NFL defenses have plan to make read-option quarterbacks to 'pay the price' in 2013
The read-option was very successful for quarterbacks such as Robert Griffin III in 2012, but defensive coordinators have now had an entire offseason to devise a strategy to slow down the play. It appears that the strategy may simply be to take out the quarterback.
According to the Los Angeles Times, "there's a belief among many people in NFL circles that running quarterbacks will pay the price this season, more than they did last fall." This belief comes as a result of how NFL defenses plan to counter the read-option.
The quarterback's job is to hide the ball from the defense so that defenders are unaware of who has it. What defenses plan to do this year is light up the quarterback with devastating hits regardless of whether or not he has the ball. Hall of Fame coach and current co-chairman of the NFL's safety committee John Madden recently said, "Every guy I've talked to is going to go after the quarterback... they're just going to go after him whether he pitches or not." This was not the case last year, as defenders would sit back, trying to figure out who had the ball, but they have since realized that maybe the read-option will slow down if the offense's prized player is constantly getting cracked in the mouth.
If you are wondering why defenses will be allowed to do this to quarterbacks, who are protected against big hits to a fault, it is because the rules are different during the read-option. "The key is the posture of the quarterback," said vice president of officiating Dean Blandino. "What we're seeing in some instances is the quarterback hands off and then carries out the fake like he has the ball, and he's presenting a running posture. In that instance, he's trying to deceive the defense, trying to draw the defense to him, and he doesn't have special protection in that situation. He can be hit until enough time has passed where he's clearly out of the play."
The NFL has not adjusted their rules for 2013 to protect quarterbacks in the read-option.
As a result, defenses will essentially be saying to offensive coordinators, "Go ahead and run the read option, but if you do, we're going to pummel the most important player on your team." Once this starts happening, there is a solid chance that play-callers will significantly dial back read-option calls, as the quarterback is too important to be constantly exposed to potential injury. Massive signal callers like Cam Newton may continue to run it more often, but coaches may be too scared to frequently run the read-option with quarterbacks who have slighter frames, such as Robert Griffin and Michael Vick.
Every new development in NFL scheming and play-calling will eventually be countered by the opposition, and this is the league's counter to the read-option. As of now, it looks like teams will either have to dial back the read-option plays, or let their most important players take a ton of big hits.