The bubble screen pass to Percy Harvin is the best example of the five favorite words in Bill Musgrave's vision for the Vikings offense. ¶ "Perform the ordinary extraordinarily well," the offensive coordinator has been saying since he touched down from Atlanta before last season.
The bubble screen is something that ideally shouldn't be called as much as the Vikings call it. However, much like the Patriots with Wes Welker, the Vikings and Harvin are at a point where the opposition's awareness of the play is irrelevant to the resulting success of consistently calling it.
"A couple of times, I actually do go to the line and you hear all the defenders calling out, 'Bubble, bubble, bubble!'" Harvin said. "It gets a little nervous."
One of those times came late in the third quarter of Sunday's 30-7 victory over the Titans at Mall of America Field. It was third-and-5 from the Tennessee 10-yard line when the Titans knew exactly what was coming. Harvin was lined up in a tight slot to the near right, while tight end Kyle Rudolph was bunched to his right and receiver Michael Jenkins was split wide right.
The Titans were playing zone coverage. Before the snap, cornerback Ryan Mouton, lined up across from Rudolph, looked over his right shoulder and motioned to safety Jordan Babineaux that the bubble screen was coming.
Quarterback Christian Ponder has the option to check out of the bubble screen. In what's called a "double play" in the huddle, Ponder can change at the line of scrimmage and call for Harvin to come toward him and receive a shovel pass underneath instead.
"[Against] zone, Christian actually isn't supposed to even look at me," Harvin said.
But in this particular case, he did. Why? Because Rudolph, the key blocker on the play, told him to.
"Rudolph was so confident that he could dominate his block," Harvin said. "So he said all week that no matter who the defender was, man or zone, he wanted Christian to throw it."
Per the proper execution of the bubble screen, Harvin took a jab step forward and then looped back and to his right, running a short route that looks kind of like a sideways "J." Rudolph did what he said he would do and moved into position to maul Mouton. Jenkins ran a go route, successfully clearing his man.
Now, the pressure in the bubble screen shifts to Ponder. And if you think a short touch pass under pressure is easy, you've obviously never seen Tarvaris Jackson play quarterback.
Although the bubble screen is essentially a toss sweep, it's still dead without timing and a good throw that is both forward -- to avoid it being a fumble in the case that Harvin drops it -- and chest high, front shoulder so Harvin doesn't have to make any unnecessary movements.
That's critical with the speed of the NFL. Especially when a safety, like Babineaux in this case, immediately breaks toward the bubble screen with a clear kill shot on Harvin.
Of course, this is Percy Harvin we're talking about.
"He makes big plays even when [defenses] have the numbers to make the play," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "[Tennessee] had the numbers, but an individual as talented as he is makes a play out of nothing."
Harvin caught the ball at the 16-yard line and quickly juked Babineaux to the ground at the 12. With Rudolph in the process of shoving Mouton halfway to St. Paul, Harvin sidestepped linebacker Colin McCarthy at the 10, ran through the arms of linebacker Akeem Ayers at the 6 and cornerback Jason McCourty at the 4.
Bubble screen legend has it that a man named Don Read created the play when he coached the University of Montana to Division I-AA success from 1986 to 1995. Lou Holtz is also widely credited with making it popular at Notre Dame after he had Read teach him all of its nuances.
If the Vikings keep doing what they're doing with the play, Harvin might end up with his name attached to the history of the bubble screen as well.
"It's a simple play," said Harvin, "but it's complicated when you break it all down."
Mark Craig • firstname.lastname@example.org