The read option offense has taken the NFL by storm. Players like RG3 and Colin Kaepernick have led the charge in sparking a trend of sorts, as many teams are now attempting to run a variation of the read option offense. Even the Colts will face the Raiders, led by Terrelle Pryor and a read option type offense, on Sunday.
As is the case with most trends, defenses had no idea how to stop it at first. Last year, when this offense burst onto the scene at the NFL level, it was incredibly hard to stop.
Chalk year one up to the offensive system.
Year two, though, will be determined by the players running it. Defensive-minded coaches have spent the offseason figuring out a way to stop it, and Chuck Pagano is right in the midst of that. He gave extensive quotes on the offense when he met with the media on Wednesday.
Can you address the strategic differences you face depending on what quarterback starts for Oakland, Terrelle Pryor or Matt Flynn?
"I think they're both really good players, as we all know. I think Pryor, obviously with his athleticism, we've watched him in the preseason. We've watched him for a long time. We all know what he can do outside the pocket and the way he can create and the way he can run the read option. He gives you another dimension from a defensive standpoint that you got to take care of. He's dangerous on the move. And so again, whether they're running read option with him, drop back to pass, if it's not there then the guy can take off. He can scramble. He can scramble to run. He can scramble to make a play down the field. Again, they're both really good quarterbacks. We'll prepare for both guys and be ready to face whoever they decide to line up under center."
It'll be Terrelle Pryor, so the question is how to stop him. Pagano was asked that question, too.
Are NFL defenses better prepared to deal with the read option this year opposed to last year?
"Yeah. I just think because of the success that people had last year running the read option, everybody went out in the offseason and did their due diligence, just like we did, as far as researching the things that you need to do to stop it. Some teams are a little bit more complex than others. Some are in the pistol and have one back back there. You'll see this team come in here on Sunday and there could be that situation, that scenario right there, or there could be as many as three backs back there in a diamond formation with the quarterback in the pistol. So we definitely did our research as well as everybody else did. You get caught with your pants down, they can make you look really silly."
You said you did your due diligence. What specifically did you do?
"We spoke to a lot of coaches, mostly collegiate because obviously those guys are facing it week-in and week-out. We got guys on our own staff that have been in college, most recently guys like Joey Gilbert and Pep (Hamilton) coming from Stanford and having some experience with it. So we've got guys on our own staff that have been involved with it, guys on our staff that have defended it. Mike Gillhamer's a guy that was, obviously, at Illinois and faced it. Between our own guys on our own staff and then talking to guys at different places around the country, gathered as much film as we can, made cut-ups of every snap that was ran in the NFL, along with college tape is what we studied."
Chuck Pagano also commented on what the officials have told them regarding the read option.
Have the officials told you this year quarterbacks are fair game if they're out there running the read option?
"That's how the rule reads now. They're very specific, and they were very specific with us in the offseason at the owners' meetings, when the NFL officials came to training camp. As long as that guy's running an option play and he's involved in that option play, then he's considered a runner. And he does not garner the protection that a normal quarterback who drops back to pass, the protection that he's awarded based on the rules. There's a fine line there. Read option, a guy takes it and he hands it off and he backs away and doesn't carry out a fake, can you go hit that guy? Obviously not. So we've educated our guys on that and we'll practice that this week and for weeks to come."
It's possible that makes it a deterrent then right? If you can hit him, you hit him.
"I would agree."
So there you have it. Reading that, I see one clear way to stop the read option: hit. the. quarterback. You don't have to hit with an intent to injure, but when star quarterbacks start taking a bunch of hits, coaches will begin to reevaluate the read option offense.
Here's the basics on how the rules are stated now as it pertains to the read option. A quarterback will be treated just as any other ballcarrier if he is running an option play, and he will be treated as such until he completely carries out his fake or until the play ends. Because of all the talk about it, the NFL's Vice President of Officiaitng, Dean Blandino, said recently of the quarterback in the read option:
"He is still treated as a runner until he is clearly out of the play. The quarterback makes the pitch, he's still a runner - he can be hit like a runner until he's clearly out of the play. The quarterback and the running back, they're both treated as runners. We don't know who has the football, we don't know who's going to take it, so both players are treated as runners."
I remember back at training camp (which seems like a long time ago!) when the NFL officials came to present the rule changes to the players and the media and to answer questions. When they visited us in the media trailer, I remember specifically one of the media members, in the midst of discussion regarding the very rules detailed above, remarking that it seems like the best and easiest way to stop the read option is just to hit the quarterback. The official smiled and said that it seemed an awful like a strategy question (in other words, not answering really), but it was clear what he thought. He agreed - to stop the read option, you hit the quarterback.
That's essentially what Chuck Pagano said the Colts will do, too. Talking about how the officials have made it clear that the quarterback is treated as a ballcarrier, it seems that Pagano's gameplan will be the same as many of the league's premier defensvie coaches.
How the Colts do at stopping it is another question entirely. But the way they are planning to is the same way most of the defensive coaches in the league are planning to. Like I said, last year was about the system; this year is about the player. If someone succeeds in the read option this year, I'll much more willingly say he's a good player than I would have been last year.
It seems most likely to me, however, that over time we will see the use of the read option by teams decrease as they begin to see their quarterback taking a bunch of hits solely because of the offensive system.
At the very least, though, the Colts shouldn't get "caught with [their] pants down," because they seem prepared to stop it. How well they actually do will be a key thing to watch on Sunday.