Breaking Down the Use of the Read-Option in Seattle's Win over San Francisco

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Breaking Down the Use of the Read-Option in Seattle's Win over San Francisco
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Any coach looking for pointers on how to run the read-option in the tape from last Sunday's game between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers is going to be greatly disappointed. Even though both offenses have a reputation for relying on it, the read-option was rarely used by either team.

Of course, that might be tough to believe considering how much emphasis has gone into coverage of the read-option by the sports media in the last few months. The read-option and its continued use by the Seahawks in the NFL was a consistent topic throughout the entire offseason. 

The problem with that narrative is that the Seahawks use the read-option much less than most people realize, and last Sunday's game was no different. 

Game announcer Cris Collinsworth even diagramed out a read-option play at halftime, but had to use standard running play for the Seahawks to do so because the Seahawks had yet to run the read-option up to that point in the game. 

To demonstrate that, here is his diagram for the play from the broadcast:

And here is the actual play. Notice that the defensive end (circled) is being blocked by Breno Giacomini: 

If the defensive end isn't being left unblocked, then there is nothing for the quarterback to read. This isn't an option play. It is a designed inside hand off to Marshawn Lynch.

This isn't to fault Collinsworth on this. Undoubtedly, his producers asked him to discuss the read-option during that segment, and he did so. The problem was that the Seahawks had not run the read-option at any point in the game up to that point. 

In fact most of the plays ran by the Seahawks that appear to be the read-option are actually just designed runs for the running back. 

Seahawks Play From Potential Read-Option Formation
Play Type Number of Plays
Read-Option Runs 5
Designed Runs 12
Play Action Passes 4
Standard Passes 7

Sunday Night Football

This data was collected by watching, and re-watching, every play from the game multiple times. The Seahawks ran a large number of plays out of formations where the read-option was a possibility. This includes both the pistol and the modified shotgun with the RB slightly deeper than QB. 

Of those plays, the Seahawks left the DE or outside linebacker unblocked just five times in this game, and all of those were in the second half. They ran the ball with a designed standard runs more than twice that many times. 

The San Francisco 49ers used the read-option sparingly as well in this game.

49ers Plays From Potential Read-Option Formations
Play Type Number of Plays
Read-Option Runs 6
Designed Runs 7
Play Action Passes 3
Standard Passes 4

Sunday Night Football

Unlike the Seahawks, the 49ers use of the read-option was more evenly distributed over the first three quarters of the game. The game had gotten out of hand by the fourth quarter, and the 49ers were passing every down by that point.

So while the 49ers use the read-option more than the Seahawks, it is still a small portion of their overall offense. 

The important part of all of this is that the threat of the read-option attack might be more important than the actual use of the play. Opposing teams have to spend precious practice time preparing to stop it, which takes away from their time to prepare for the rest of the offense.

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