Screen Game

Which QBs are using the screen pass to generate chunks of their passing yards? Steve Palazzolo breaks it all down.

| 3 years ago

Screen Game

Screen-GameOne of the things that stood out during the regular season was the overall poor play at the quarterback position. Now before readers bombard with all of the record-breaking numbers from 2013, remember, we’re talking on a play-to-play, throw-for-throw basis. Passing numbers may be at an all-time high, but the individual play was a bit disappointing.

Among the major factors for the disconnect between shoddy quarterback play and other-worldly passing numbers is simply the rule changes that have encouraged teams to neglect the running game in order to pass. So while passing yardage continues to add up, so do passing attempts. In exchange for the running game, we’re seeing more wide receiver screens than ever before and they seem to be getting more creative every season.

Some quarterbacks have certainly benefitted from the screen game more than others, and when we say “benefitted,” it’s only in the form of raw numbers (yards), rather than our actual PFF grades. Once the ball is released from a quarterback’s hand, he has little to do with the result of the play, particularly on screen plays which are generally one-read throws with the result of the play completely in the hands of the receiver, his blockers, and the defense. So those 80-yard screens that look great on the stat sheet will generally garner the same 0-grade for the QB as a 4-yard loss on the exact same play, yet again one of the many reasons why raw stats can often mislead.

Without further ado, here are the quarterbacks who have benefited the most from the screen game:

Name Team Yds Total Screen Yds Screen Yds %
 Nick Foles PHI 2891 474 16.4%
 Alex D. Smith KC 3313 472 14.2%
 Andy Dalton CIN 4294 549 12.8%
 Chad Henne JAX 3241 409 12.6%
 Cam Newton CAR 3379 389 11.5%
 Ben Roethlisberger PIT 4276 481 11.2%
 Terrelle Pryor OAK 1798 200 11.1%
 Aaron Rodgers GB 2536 275 10.8%
 Matthew Stafford DET 4647 490 10.5%
 Peyton Manning DEN 5477 575 10.5%
 Josh McCown CHI 1829 192 10.5%
 Robert Griffin III WAS 3203 314 9.8%
 Tom Brady NE 4343 410 9.4%
 Christian Ponder MIN 1648 149 9.0%
 Matt Cassel MIN 1807 151 8.4%
 Sam Bradford SL 1689 141 8.3%
 Russell Wilson SEA 3357 266 7.9%
 Matt Ryan ATL 4515 357 7.9%
 Andrew Luck IND 3822 299 7.8%
 Geno Smith NYJ 3036 237 7.8%
 Jason Campbell CLV 2015 151 7.5%
 Philip Rivers SD 4478 326 7.3%
 Drew Brees NO 5162 328 6.4%
 Matthew McGloin OAK 1547 91 5.9%
 Carson Palmer ARZ 4274 217 5.1%
 Ryan Tannehill MIA 3913 186 4.8%
 Ryan Fitzpatrick TEN 2462 116 4.7%
 Tony Romo DAL 3844 175 4.6%
 Matt Schaub HST 2310 104 4.5%
 Case Keenum HST 1760 74 4.2%
 Colin Kaepernick SF 3197 129 4.0%
 Jay Cutler CHI 2621 102 3.9%
 E.J. Manuel BUF 1972 75 3.8%
 Joe Flacco BLT 3912 126 3.2%
 Eli Manning NYG 3818 99 2.6%
 Kellen Clemens SL 1673 38 2.3%
 Mike Glennon TB 2608 39 1.5%
 Brandon Weeden CLV 1731 16 0.9%


Among the season’s major stories was the implementation of Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia and a quick dive into our stats will show some glaring trends. Nick Foles leads the league with 16.4 percent of his yards coming from screens, but it’s not as if the entire offense is dinking and dunking down the field. Foles is also seventh in the league with 803 yards from deep passes (20+ yards in the air), meaning an amazing 44 percent of his yardage has come from either deep passes or screens.

That’s by far the highest total in the league with Aaron Rodgers coming in second in that unique category at 37.5 percent. Alex Smith has the second highest percentage of his yards coming from screens with about 25% of his 472 screen yards coming in Week 15 against the Oakland Raiders when running back Jamaal Charles stole the show.

At the bottom of the list sits Brandon Weeden who picked up only 16 of his 1731 yards on screens. It’s interesting to note that while only 0.9 percent of his yards came from screens, teammate Jason Campbell came in at 7.5 percent.

Also notable is the similarity between Mike Glennon and Eli Manning who both come in near the bottom. The Giants and Buccaneers run a near-identical scheme that relies more on downfield passing and wide receiver route adjustments with little help from the screen game, as the numbers bear out.

It should come as no surprise that Peyton Manning sits atop the list of total screen yards given his gaudy yardage totals and the weapons at his disposal. He comes in at ninth with 10.5 percent of his total yards coming from screens.

Running Back Screens

With Reggie Bush and Joique Bell in the backfield, Matthew Stafford leads the league with his 333 yards on running back screens. Drew Brees is right behind him with 315, but it’s interesting to note that he only had 13 yards come from wide receiver screens. As mentioned, Alex Smith had a lot of help from Jamaal Charles to rank No. 3 on the list.

On the other end, the running back screen was clearly not a part of the Vikings’ game plan as quarterbacks Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel combined for only 6 yards.

