How NFL Teams Can Prevent the Read-Option from Becoming Just Another Gimmick
The hottest topic among NFL teams is about evolving their offense with further implementation of the read-option package.
Teams have to prevent the package from becoming extinct like the Wildcat did only a few years ago. Last season, teams such as the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks used the package frequently to run the ball, and this season, they'll have to expand it by introducing other forms of run concepts and play action.
Currently, teams are running the read-option as essentially a stretch run concept because of the blocking scheme applied by offensive lines. They are using zone blocking to account for all defenders in the box, specifically to form combination blocks on defensive linemen prior to releasing to the second level to block linebackers.
This won't continue to work because there will be more defensive rotations late into the box and defenses will continue to use "even" fronts (uncovered center). The rotations will make it harder for the offensive line to block all of the necessary defenders to spring the ball-carrier into the open field.
As a result, the offense has to expand this concept. One way they will is by introducing more run concepts, such as "power."
Power is traditionally a run concept that gets the running back going downhill and being led by a pulling guard from the back-side of the play. It was once run from a two-back set with a fullback and running back, but now it has changed. Offenses are able to run it from one-back sets now, as the picture below shows (via xandolabs.com).
The one-back sets will continue, but they'll also include the back-side defender being unblocked in the read-option concept. An example of the power play from the set was recently hired Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and his offense at the University of Oregon.
Kelly is an offensive mastermind and the video below shows it. You'll see several clips of (following the inside zone read-option concepts) the back-side guard pulling across the formation like a power run and the quarterback reading the unblocked defender crashing down from the back-side.
Once the guard pulls, the tackle to the same side slides down and picks up the defensive tackle, leaving the defensive end or linebacker unblocked. The quarterback will then read the defender like the basic read-option and make a decision to keep or run with the ball.
This is simple and something that offensive coordinators will undoubtedly copy from Kelly over the course of the regular season, if they haven't studied it already.
In addition to the above, teams will use more play-action passing from the read-option. I explained this briefly when I described what the Percy Harvin acquisition means to the Seahawks offense.
Although Harvin has rare talent and is a threat any time he touches the football, the play-action passing game from the read-option concept can work for all teams. They have to be able to get their pass-catching threats in space and do damage by picking up chunks of yardage after the catch, which is what play action offers.
The Seahawks will be able to do more of that this upcoming season, much like the Washington Redskins did this past season.
The Redskins were able to attack teams by faking the handoff and then throwing quick passes to the second or third read in the flats. It's a simple read for the quarterback, who makes his decision on where to throw the ball like he would do in a traditional play-action pass.
Once the fake is executed, the quarterback then goes to his first read, then his second and finally his third if neither of the first two are open.
One of the best examples of this being done by the Redskins last season came against the New York Giants, as explained by the National Football Post's Matt Bowen.
Bowen, a former NFL safety, diagrammed and explained the play brilliantly. He noted that the Redskins were in a pistol formation, which is another key aspect that I think will enhance the usage of the read-option, and had 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end).
The pistol formation allows the offense to sell a downhill running game as opposed to the lateral running game that is commonly seen in shotgun sets.
When the ball was snapped, quarterback Robert Griffin III executed the fake to running back Alfred Morris and then threw to his right. To the right was wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who was the No. 2 read and caught the pass for a touchdown.
Offensive coordinators would be wise to implement varying run concepts and play-action passing into their read-option package.
They don't necessarily have to use the specific concepts listed above, but using bubble screens, for instance, on a play-action fake could go a long way to getting more explosive plays from pass-catchers. The same can be said for the run concepts, as a team doesn't have to use more zone stretch concepts to get into the open field; instead, they can use the power or counter concepts instead.
For football fans, they are fortunately being exposed to a rarity in the NFL: open-minded coaches.
Like the coaches, they would be wise to ride the wave and soak up as much as they can from it, because it's not a certainty that the read-option is just another gimmick. There's a chance that it becomes a staple of offenses like the shotgun formation, which was once considered the antithesis of a "pro-style" offense, has become.
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