Re-Examining the Read-Option Trend at the NFL's Midseason Mark

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterOctober 30, 2013

Oct 20, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) hands the ball off to Redskins running back Alfred Morris (46) during the first quarter against the Chicago Bears at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In 2012, the hot topic during NFL discussions centered on the read-option. Many questioned its staying power at the pro level with the defense’s ability to adjust (or prepare) for the option, and some wondered if quarterbacks would be targeted on the edge.

But have NFL defenses limited the read-option in 2013?

Let’s examine the read-option at the midway point of the season, look at defensive techniques and talk about the next progression for NFL offenses—packaged plays.


Complement to NFL Game Plans

In the NFL, the read-option isn’t a lead call or a scheme that consistently shows up in crucial game situations. That was the real story in 2012 (despite the hype), and I’m seeing the same thing on film this season.

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There is no question that the option scheme adds another dimension to NFL offenses. And that does force opposing defenses to spend quality practice/meeting time to prep for the option.

But to call it a core scheme for the Eagles, Redskins, Panthers, Seahawks, 49ers, etc. doesn’t mesh with the tape.

And while the overall production numbers may be down compared to 2012, I am still seeing offenses have success out of the Pistol (one and two back), the shotgun and the diamond alignment (three back look).

Here are a couple of quick examples from the All-22 tape:


Bears vs. Redskins

Alignment: Two-Back Pistol

With the tight end working up the Sam ‘backer and the fullback on the arc block to pick up the Mike ‘backer, Robert Griffin III can read the path of the closed (strong) side defensive end (crashes on the dive) through the mesh point and get to the edge.

The Bears have the strong safety rolled down to the open (weak) side of the formation (eight-man front). But with the center working up to the second level to close Major Wright’s angle to the ball (and both linebackers erased from the play side), Griffin finds running room to get into the open field for a productive gain. 


49ers vs. Titans

Alignment: Two-Back Pistol

The 49ers shift from a diamond alignment to the two-back Pistol and run the read-option versus the Titans Cover 2 defense. Colin Kaepernick will read the path of the defensive end (crashes on the dive) and pull the ball with the tight end and fullback blocking second-level defenders (plays out like a quarterback power lead).

This turns into six points because of the effort from Frank Gore to get down the field to cut the deep half safety. However, even without the block from Gore, the read-option will force the safety to run the alley and make an open-field tackle on Kaepernick.


How NFL Defenses are Attacking the Read-Option

After talking with NFL coaches this offseason, the major issue for defenses in 2012 was the lack of prep time and exposure to the read-option. Edge defenders looked hesitant on film last season, and second-level defenders played with very poor eye discipline through the mesh point.

That has changed in 2013 with edge defenders showing the ability to “slow play” the quarterback read, safeties adding to the run front and linebackers scraping to the ball. Much more discipline from NFL defenses on the tape this season.

Here are some examples:


Redskins vs. Broncos

Alignment: One-Back Pistol

As you can see here, the Broncos' closed-side edge defender keeps his feet parallel through the mesh point to crash on the dive or take an uphill path to Griffin if the quarterback pulls the ball. At the second level, the linebacker scrapes over the top.


Redskins vs. Cowboys

Alignment: Two-Back Pistol

Same situation for Griffin and the Redskins versus the Cowboys' eight-man front with the defensive end slow-playing the read through the mesh point. Both the Sam and Mike ‘backers will attack downhill to the play side with Will ‘backer Bruce Carter (and the extra safety in the box) filling on the cutback versus Alfred Morris for a minimal gain.


Seahawks vs. Colts

Alignment: Gun Far

Here’s a good look at how the “scrape exchange” technique can play out versus Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. The edge defender crashes on the dive (running back) with the linebacker scraping over the top to account for the quarterback. Wilson reads the path of the edge defender and pulls the ball. However, this results in a negative play with the linebacker assigned to the quarterback. A smart technique versus the one-back Pistol or the shotgun alignment minus the arc block. 


Triple-Option and Inverted Power Veer

The triple-option and the inverted power veer are two schemes that multiple teams are putting on tape as NFL offenses continue to expand within their game plan. And if you watched the Panthers game this past Thursday night, you saw both option schemes with quarterback Cam Newton during the win over the Bucs. 

Let's run through these two schemes: 


Panthers vs. Bucs

Alignment: Diamond

Scheme: Triple-Option

Same read for Newton (edge defender) through the mesh point with DeAngelo Williams as the pitch man. Newton keeps the ball off his initial read and can now work to the edge with a run/pitch option.

With the Bucs' second-level defender slow to redirect outside, Newton can press the edge and force the defensive end to take the quarterback. That allows Newton to get the pitch out to Williams.


Cowboys vs. Chiefs

Alignment: One-Back Pistol

Scheme: Triple-Option

The Chiefs will show the read-option out of the Pistol alignment. Here, they motion wide receiver Dexter McCluster into the backfield and run the triple-option versus the Cowboys. Quarterback Alex Smith will read the defensive end and then option the closed-side cornerback.


Panthers vs. Bucs

Alignment: Gun Near

Scheme: Inverted Power Veer

The power veer is similar to a one-back Power O with the backside guard on the pull and the quarterback riding the running back through the mesh point to the play side. Newton’s initial read is the defensive end with the guard working up the second level.

With the defensive end staying up the field to play the running back, Newton keeps the ball and now has a lead block (backside guard) picking up the linebacker. Solid execution from the Panthers.


The Next Progression: Packaged Plays

A “packaged play” gives the quarterback a run/pass option with multiple targets in the route tree off the read-option mesh point. This shows up often in Chip Kelly’s playbook, but I’m also seeing it with the Redskins, Bears, Bills and others within their game plans.

This allows NFL offenses to build off the option because of the multiple reads that put stress on opposing defenses to play with eye discipline—regardless of the coverage called in the huddle. And many believe this will be the next scheme/concept that forces NFL defenses to adjust.

Let’s check out a couple of examples from the tape:


Eagles vs. Redskins

There are four built-in reads on this play (inside zone hand-off, quarterback read keep, tight end seam and wide receiver bubble screen). Vick reads the second-level defenders (eyes in the backfield) and throws the tight end seam to the now vacated zone in the middle of the field.


Bears vs. Redskins

New head coach Marc Trestman has started to run some packaged plays in his game plan as well. Going back to the matchup in Washington, the Bears produced two scores off the packaged read. Here is a look at backup quarterback Josh McCown (same reads as the Eagles concept) on the touchdown pass to tight end Martellus Bennett. Read the drop of the Mike ‘backer (Cover 2) off the mesh point and target the tight end on the quick, inside seam route for six points.


Is the Read-Option Here to Stay?

Oct 27, 2013; London, United Kingdom; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) scores on a 12-yard touchdown run against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sp

When I discuss the Redskins offense, I’m thinking about the inside zone run game and movement passes (boot, sprint, dash).

And when I look at the 49ers, the first thing that comes to my mind is downhill power football with multiple formations/personnel groupings to set up the passing game.

The Chiefs with Andy Reid? That’s a West Coast playbook.

However, NFL offenses can build out from those core schemes. And even with the improved play from the defensive side of the ball this season, the read-optionand "packaged" playsare still generating some numbers. 


Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.