Veiled threat

The screen pass has helped RBs smoke defenses for 72 years

Updated: August 30, 2010, 11:01 AM ET
By Alan Grant | ESPN The Magazine

The clock read 11:50. It was the third quarter of Super Bowl XLIV, and the Saints, seemingly incapable of reaching the end zone, trailed the Colts 10-6.

But the fate of Drew Brees & Co. was about to change, thanks to one of the NFL's most common plays. Facing first and 10 from the Colts' 16-yard line, New Orleans lined up in an I formation. At the snap, running back Pierre Thomas carried out a run fake and drifted toward the right of the line of scrimmage. As Brees scurried around in the pocket, he made a short, sidearm throw to Thomas. A simple screen pass, which set off a flurry of activity. Center Jonathan Goodwin cut off Colts linebacker Philip Wheeler, who was racing to make the play, while guard Jahri Evans stopped linebacker Gary Brackett, who was running toward the line of scrimmage. Thomas quickly took advantage of the blocks, cutting back to the middle of the field, changing direction and then diving into the paint for a touchdown.

Adam Larson for ESPN The MagazineRay Rice has had huge success running screens for the Ravens.

The Saints took the lead, the momentum shifted, and New Orleans was on its way to a title. Behold the power of the screen pass.

Alan Grant is a regular contributor to's Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. He is a former NFL defensive back who played college football at Stanford.