Name Team Total Screen Yds RB Screen Yds
 Matthew Stafford DET 490 333
 Drew Brees NO 328 315
 Alex D. Smith KC 472 314
 Cam Newton CAR 389 236
 Nick Foles PHI 474 213
 Tom Brady NE 410 179
 Matt Ryan ATL 357 174
 Peyton Manning DEN 575 169
 Ben Roethlisberger PIT 481 152
 Andy Dalton CIN 549 150
 Andrew Luck IND 299 145
 Philip Rivers SD 326 122
 Joe Flacco BLT 126 102
 Ryan Tannehill MIA 186 91
 Chad Henne JAX 409 90
 Terrelle Pryor OAK 200 87
 Tony Romo DAL 175 81
 Russell Wilson SEA 266 78
 Geno Smith NYJ 237 77
 Matt Schaub HST 104 76
 Aaron Rodgers GB 275 75
 Sam Bradford SL 141 75
 E.J. Manuel BUF 75 72
 Robert Griffin III WAS 314 65
 Jason Campbell CLV 151 56
 Jay Cutler CHI 102 50
 Matthew McGloin OAK 91 48
 Josh McCown CHI 192 46
 Eli Manning NYG 99 42
 Ryan Fitzpatrick TEN 116 40
 Case Keenum HST 74 27
 Kellen Clemens SL 38 24
 Colin Kaepernick SF 129 22
 Mike Glennon TB 39 14
 Christian Ponder MIN 149 9
 Carson Palmer ARZ 217 8
 Brandon Weeden CLV 16 5
 Matt Cassel MIN 151 -3


Receiver Screens

It seemed like Demaryius Thomas broke a big gain on a screen on a weekly basis and the league’s YAC leader was a big factor in Manning’s league-leading 406 yards on wide receiver screens. The Bengals have a number of intriguing screen options putting Dalton at No. 2 while the Jaguars became quite creative as the season progressed to help Chad Henne rank No. 4 on the list.

In addition to Brees near the bottom, Bills rookie E.J. Manuel ranked last with only 3 yards coming from wide receiver screens. Just as Glennon and Eli Manning are connected by scheme, so too are Brees and Manuel as Bills head coach Doug Marrone is the Saints’ former offensive coordinator, perhaps leading to this trend between the two teams.

Name Team Total Screen Yds WR Screen Yds
 Peyton Manning DEN 575 406
 Andy Dalton CIN 549 399
 Ben Roethlisberger PIT 481 329
 Chad Henne JAX 409 319
 Nick Foles PHI 474 261
 Robert Griffin III WAS 314 249
 Tom Brady NE 410 231
 Carson Palmer ARZ 217 209
 Philip Rivers SD 326 204
 Aaron Rodgers GB 275 200
 Russell Wilson SEA 266 188
 Matt Ryan ATL 357 183
 Geno Smith NYJ 237 160
 Alex D. Smith KC 472 158
 Matthew Stafford DET 490 157
 Andrew Luck IND 299 154
 Matt Cassel MIN 151 154
 Cam Newton CAR 389 153
 Josh McCown CHI 192 146
 Christian Ponder MIN 149 140
 Terrelle Pryor OAK 200 113
 Colin Kaepernick SF 129 107
 Ryan Tannehill MIA 186 95
 Jason Campbell CLV 151 95
 Tony Romo DAL 175 94
 Ryan Fitzpatrick TEN 116 76
 Sam Bradford SL 141 66
 Eli Manning NYG 99 57
 Jay Cutler CHI 102 52
 Case Keenum HST 74 47
 Matthew McGloin OAK 91 43
 Matt Schaub HST 104 28
 Mike Glennon TB 39 25
 Joe Flacco BLT 126 24
 Kellen Clemens SL 38 14
 Drew Brees NO 328 13
 Brandon Weeden CLV 16 11
 E.J. Manuel BUF 75 3



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| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • Sammy Watkins

    Brees seems surprisingly low in Screen yard % given how much they run screen passes. Any chance you guys could write about yards per play on screens? Which teams are most successful at it when they do run it, who runs screens the most?

    • LightsOut85

      I second this. I know this could be spun as not appreciating what was given, but it seems like such a tease given what is being tallied. (Note: I say this as a paid subscriber, so if you were to put more of this stuff up only in that section, that wouldn’t bother me). It would also be helpful to see the numbers based in the receivers (if only because WRs lack the “turn nothing into something” metric of Elu. Rating that RBs do. There’s MT%, but there’s a lot of flaws/exceptions with that).

    • Richard Light

      “Brees seems surprisingly low in Screen yard % given how much they run screen passes.”

      Not really. As clearly shown in the tables, the reason why Brees is “low” in screen yards % is a function of two realities:

      1. He passes for a lot of yards, so even though he gains a lot of yards in screens, he gains a lot of yards through other passes as well.

      2. You said the Saints run a lot of screen passes, and that’s incorrect. They run a lot of RUNNING BACK screen passes – Brees is 2nd in the NFL in that category. Meanwhile, the Saints run very few WIDE RECEIVER screen passes – Brees is third to last in that category.

      When you’re 2nd highest in one category and third to last in the other category, your combined ranking will be “lower” than one might expect.

  • Y2js77

    How about the quality of the blocking wide receiver. Does it impact wether those teams use WR screens or RB screens.