Read Option: Here To Stay

9/16/13 in NFL   |   ColinMicek   |   2 respect

     Sep 15, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice (27) rushes the ball as Cleveland Browns linebacker Barkevious Mingo (51) prepares to tackle during the first half at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports There is much discussion as to whether the read option is the future of NFL football or just a current trend brought on by a recent influx of athletic quarterbacks who can run as well as they can pass. For a play that is used at every single level of football, even the CFL,  it sure doesn’t get a lot of respect. I asked Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice about the topic and he thinks "it's just hot for the moment." He is "just not sure if that's what the NFL is gonna want." With teams devoting twenty million dollars a year to the top quarterbacks, why would the league want it's most marketable stars succumbing to injury ? In the NFL, where the protection of quarterbacks is normally paramount, the league made a ruling right before the 2013 season started indicating that it’s not a fan of the play. NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino explained "the quarterback can be hit like a runner until he's clearly out of the play," meaning the quarterback can be hit whether or not they kept the ball, which should at least discourage teams from running the read option.
       While we will probably never see a team run read option for an entire game in the NFL, the time devoted by teams having to prepare to face it may be it's greater impact, long term. After Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers gashed the Packers n the playoffs for the most rushing yards by a quarterback in one game in NFL history,  Green Bay admitted spending a lot of time learning how to stop it. The 49ers made this irrelevant by barely running read option and picking apart the Packers' secondary for over 400 yards passing, while preserving the health of their quarterback. One could surmise that San Francisco had a competitive advantage by making Green Bay prepare for a play they otherwise would not have to account for against a less mobile quarterback. However, I have the suspicion the Niners, as well as teams like the Seahawks with running threat Russell Wilson under center, will run the read option as much as they deem necessary in the playoffs, where next week isn’t guaranteed. Another effect of the read option will be more and more use of the Pistol formation. Constantly used by the Detroit Lions, even Peyton Manning is now practicing the formation that functions like the Shotgun, but with the quarterback standing closer to the line of scrimmage, allowing for run plays to be more successful.
       Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles put on a first half performance in week one that most fans and players described as “crazy.” Racking up 322 yards in the first two quarters, it looked like football evolution. They ran 30 plays in the first quarter alone. Kelly is a master of misdirection, as in just one play they can run the read option, a bubble screen on the outside, and a stick route up the seam. That is a lot for the defense to account for. Coupled with the Eagles running hurry- up offense all game, Kelly will keep opposing defensive coordinators on edge all season. The quick decisions the quarterback makes in the system appear to greatly benefit incumbent starter Michael Vick, as he is less susceptible to hits in the pocket by getting the ball out quicker, though he does run the ball in read option. The uptempo of Kelly's practices gives them an anaerobic edge, but apparently they ran out of gas in week one, as Vick and others appeared winded in the second half. Kelly has done his best to bring his players up to speed with the attack style offense he brought from Oregon. He believes the nutrition of his players is very important, getting rid of red meat from the team cafeteria and providing fruit smoothies designed for individual players, and feels rest is just as important as practice. If Chip Kelly is very successful, it will be very interesting to see how he treats the quarterback position from a managerial aspect. He may keep drafting QBs with mid-round picks but never give one of them one of those huge 20-million-a-year deals. He has three talented quarterbacks on his roster now, two of them young, and he used his quarterbacks interchangeably at Oregon.
     Some feel the read option is a fad like the Wildcat formation, but I disagree. When the Wildcat was used in the NFL, only the University of Arkansas and a handful of other programs were using it. Teams in all levels of football and as young as pop Warner are running the read option, and at the lower levels the best athlete on the team tends to be the QB if he can throw at all. As freak athlete quarterbacks like Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III continue to emerge from the collegiate ranks, teams will continue to draft them. Drafting one of those players and not using the read option once in a while would be akin to buying a Lamborghini and never taking it out of second gear.  Even just the threat of the read option can freeze the defense. RGIII was the best play action passer in the league (as a rookie!) last year. He averaged 11.8 yards per play action attempt. Every time he faked a handoff, chances are the pass was going for a first down. Countless times after faking the read option from the pistol formation, Griffin would hit a wide-open tight end up the seam.  The pistol formation is now a staple of Redskins’ offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s system, and regardless of how often RGIII carries the ball, will be the most-used formation in their offense. In summation, the read option will stay around because the play fakes and the pistol formation itself create so many advantages for the offense.  You might not see it every game, but the read option is here to stay.
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