49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick flexed his muscles on the Packers to the tune of 263 passing yards and two passing touchdowns, and 181 rushing yards, a NFL record for a quarterback, and two rushing touchdowns. Photo by Jeff Lewis
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
Read option not just a fad in the NFL
When the wild cat offense hit the NFL a few years ago, defensive coordinators were left scrambling…for a few weeks. That offense caught some teams by surprise, but no team was going to switch exclusively to it.
The wild cat was pretty much a read option running play with a running back lined up at quarterback. It is a style that can gain a lot of yards on the ground, but the two major problems are that it pretty much eliminated the passing game and it tells the defense that the run is coming. Well that has all changed, because the NFL now has quarterbacks who can run the read option, and they have the skills to light teams up through the air.
The read option is pretty much the quarterback reading the defensive end on the non-play side (the opposite side of where the running back is going to carry the ball). Usually the defensive end on the non-play side crashing down to stop a run play on the inside of him. If the quarterback reads that, he fakes the handoff to the running back and then he runs to the area where the defensive end left, usually for a big gain, because the defensive end is supposed to contain the outside.
If the defensive end stays home and contains the outside, the quarterback will give the ball to the running back, who now has one less defender at the point of attack, because the defensive end is not crashing down.
The read option puts the defense in conflict. The quarterback reads what the defense is doing and he makes the decision to run it himself or hand the ball off. If he makes the right decision it is tough for the defense to stop it.
The read option is run to perfection in college football by Oregon, and Tim Tebow helped Florida win two national championships with it. But the NFL has been slow to bring it into the league. But this year that may all change, as read option quarterbacks such as the Redskins Robert Griffin III and the Seahawks Russell Wilson set the league on fire in their rookie seasons.
But the quarterback who may have changed the game for good is the 49ers Colin Kaepernick, who had the Packers falling all over themselves in a 45-31 victory in the second round of the playoffs. Kaepernick put on a clinic as he rushed for 181 yards, a NFL record for a quarterback. When he read the defensive end crashing down, he kept the ball and he was off to the races. When he made the proper reads, he handed the ball to running back Frank Gore, who rushed for 119 yards. For the game the 49ers rushed for 323 yards.
The read option was also deadly on passing plays, because when the 49ers ran play action passes, the Packers defense had to respect the 49ers running game, allowing Kaepernick to pass for 263 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for two touchdowns.
49ers quarterback Alex Smith, who lost his starting job to Kaepernick around midseason, was one of the best game managers in the NFL, but Kaepernick adds a dimension that Smith could not. That is the big play, and Kaepernick has a lot of them. He gives the offense a spark that Smith, who is a drop back pocket passer, could not. Pair Kaepernick’s explosive abilities with the 49ers defense, which is one of the best in the league, and the 49ers have a Super Bowl caliber team.
Kaepernick stamped this style of offense a success, and Griffin and Russell proved all season that this offense is hard to stop. Wilson took his Seahawks on a wild ride that almost landed them in the NFC Championship Game, where the 49ers will play the Falcons. Wilson picked his spots where he wanted to run this past Sunday against the Falcons, as he rushed for 60 yards in the game, but his scrambling ability to buy extra time to find open receivers down field coupled with play action off of the read option allowed him to pass for 385 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for one touchdown.
With the read option, Wilson and Griffin were able to take two teams who missed the playoffs the season before and get them to the post season.
The reasons why NFL teams have avoided running this type of offense were because of the injury factor and because a lot of running quarterbacks do not pass the ball well. As great of a runner that Michael Vick is, he has never been good passing the ball. But Griffin, Wilson, and Kaepernick have shown that they can read defenses well and put the ball where it needs to be, just like the traditional drop back passers.
The injury factor with Kaepernick and Wilson is not as great as it was with Vick, or with Griffin. The injury factor with Vick was always looming because he stands at 6-0 and 210 lbs., which is undersized for a quarterback. Griffin is 6-2, 215 lbs., which is not very big either. Kaepernick is 6-4, 235 lbs. That extra bulk allows him to take the pounding. Wilson only weights 210 lbs., but that is at 5-10, so he has a thick body type like a running back.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is 6-5, 245 lbs., and he has used the read option to a lot of success. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who moves extremely well in the pocket and scrambles often, is 6-5 and 241 lbs.
