NFL Chalkboard - The Misdirection Picket Fence Screen

On a gorgeous Sunday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, it was a perfect 54 degrees with seven MPH winds out of the South-West with a "clear & cool" forecast for the afternoon. What we call "football weather." Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys team (blockers) delivered an 83 yard, misdirection picket fence screen pass for six points that checked every box you can list under "Big Play." It was huge.

Ed Note: This is an updated version made "with" a YouTube video (see below), the original was posted Nov 14, 2016

Spoiler alert - the Dallas Cowboys won the game 35-30. Though almost equal in total yards (Dal 422 Pit 448) and time-of-possession (Dal 30:24 Pit 29:36) the visiting Cowboys ended up with only 20 first downs on the day compared to the Steelers whopping 30. That's a pretty large disparity. However, you don't need as many plays to drop 35 points on a club when you get big plays. Splash plays. Play-of-the-year plays. Sports Center plays. Tell-your-grandkids-you-saw-it-live plays.

Any play has several components. As we do here on the chalkboard, let's break down the different aspects of this play and demonstrate them visually.

Elements of a Successful Misdirection Screen

  1. Skilled QB who can handle the ball
  2. A diversion to fake the initial pass and force defenders to take a false step
  3. Agile lineman who can block in space
  4. A WR corps who are willing blockers
  5. A patient RB with vision and burst
  6. A passing or blitzing situation in the game

83 yd Picket Fence Screen Pass TD Breakdown

This play is best looked at in segments. Without further ado:


Elliott 83 yd screen pass TD

2nd and 18 yards to go with the score Dal 3 Pit 12 - :27 seconds on the clock in the first quarter. Steelers in a 3-4 base defense with 5 guys on the line showing blitz. Key blockers identified in blue. Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and Terrance Williams.


Elliott 83 yd screen pass TD
Dak Prescott draws the pressure in and delivers a perfect touch pass that hits Elliott in stride. Base blocking is holding the fort while the picket fence is in perfect position. WR Terrance Williams is engaging his man 10 yards up-field.

Key Blocks 1

Elliott 83 yd screen pass TD
Zeke gathers the perfectly thrown ball and turns smoothly up-field with key blocks being delivered by Jason Witten, Tyron Smith and Zack Martin. Lucky Whitehead is pushing his guy up the field and just out of frame towards the goalline Williams has hands on his man.

Key Blocks 2

Elliott 83 yd screen pass TD
Zeke has his north/south gear going as he easily out-accelerates some late-arriving defenders. Travis Frederick has his man locked up and driving him hard. Ronald Leary has his head on a swivel and identifies a threat from the inside. TWill is getting a final push on his guy.

Key Blocks 3

Elliott 83 yd screen pass TD
53 yards downfield Elliott splits his two offensive linemen and shifts his direction a bit inside to avoid the defender TWill just put on the ground. Two things here. It's WAY DOWNFIELD and Zeke has not one, but TWO OL in front of him? #ComeOnMan - Second, Zeke is still cruising, showing patience and defenders don't realize he has another gear.

Key Blocks 4

Elliott 83 yd screen pass TD

Elliott lengthens his stride and Terrance Williams makes a move that illustrates the entire play perfectly. He sees his guy hit the turf THEN HE TURNS UP-FIELD looking for another guy to hit. He finds one. The last one.

Key Blocks 5

Elliott 83 yd screen pass TD
TWill gets the last block on the last man and Elliott hits the gas.


Elliott 83 yd screen pass TD
83 yards later and the Steelers defenders still don't have a feel for how fast Zeke really is taking bad angle after bad angle. Almost like their entire backfield is composed of sophomore J.J. Wilcox clones.

And that's it. When the perfect play is called in the perfect situation and then perfectly executed this is what you get. Perfection. How do you define perfection by the way? 83 yards and six points does it just fine. Or perhaps .......

Two offensive linemen downfield blocking.

Check Out Detailed Video Explanation Below

Another Left Coast Sports Post

on Twitter: Steven Van Over

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