bubble screen

What Is a Bubble Screen In Football?

Football nowadays is more of clever passing and beating the defense. Keeping the defense off balance is the only way to score. One such pass in football that keeps the defense off balance is the bubble screen.

So, what is a bubble screen in football? A bubble screen in football is a type of pass that sees the tight end or wide receiver run on a curved path to receive the ball from a quarterback.

A bubble screen is a type of quick pass to a tight end or receiver, usually covered by other “screen players .” You’ll see the offensive players covering the receiver as the defense comes in to tackle.

Let’s dig deep and see what a bubble screen in football is and its various formations. 

How Does Bubble Screen Work

The bubble screen play sees multiple wide receivers spread out wide to receive the ball. It’s a run that spreads out. There are no tight formations. You’ll not see running backs and tight ends close together.

After all, this is the purpose of a bubble screen; to beat the defense off balance.

It is quite hard to execute. When running a bubble screen, you will need the quarterback out of a shotgun or just under the center. You need one running back in the backfield. At the line of scrimmage, you can choose to have a tight end or not.

If there is no tight end close to the offensive tackles, you’ll have three wide receivers and one tight end spreading out in a curved path. This is like having four receivers.

football player in green jersey passing the footbal

Two receivers will line up off the scrimmage line while the other two line up on the scrimmage line.

One receiver will line on the side the ball will not go, while the three line in on the opposite side. The single receiver will catch the ball while the other three block the defensive players.

At the snap, the receiver to catch the ball will run in a curved path while the quarterback takes the ball and throws it to him.

The remaining three receivers will block the defense from tackling the receiver. They are usually lined up opposite the defense. The three receivers’ main task is to block and push the defenders, protecting the receiver with the ball. 

They will shed the defenders and try to block them on levels.

What Is the Bubble Screen Formations and Alignments

The bubble screen can be played in different formations and alignments. Two of the common formations you’ll see are the 2 by 2, also known as the doubles, and the 3 by 1 formation, also known as trips.

The 2 x 2 is used when the ball is in the middle, while the 3 x 3 is used when the ball is to the sides of the field. These two formations are efficient and help spread the receivers evenly across the field.

In a high school field, the spacing should feature three receivers wide to the hash. The 3rd receiver is closest to the hash on the upright, the 2nd receiver on the hash, and the first one on top of the numbers.

A 2 x 2 formation will feature the numbers and one hash. The receivers need to be positioned off the line of scrimmage about a yard and a half just before throwing the ball.

The formations are usually done in training before match days. Wide receivers get to know where to expect the ball whenever they are left uncovered.

Overall, the bubble screen formations and alignments don’t even require a signal for the quarterback to throw the ball.

What Is the Best Time To Use a Bubble Screen?

Different situations in football suit different plays. So, what is the best time to use a bubble screen play? Players and teams need to know when a bubble screen is good and when not to use it.

team in white jersey on the field start of a football match

Bubble screenplays are versatile and work for both long and short-yard plays. Teams can use a bubble screen when they are a few yards to score a touchdown. However, such teams need wide receivers with a good ability to catch the football, have a good grip and move with it.

However, teams can also use the bubble screen in long-yard situations and in the third. It’s ideal since it’s a low-risk play that keeps the ball in your player’s possession. In long-yard situations, the play can help your team gain some pretty big yards.

In most cases, you’ll find teams playing a bubble screen on the third and long situations as opposed to drawing a running play. This is because it gives the team a better chance of a touchdown as opposed to a running play.

Overall, a bubble screen play is not just a throw into the third and long for the sake of gaining yards. It’s a great chance at scoring a touchdown.

The bubble makes a great addition to any football team looking to give their offense options. It is a great play to have in your team’s playbook should the chance to use it arise.

When used the right way, a bubble screen can create an imbalance in the defense and create openings for the wide receivers. But, teams need powerful, speedy, and smart receivers that can make those decisive runs.

How To Defend Against a Bubble Screen

Defending a bubble screen is quite difficult, with each play having a different level of difficulty. A good example is the Spartan tactic where a flat defender over the slot receiver crashes on the number to help outnumber the run. It’s by far the most difficult tactic to defend a bubble screen.

There is also the middle-of-the-road strategy: a nickel defender goes over the slot and tries. Here, he tries to pause and wait to disrupt the perimeter of the run.

football players ready for the start of the game

Lastly, there is the cover-down tactic where a defender over the slot tries to mimic the snap movement as opposed to the backfield. This means a pass to any receiver will be covered.

What Is the Difference Between a Slow Screen and a Bubble Screen?

The main difference between a tunnel screen and a bubble screen is that the bubble screen is the more traditional one that works by flanking the defense out wide. A slow screen, on the other hand, works by forcing defenders into their coverage.

Also known as a tunnel screen, the slow screen forces the defenders to drop into their zones, with the front being sucked from their passes.

Who Invented Bubble Screen

The bubble screen was invented by Don Read. He was the coach of the Montana Grizzlies.

What Does on the Bubble Mean in NFL?

In the NFL, the bubble means being on the cusp of something by having players in one area. It simply means the team is on the cusp of breaking and scoring a touchdown.


Overall, a bubble screen can provide teams with success pretty fast. It’s also very easy to teach and possess very little risk as teams get to retain possession.

With a bubble screen, you can tip the defense balance and have the wide receivers run to score a touchdown. The extra wide receiver helps block the defenders, acting as the screen of the receiver with the ball.

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