ITP Glossary: Tunnel Screen

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From Cover 0 to pooch kick, commentators rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary was developed to give fans a deeper understanding of the game through clear explanations, as well as image and video examples. Please contact us with any terms or phrases you’d like to know more about.

Tunnel Screen

A tunnel screen is a pass in which a receiver and/or running back lines up to the wide side of the field and breaks back towards the quarterback after the snap to catch an immediate throw. Other offensive player(s) on that wide side of the field (usually wide receivers and/or tight ends) will then serve as blockers, blocking off defenders to both the inside and outside, and creating a “tunnel” through which the ball carrier advances upfield. Also an example of a quick hit play.

Three Wide

TCU ran a tunnel screen against Minnesota last season. Quarterback Trevone Boykin is alone in the backfield with 10 personnel, with trips to the right. Minnesota has its 4-2-5 nickel defense on the field showing Cover 4 in the secondary:TCUPlay2Still1

On the read, or playside, of the field the three trips receivers set up the tunnel screen. Tunnel screens work best when the number of defenders is balanced with the number of receivers, giving the offensive linemen a chance seal off the playside safety and linebackers that flow in that direction. This includes the center and right guard delaying for a bit before pulling in front of the potential screen play:TCUPlay2Still2

Depending on pre-snap reads and coverage cues, Boykin can either throw to one of the hitch routes on the weak-side, or let the tunnel screen develop:

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As designed, the two weak-side receivers run hitch routes, while the C and RG delay for a bit. This allows for the timing to develop on both sides of the play. If the linemen leave too early, any throw to the weak-side comes with a penalty for an ineligible receiver downfield. But here, Boykin checks his weak-side reads and comes back to the other side, to throw the tunnel screen. The play goes for eight yards, setting the Horned Frogs up with a very manageable 3rd and 2.

Moving a Lineman

The St. Louis Rams face 1st and 15 at the Arizona Cardinals 21-yard line, with quarterback Nick Foles in the pistol formation and an 11 package. He has a pro formation left and slot alignment right, with Tavon Austin the outside receiver. Arizona has its 4-2-5 defense in the game, showing Cover 1.

The Rams set up a tunnel screen to the right for Austin. Kenny Britt (#18) is lined up to the inside and immediately cuts toward Cardinal CB Patrick Peterson (#21) off the snap. Simultaneously, rookie RT Rob Havenstein (#79) releases outside to try and block free safety Tyrann Mathieu (#32), who is covering Britt in the slot:

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Mathieu explodes forward, nearly arriving at Austin as the football does. Havenstein makes a valiant effort by diving at Mathieu, and gets enough to spring Austin. From there, the shifty WR makes a few more defenders miss and angles up the sideline for a gain of 9 yards:

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The Dual Screen

Oregon sets up the crack screen to the right and a tunnel screen to the left. In a crack screen, the running back runs a swing route toward the sideline while the slot receiver blocks ‒ or cracks ‒ either the linebacker or defensive back to the inside.

On the opposite side of the field, the offense sets up the tunnel screen. This is a quick play to an outside receiver working back towards the quarterback while linemen and receivers work out in front of the target to block:AdamsPlay3Still2

Marcus Mariota takes the snap and reads the linebacker across the line from the running back. The press CB gets a jam on the receiver, preventing the offensive player from cracking inside on the linebacker. Since the LB has a clear path to the RB, Mariota comes back to the tunnel screen on the other side of the field:

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The QB tosses to the receiver on the tunnel screen, who gets good blocking and breaks a few tackles for a huge gain and a fresh set of downs.

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Mark Schofield wrote this entry. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

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