NFL Teams Will Adjust to Read Option

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On September 21, 2008, the Miami Dolphins surprised the New England Patriots by using a single-wing offense with running back Ronnie Brown taking snaps, and having the option of running, handing off to Ricky Williams, or passing. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning called six “wildcat” plays and five of them resulted in touchdowns. Miami upset New England 38-13 thanks in large part to quarterbacks coach, David Lee, who suggested running the single-wing after he had used it successfully with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones at the University of Arkansas.

The wildcat became a huge fad in the NFL with half the league running it. A few years later, after defenses adjusted, it was basically gone.

Last year running quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, and Robert Griffin III were highly successful running the read option. Michael Vick, Cam Newton, Tim Tebow, and a large number of future NFL signal callers would seem to be well suited to succeeding in an offense that highlights their ability to run, pass, and make decisions quickly based on how defenses opt to line up against their formations. After cutting ties with longtime, traditional coach Andy Reid, the Eagles hired Oregon's Chip Kelly this off-season. Kelly went 46-7 with the Ducks using a spread, read option, lightning quick tempo in Eugene.

Last week Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk wrote that the theme of this year’s off-season has been “stop the read option.” Chatter throughout the league, from the front office, to coaching staffs, scouts, and players, has revolved around a focus on stopping the exact offense Kelly is implementing in Philadelphia. Former Eagle quarterback Ron Jaworski told Florio that Kelly's offense “will not work,” in the NFL.

Whether it be the wildcat, run and shoot, option, vertical, west coast, or smash mouth football, techniques come and go, get recycled, and modernized. It would be silly to think quarterbacks with great legs will not use them in the same way that Randall Cunningham, Steve Young, and Fran Tarkenton did. However, there is a reason that the traditional drop-back passer has always been the most valuable player on the field.

While defenses will adjust, and perhaps a fast paced, read option attack will be less successful than it was last year, just like the home run hitter in baseball, and the goal scorer in hockey, the accurate, strong armed passer will always be the most valuable player on the field. It is unlikely that the read option will either go away entirely or completely change the game forever, however, its incredible success last year has led to an equally dedicated emphasis on stopping it this off-season.