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Defenses work to stop the read option


When a quarterback or other offensive player has a big season out of the blue (typically as a rookie), defenses spend the next offseason obsessed with coming up with ways to stop him. (Or, in the case of the 1999 Packers, devoting the first three rounds of the draft to finding guys who can cover Randy Moss.)

This year, it’s not just a player that will be forcing defensive coaches to burn the midnight oil in order to avoid getting toasted in 2013. The read option has become the scheme that defenses will be committed to stopping next season.

It’s a simple concept. The quarterback begins the process of handing the ball to a running back. The quarterback reads the defensive end’s movement. If the defensive end reacts as if the ball will be given to the running back, the quarterback takes it back and runs through the spot where the defensive end was. If the defensive end stays homes or comes at the quarterback, the running back gets the ball.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated recently explained the manner in which defenses will react over the course of an offseason, pointing out that teams will be looking for cornerbacks who can cover without safety help, so that safeties will be able to support the effort to stop the read option. Likewise, defensive ends will be asked to take a little steam out of their effort to crush the quarterback and to spend more time studying his movements. Also, linebackers will be expected to balance preparing for the quarterback to let go of the ball that has been stuffed into the tailback’s gut and reacting to the possibility that the quarterback will yank the ball out and throw it to a receiver.

The Colts, whose desire to keep quarterback Andrew Luck healthy means they won’t be running the read option, nevertheless believe they can stop it. Coach Chuck Pagano told Greg Cosell of NFL Films at the annual Maxwell Club awards dinner that defensive coaches don’t believe the read option will be a problem, once they have a chance to study it.

And here’s where offensive coordinators have an opportunity to think multiple moves ahead in the game of coaching chess. As defenses reconfigure to stop the read option, other openings necessarily will arise.

As Cosell accurately observes, it’s still too early to know how the read option will develop and evolve, and whether it’s a fad like the CB radio or a new frontier like the Internet.