Griffin is the most exciting read option quarterback, but he may have issues long term because of his lack of size. Kaepernick, Wilson, and Newton have the bulk and the passing abilities of the traditional pocket passers, and the speed of a player like Vick. So they can run this offense, pass the ball well, and stay healthy. There are a lot of college read option quarterbacks, a number of them black, who will be able to go into the NFL and succeed.
As for Vick, the Eagles have just hired Oregon’s Chip Kelly to be their head coach. If the Eagles keep Vick, this could extend his career because Kelly specializes in the read option offense. Vick’s speed in this offense could be unbelievable, and he can pass the ball well enough. With the speed that the Eagles have at running back with LaSean McCoy and at wide receiver with DeSean Jackson (Long Beach Poly High School), the Eagles offense might look like a track team, just like Oregon’s offense the past few years.
As for Tebow, who was great in the read option in college, and had success running it last year with the Broncos, he may be the one quarterback left out, mostly because he does not have the passing skills that the other read option quarterbacks have.
Conference Championship Games
For the first time it may be safe to pick the Falcons in a playoff game, but barely. Entering this postseason they were 0-3 in the playoffs with this group led by quarterback Matt Ryan and they were on the verge of going 0-4 when they blew a 20 point lead to the Seahawks.
The Falcons led the Seahawks 20-0 at halftime and 27-7 late in the third quarter. But it was no surprise to see them give it all back, as the Seahawks took a 28-27 lead with under a minute to play. The Falcons were able to get the go ahead field goal before time ran out, but even then they seemed destined to blow the game as they allowed the Seahawks to have one last shot at the endzone on the final play of the game.
It was a playoff win for the Falcons…finally. Now they face the red hot 49ers, who have a team that is very similar to the Seahawks, in the NFC Championship Game. Both the 49ers and Seahawks run the read option, have quarterbacks who make plays running and passing, and both teams have loaded defenses. The Falcons handled the Seahawks just fine in the first half, but not in the second.
If the Falcons can play a complete game, they can make plans for the Super Bowl. But if they play like they did in the 2nd half of their game against the Seahawks, then it’s going to be a 49ers party. The Falcons may not get to dictate this game, as the 49ers have a mentality to enforce their will on their opponent.
In the AFC, the Ravens are on an emotional run with Ray Lewis on his final ride, and they are having a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game with the Patriots. Last year the Ravens lost the game when they missed a last second field goal that would have tied the game and sent it into overtime.
This year the Ravens defense is a little older, not as good, and they are facing a Patriots team that is still running like a machine. But players will follow Lewis to the end of the earth for a win, which gives them a fighter’s chance.
One thing working against the Ravens is that historically, teams coming off of an overtime game do not fare well the next week because of fatigue. There is only so much that the body can take, and the Ravens played five full quarters on Saturday. That may be an issue this Sunday.
Rahim Moore mans up and takes the blame
Broncos safety Rahim Moore (Dorsey High School) has always been a man of high character and great work ethic. Those traits landed him at UCLA and then in the NFL. But this past Saturday, he had one bad play.
That was not just a bad play, it unfortunately was a defining play because of the time of the game that it happened and what the play meant. The Broncos had a 35-28 lead with about 30 seconds to play, and the Ravens were 70 yards away from the endzone.
The only thing that would keep the Broncos out of the AFC Championship Game was a bomb, and that’s what the Ravens dropped on them. Moore did not get deep enough, and his attempt to knock the ball away left everybody watching the game scratching their heads. It was just a horrible play.
Was Moore’s mistake the biggest mistake of the loss? Yes. Was it the only mistake? No.
Future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning threw a silly interception in overtime, which put the Ravens in position to kick the game winning field goal.
Future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey was beat for two touchdowns, and it could have been worse as he was beaten on a few other passing plays that fell incomplete.
Broncos Head Coach John Fox could have allowed Manning to drive down the field with 30 seconds to play in the 4th quarter to win the game. The Broncos had two timeouts. Instead they ran the clock out and went into overtime.
After the game Moore showed his high character by tearfully taking the blame for the loss and apologizing to his teammates and Broncos fans. At the moment this play is defining him in the public’s eye, but Moore is the type of guy who can overcome this. Hopefully this will drive him to come back better than before.