Does Attacking the QB Really Stop the Read Option?

| April 18, 2013 | 4 Comments

How do we stop the Read Option? That is the question Defensive Coordinators will debate while preparing for the 2013 season. According to Mike Tomlin the answer lies with an Offensive coaches commitment to putting their QB in danger ,Tomlin said “We’ll see if guys are committed to getting their guys hit.”. I respect Tomlin as a head coach but I don’t think the answer is that simple and he is focusing on the one part in a multidimensional offense.

NFL head coaches have been hard-wired to believe that pressure on the Quarterback cures all ills. Teams have built their whole identity around a dominate Defensive Lines relentless pursuit to hit the passer. We watched one of the best offensive football teams of all time go undefeated for 18 straight games, only to fall victim to a team with a strong pass rush. Coaches are so focused on stopping the running QB they act like the Running back and passing game are an after thought.

Lets go back to the NFC Championship game where the Atlanta Falcons had a plan to attack the Colin Kaepernick on every read option play. Atlanta’s plan was to have the unblocked DE ignore the RB and attack the QB…  Let’s see how effective that plan was for the Falcons.

San Fran vs Atlanta 2012

San Fransisco sets up to run HB Off Tackle with Colin Kaepernick out of the pistol. A benefit of the pistol is teams can run a traditional run game & zone read out of the same pre-snap looks, This is a problem #1 for a defense looking to attack the QB in the read option.

Read Option vs Atlanta Falcons

  • Abraham’s up-field pursuit plays right into the hands of the 49ers
  • Kaepernick has already handed the ball off to Frank Gore


  • Abraham arrives at Kaepernick
  • Gore bounces the run outside into the vacated space left open by the DE

San Fran vs Atlanta

  • Gore hits the open edge for a 7 yard gain
  • Offense wins every time they can get their RB into the last level of the defense untouched

LeMichael James TD vs Falcons

  • San Fran will run the outside zone read with LeMichael James in at RB
  • DE takes a wider split anticipating the Outside Zone Read



  • The DE reads the mesh point waiting for Kaepernick to feed the RB or keep it himself
  • OL works to wall of the outside pursuit


  • Kaepernick has already fed James the ball
  • DE locks  in on Kaepernick


  • DE jumping inside on Kaepernick opens the edge for James
  • Vernon Davis gets on the Safety and will seal him off to the inside
  • Ted Ginn Jr will seal off the CB to the outside
  • James will hit the alley for a 15 yard TD


  • Kaepernick is in the Pistol running  the inside zone read
  • Stephen Nicholas locks  in on Kaepernick and will ignore the inside run action


  • Nicholas turned the corner locked in on the QB
  • Gore has received the  hand-off and heads up field
  • FB will get through the hole to seal off the LB


  • FB gets his block on the LB
  • Davis seals off the Safety
  • Gore hits the opening originally vacated by Nicholas for a TD


Later in the game and in scoring position the 49er’s score another TD on the same run play they ran before..

  • Abraham will ignore the inside run action and attack the QB


  • Abraham over runs the play
  • Kaepernick fed Gore
  • OL/FB seal off outside pursuit
  • Davis works on the Safety
  • Gore hits the open lane for a TD

“People getting up the field to pass rush is what it’s all about because of the type of quarterbacks — the Tom Bradys of the world, Drew Brees, that’s what you’ve got to stop. You’ve got to put pressure on the quarterback. Well, that’s just what you don’t want to do against [read-option quarterbacks]. You have to play on the line of scrimmage just like old option football.” - Nick Saban

Defensive coordinators can say they hitting the QB will discourage the Read Option, but that is not the case. The QB running the scheme dictates the action more than the defense.  When a defense predetermined it will have the edge defender attack the QB -Like the Atlanta Falcons above-then feed the back and watch the RB have a banner day. Just because a team is running the read option doesn’t mean the QB has to force running the football.

A QB is vulnerable past the LOS when he decides to run the ball. At that point the QB still controls the action but must make smart decisions and at times slide 5 yards too early rather than take a hit after gaining the extra 5 yards. The onus is on the QB to play smart and reduce the damage over the course of a season. A coach saying ” We will see how committed teams are to running the read when we hit their QB” sounds good in theory but doesn’t do much in terms off slowing down an offense.

I can’t be the only one that feels Defensive Coordinators dedicating their off-season to stopping the read option – which might get called 4-7 times a game -  is a little unusual. Rest assured, Offensive Coordinators are working  hard to expand the Read Option to stay two steps ahead of the defenses in 2013.



Filed in: FILM ROOM

It's also important to factor in the ability of the QB to show read option, pull the ball back and hit the slant on a contain biased defensive line. This was the reason that the Hal Mumme derived air-raid attacks were doubly affective with a true run/pass threat QB (see aTm 2012 under Kevin Sumlin).


I need some work on the X's and O's side of the game, articles like this are helpful in learning more about that. The pistol offense looks like a great way to attack defenses. Glad to see the Redskins using more of those looks. It seems to really help college quarterbacks transition more easily. 

Also, as a (transplanted) Coloradan, we're gonna see the Buffs switch to a pistol this season. Hope MacIntyre can have the same impact on CU as he did with San Jose State. 


great article, but simple problem of the rules:

An read option QB does not deserve the protection a pocket-passer gets. Because the option of running (not scrambling) makes him a 2nd runner-thread all time. 

Defences shall be allowed to hit a Read-option QB whenever he has the ball: running or passing and than the chances are more fair. 

Read option QB will not get the same value due to their injuries compared to  pocket passers so there is no reason to protect them like "the  man".


Great article!  The Atlanta game points out how one particular strategy doesn't work.  Typically man assignments are a hat on hat regardless of what position you play.  If you ask one guy to defend the RB and the QB on run plays, you're making them have to pause and decide rather than watch and react.  It slows them down and makes them inaffective.  I watched my Packers get eaten alive by the versatility of Kaepernick.  In our case it was for a few reasons.  First was because our d line is too slow particularly on the edge. Second was that in trying to simply contain Kaepernick, you lessen your pass rush and end up giving him all kinds of time.  Third was that our secondary couldn't cover for that length of time.   So he killed the DBs, beat our slow D line to the edge, or if the LBs over pursue he kills you running straight up the middle.  It's a tough thing to defend.  You need an excellent secondary, a fast D line, and patient LBs that don't give up contain for the potential sack.

%d bloggers like this: