Inside This Week’s SI 2013 NFL Preview: You Have Options

SI Read-OptionThanks to four young stars (Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson) and an influx of strong-armed, light-footed rookie hopefuls, the read-option is giving NFL offenses alternatives that produce results. The four teams that ran the read-option in 2012—the 49ers, Panthers, Redskins and Seahawks—were among the league’s top nine in yards gained per play, went a combined 39-24-1 and won two of the NFC’s four divisions.  In this week’s SI 2013 NFL Preview, Greg Bedard looks at the scheme that is taking over football and how to stop it.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin likens the read-option to the Wildcat, calling it “the flavor of the month.” On the other hand, Jets coach Rex Ryan, one of the game’s most creative defensive minds, says “I think it’s here to stay for the simple fact that [teams] are getting these mobile quarterbacks [who have] the size, speed and all that type of stuff.” (PAGE 42)

So how do you stop the read-option? Bedard finds that dozens of NFL coaches consulted in the offseason with college coaches who regularly deal with the read-option. Bedard learned that, “Defenses basically have two choices against the read-option: speed up or slow down.” (PAGE 43)

Stanford’s director of defense Derek Mason leads the slow movement. “If you come up the field and then try to squeeze [down toward the running back], it doesn’t give [the quarterback] a fast read,” says Mason, scribbling furiously on the whiteboard in his office. “Don’t give a fast read, give a slow read.” The other option is to attack the quarterback. “A lot of times you want to speed up the quarterback on his read,” says Clemson co-defensive coordinator Marion Hobby. “It allows the defense to dictate what goes on up front.” (PAGE 43)

Bedard notes that the speed-up scenario usually requires the defense to bring an extra defender to the line of scrimmage, taking a player out of the backfield and making the D more susceptible to the pass. “It makes it difficult to defend when you’re able to pull the ball back off one of these fakes and there’s a receiver who’s 20 yards open,” Saints coach Sean Payton says. “We’re not used to seeing that in our game.” (PAGE 46)

A group of NFL coaches believes the read-option will be phased out because of the injury potential for quarterbacks. However, Bedard notes that Griffin’s injury last year came on a scramble from a drop-back play and pocket passers like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have gotten injured in the past too. And nobody that uses the read-option implements it full-time. “[The 49ers] aren’t running Kaepernick an inordinate amount of times,” Mason says. “I don’t see [the read-option] going away anytime soon, but you’re not going to see it 25 times a game.” (PAGE 46)


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