right guard and tackle clean up the remaining defenders. Thomas cuts through the blocks and breaks toward the sideline for an 80-yard touchdown.
Analysis: This is a very well-designed screen play that results in four blockers out in front of Thomas in space. With all four blockers locking up a defender, Thomas has a clear path to the end zone.
**Full disclosure: The Broncos were flagged for illegal receivers downfield. The offensive linemen needed to wait one more tick before clearing to the second level, yet the play design was still solid.**
PLAY IV: Pistol Bubble
This play is similar to the last one, yet from a different formation. Thomas (red) is out wide, with Sanders (yellow) in the slot. Thomas will run a 0 route at the snap, with Sanders clearing immediately for the safety. In addition, the LT Ryan Clady will sprint to the flat to kick out the wide corner.
The play action again does its job, forcing the inside linebacker and play-side defensive end (black Xs) in the opposite direction of Thomas. Notice Clady heading for the left flat.
As Thomas catches the pass, we see Sanders sealing the corner and Clady headed for the second outside defender. Also notice the left guard and center, who have also cleared to the second level to serve as trail blockers.
The outside defenders are sealed and the trailing linemen do a good job of picking up the inside defenders. Thomas is able to slip through the crack with just one Chiefs player between him and the end zone.
Analysis: This bubble screen uses a two-tiered kick out, with Sanders preceding Clady. In addition, Gase uses two more offensive linemen on delayed releases to seal the inside, giving Thomas plenty of room to run.
PLAY V: Traditional
Here is our first running back screen. RB C.J. Anderson (red) will feign a protection block before clearing to the right flat. The right tackle, right guard and center will all hold their block for one second before moving to the second level as lead blockers.
Like most traditional screen plays, the defensive linemen (black Xs) are allowed penetration, as it essentially takes them out of the play.
Anderson gets solid blocks after the catch and has multiple lanes through which to run.
Analysis: This is your classic running back screen with three blockers out front. In the four games I analyzed for this story, this was the only traditional RB screen I found. Obviously, Gase prefers to be a bit more creative with his screen packages.
PLAY VI: Triple Fake
Context for this play: the Broncos in this game had already run Sanders (white) on an end around. Before the snap, he’ll motion into the backfield, giving the illusion another reverse is coming. At the same time, Manning will fake a handoff to Ball (red) and then pump fake to a bubble screen out wide (yellow).
Here we see Manning just after the play fake to Ball (red) with Sanders (white) running behind him.
Here is the pump fake. Notice the defenders in the middle of the field all beginning to run in the direction of the fake.
Ball then sneaks into the left flat with a blocker in front.
Analysis: This is a slow-developing play that first fakes an end around, then a draw handoff and then a bubble screen. The idea is to confuse the defense and forcing their attention on everyone but Ball, who quietly snuck into the flat.
**Full disclosure: Cardinals OLB Calais Campbell makes an amazing play coming from the backfield and undercutting the pass for an interception.
PLAY VII: The Screen That Wasn’t
The Broncos line up with Anderson (red) in the backfield. He’ll immediately fake a pass block before dropping into the underneath zone between the hash marks. The tight end, left slot receiver and right split end (yellow) will all merge in the middle of the field to serve as lead blockers.
Anderson here has just cleared the line of scrimmage and Manning is releasing the pass. Notice the two receivers and tight end, none of whom are looking for the ball. Also notice the left guard, who will release on a delay as a trail blocker.
Anderson has caught the pass and gets three solid single blocks out front. The left guard is in his hip to thwart off tacklers in pursuit.
Anderson follows his blocks and now has just one defender (black) between him and the end zone.
Analysis: This is my favorite of the six screen passes we analyzed, as it’s an unorthodox RB screen that does not rely on the offensive linemen to lead the play. The Bears have the best blocking receivers in the game (Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery) so a play like this could result in big yardage for Matt Forte.
Gase doesn’t have a lot of use for the traditional running back screen, something former head coach Marc Trestman drove into the ground. That said, he will deploy it on occasion.
The bubble screens come from multiple different formations, with and without play fakes. In addition, the blockers out in front come in the form of both receivers and offensive linemen.
The RB screens Gase uses are very creative, especially the final two in this piece. There’s no way the defense could predict those plays from the pre-snap formations shown, which was a big problem with Trestman’s predictable offense.
Gase isn’t overly dependant on screen passes, using them only a handful of times each game. He picks his spots and tries to create as much confusion as possible.
MORE FROM THIS SERIES:
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.