After a few years in relative hibernation, the screen game emerged during Sunday night's victory over the Vikings. Running back Brandon Jackson caught two of them for 47 yards and tight end Donald Lee caught two for 27 yards.
Those successes begged the question: Where had the screen game gone?
"Well, see the problem is you guys have to do a better job evaluating our screen play," coach Mike McCarthy said. "Because our screen play is we don't just line up and throw a screen to the back. There's a little more to that."
"Sometimes, we don't always throw it (to the back)," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "You'll notice that we throw the ball down the field sometimes when we're releasing linemen, so it's not always just a one-man, isolated screen. Sometimes, there's more options. I think when you look at them overall, we're pretty solid at it. (Sunday) night probably looked as good as they've looked but we've also had some success throwing the ball down the field on some of our screens."
Asked on Friday if he could remember one such play, Aaron Rodgers quickly recalled his first-drive completion to Jermichael Finley in the Pittsburgh game. "The one I got hit helmt-to-helmet" by Lawrence Timmons, Rodgers said of that 15-yard gain.
Those downfield looks notwithstanding, the screen game that fans know and love — the one that could come in handy against the attacking New York Jets on Sunday — had been mostly dormant until last week. Before last week's games, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers had run 10 screens. Seven of those were completed for merely 39 yards. By contrast, Chicago was 15-of-17 for 195 yards and Detroit 17-of-18 for 193 yards, making them the two best screen teams in the league.
What makes a screen successful?
"The timing," said Bennett, who has been the Packers' running backs coach since 2005. "I think you've got to be patient, No. 1, because everyone has a job to do. You want to make sure to do the best you can to put people in a great position to win their one-on-one battles. So, it starts with the timing. After that, you've got to be able to utilize the block and sometimes set the block."
Timing, like Bennett said, is everything. On many passing plays, Jackson stays in the backfield to block, and that's an essential starting point in selling the play. Jackson has to block, just like normal. Disengage from the block too quickly, and today's well-schooled defensive linemen can sniff out a screen from a mile away. Disengage from the block too slowly — like Dimitri Nance did last week — and the play can turn into a disastrous interception.
Assuming the timing at the start is good, then there's the timing after the catch and the setting of the blocks. Run too far behind the blockers, and the defenders have a chance to get away and make the tackle. In the Miami game, Jackson was so close to center Scott Wells that he basically ran into Wells as he tried to make the block. To the extreme, on one of Lee's screen receptions last week, he simply outran his blockers and rendered them useless.
If the play is well-timed, Jackson, for example, can make a cut to the left. When the defender pursues Jackson, the blocker can engage the defender and Jackson can cut back to the right.
"You don't want to outleverage your blocking," Jackson said.
"If you're going to have something where a back turns a medium-sized or short run into a long run, usually, the receivers have something to do with it because the secondary gets eliminated or slowed down," receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said. "You know, that's a part of the game that probably gets overlooked a little bit. It doesn't get overlooked by us because we talk an awful lot about it and we work on it. Brandon made a great cut, Greg did a great job of sustaining his block and staying on the guy until Brandon got past him. It was a big play and a great effort by Greg. It was probably as good a block as he's had this year."
That brings us to Sunday's game against the blitz-happy Jets. Success on a few screens certainly will take some of the starch out of their rush.
"We felt like we wanted to keep them off-balance," Philbin said of last week's game. "They know us. We know them. It's kind of like a misdirection run for us. It's something that we use to keep teams off-balance, help our tackles and our linemen so they don't always have to sit there and retreat. Some of it, just from a philosophical standpoint, we thought was going to be there. I think our guys executed pretty well."
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