Thursday, 7 February 2013

Know your Options: A short guide to Option Football

Know your Options will be a series of articles on the various option schemes we can expect to take over the NFL as the evolution (revolution?) of the run game in the NFL continues. It's aim is to help you, the armchair NFL fan, understand what is happening on each play and how to recognise some of the plays of the soon to be everywhere "read option" offence.

To start off with, a disclaimer. The option is not some new fangled gimmick that has suddenly popped up from the College game. It has been around since 1941 when Minnesota Head Coach Don Farout saw a two on one fast break in a Basketball game and decided to apply those theories to the game of football. Option football has been a feature of College Football ever since.

Over the last season in the NFL this "new" offence has truly taken hold. Last year Cam Newton terrorised teams with his running ability and now this year another crop of young Quarterbacks up and down the league have been putting up stellar numbers not just with their arms, but also with their feet.

Critics at first dismissed it as a gimmick and that it would soon be out schemed just like the Wildcat the Miami Dolphins used a few years ago. Quarterbacks would have to be exceptionally fast to out pace the speed of the NFL defenders and the Quarterback position was too valuable financially and so thin in depth league wide that it wasn't worth the risk of having him run the ball.

To answer these criticisms  first of all check out the diagram below for one of the base plays of an NFL offence, the Outside Zone play.

Outside Zone
The single back outside zone run is a play run over and over again by a number of teams in the NFL. This year Arian Foster (1,425 yards) and the previously unheralded rookie Alfred Morris (1'613 yards) piled up yards with this exact play.

It's produced some of the leading rushers of our times (Clinton Portis and Terrell Davis to name a couple) and when we compare it with a modern day zone read run by so many college teams, there are some striking similarities.

You'll notice that the blocking scheme and the running backs aiming point are exactly the same (although the alignment of the back is different). The biggest difference is that the Quarterback is still holding the backside defensive player with the threat of a run instead of a bootleg.

The "Read" part of the offence is not a gimmick, it is simply a different way of holding the backside defender on a run play to give you a numbers advantage at the point of attack. How can critics, who wax lyrical about the regular zone play claim to be able to scheme against almost EXACTLY the same scheme?

Also, the Zone read is only a fraction of the option offence, with a plethora of plays available to "break" defensive adjustments and make them consistently wrong (say "Hi" Atlanta).

Now onto the question of personnel. Critics are right to a point out that speed can be an issue with some of the freaks playing the defensive end position, Tom Brady isn't going to force Jason Pierre Paul to make a decision based on his blazing speed.

However there is a new generation of Quarterbacks coming through the college ranks that are more than happy to use their feet to make plays, so soon GM's league wide will have the OPTION (see what I did there?) of having a dynamic play maker at the Quarterback position instead of the statue like pocket passer that has become rarer to find.

With the new rookie wage scale there is not such a high price paid by GM's to secure an athletic QB, so the risks are lessened financially. In terms of injuries it's equally (if not more so) dangerous taking a blindside hit in the pocket then it is as a runner, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will attest to that. Robert Griffin III had his worst injury on a regular pass play when he was hit while scrambling!

The point is that the plays are no gimmicks, the Quarterbacks are just as likely to get injured in the pocket with 260lb man missles launched at them and that the Quarterback position doesn't have the financial constraints it did a few years ago. What do you think of the option offence? IS it here to stay?

Next week we take a look at how the 49ers and the Redskins have used the Pistol formation to augment the Zone Read.

1 comment:

  1. I never had a chance to play football when I was young. It's too physical and I think I'm not the type of person that can last long playing this.


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