It's hard to think of a pass play offensive linemen might enjoy more than a screen.
First, they get to help sell the deception. Then, they get to release the first wave of defenders, drawing the opponent farther from where the ball is going to be.
The cherry on the sundae? Getting down the field to block a linebacker or maybe a defensive back.
Rewards from a well-executed screen can show immediately with a chunk play. They also can yield residual effects of slowing down a defense's aggressiveness, which can help other pass plays.
The Vikings used four screens Sunday in a 30-17 win over the Seahawks, including Minnesota's second offensive snap. The plays netted 49 yards, showcasing Alexander Mattison and offensive linemen in space.
"We knew we could probably take advantage of them in the screen game," said Mattison, who finished with 59 receiving yards and a career-best 171 scrimmage yards. "Real glad we were able to actually come out and execute that part of our plan. Just knowing how those guys play, it was something we were able to target a little bit. The O-line did a great job. Kirk [Cousins] put it on the money, and just having open grass to go make some plays feels great."
Center Garrett Bradbury, who was involved with key blocks on Minnesota's first three screens, said the linemen like to see Mattison and other running backs get into open space.
Linemen have adjusted to rules that have banned cut blocks, so now it's about refined technique to engage (or pancake, as Ezra Cleveland did to Bobby Wagner on the first screen) a correct fit.
"It was good to help those guys out in space. We can't cut out there anymore, so hopefully we're not looking too unathletic, but yeah it was a big part of our success yesterday," Bradbury said Monday. "I think that slowed the pass rush down a little bit, too. Just staying balanced. That was [Offensive Coordinator Klint] Kubiak's thing when we hit them with the screen game, run game, play-action, dropback, so you had them guessing quite a bit. I think Coach Kubiak dialed up a great game."
The four high-percentage throws were part of Cousins completing 78.9 percent of his passes and finishing his day with 323 yards through the air without attempting a pass more than 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
"I thought it was a big part of us getting started on that first drive, the second play of the game, hitting a screen," Cousins said Sunday. "I think we hit a couple others that were big. One of them, we couldn't get up on the Mike [linebacker], and he made a great tackle and stopped us, but when you have a strong pass rush that's rushing hard up field, it's great to have that complement to be able to sprinkle that in. Sometimes screens don't hit, but when they do it's a great thing."
Here's another look at Minnesota's screens against Seattle. The first three are in this highlight video recap of Mattison's huge day.
Q1, 9:52 remaining — Second-and-3 at the Minnesota 37-yard line
[Play is at the 11-second mark in the highlight video]
Minnesota builds off a successful run play that gained 7 on its first snap by faking a handoff to Mattison as Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson run routes that clear defenders.
Bradbury and Cleveland release and go looking for defenders, and Cleveland has what it takes to remove Wagner, a six-time First-Team All-Pro from Mattison's path. Safety Jamal Adams' hustle and his flying clothesline tackle end the play, which popped for 20 yards and helped Minnesota stroll to the end zone in seven plays.
Q2, 9:27 remaining — First-and-10 at the Minnesota 27-yard line
[Play is at the 39-second mark in the highlight video]
The Vikings hit another screen (a gain of 23) during their second touchdown drive of the game.
This time, Bradbury and Olisaemeka Udoh release. Bradbury shows good footwork to properly engage linebacker Jordyn Brooks, and Udoh locks down Wagner.
Mattison utilizes the good blocks with a quick step to the outside and finds ample room. He adds to the niftiness with a spin move away from Adams at the Minnesota 44 for an additional 6 yards.
View game action photos of the Vikings before the team's home opener at U.S. Bank Stadium against the Seahawks.
Q2, 3:00 remaining — Second-and-8 at the Minnesota 36-yard line
[Play is at the 1:04 mark in the highlight video]
Another screen, another touchdown drive.
This time, the Vikings are in between a 2-minute drill and 4-minute offense on a possession that began with 3:14 left in the first half.
Trailing 17-14, Minnesota wants to score and do so in a manner that consumes clock.
After a short run to start the drive, the Vikings dial another screen. This one tasks Bradbury with getting to Wagner and Cleveland with blocking defensive end Rasheem Green. Cleveland makes his match, but Wagner is able to avoid the worst of what Bradbury tries to deliver.
Adams is in a zone, having passed coverage of Jefferson to a teammate. He alertly comes back down to set containment to the outside and makes the tackle.
The play puts Minnesota in a third-and-1 that Ham picks up with a 2-yard run.
Q3, 3:48 remaining — First-and-10 at the Minnesota 15-yard line
This is the only one that doesn't work.
Bradbury gets tripped by defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and is unable to get a clean release to go obstruct Wagner, who zips up to begin the tackle.
Adams, who was assigned K.J. Osborn, comes in to finish the tackle. The safety had peeked into Minnesota's backfield as the play was developing.