I shouldn’t have clicked it. I knew what I was getting into when I clicked on it. But curiousity killed the cat. And so I read Andy Benoit’s column on Robert Griffin III, and of course, came away annoyed and frustrated, because it is yet another article that seems to not understand how and why the Redskins offense works.
I’m loathed to actually link back to that article, but for the purposes of debunking this, I’m going to have to.
We may see less of these called in the coming season, especially since defensive coordinators spent the offseason devising ways to snuff out the scheme. Their rather simple solution will be to hit the quarterback whether he keeps the ball or not, which is legal because he is essentially a running back taking a direct snap. The hits just have to be delivered within the natural timing of a handoff, which won’t be a problem since unblocked edge defenders have an unimpeded path to the mesh point. (Think of hockey defenders playing the man instead of the puck.)We already saw the Ravens start delivering zone-read hits like this with Terrell Suggs in the second half of Super Bowl XLVII.
Benoit is not the first columnist to assert that more defensive coordinators are simply going to instruct their OLBs or DEs to hit the quarterback whether or not the ball is handed off, and Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said as much when asked about the read-option. The thought process appears to be that, by plastering the quarterback whether he has the ball or not, offensive coordinators will be scared into not calling the play as much, less they want to see their quarterback peeling themselves off the ground on every play.
It seems like the definition of “success” in stop the read-option begins and ends with stopping the quarterback. That’s what we’re really talking about here; stopping Robert Griffin III from running. Andy Benoit goes as far as to assert that if RGIII doesn’t transform into a traditional pocket passer and “be can’t master downfield reads from the pocket, he’ll never be more than a likable version of Michael Vick.”
(Side note; Woe be the the next black quarterback who comes into the NFL with braids coming out the back of his helmet, for he will always be compared to Michael Vick.)
While there about a dozen things Andy Benoit gets wrong in his article (including Brian Orakpo’s season ending triceps injury, which would be a shock to anyone who thought he injured his pectoral muscle, but that would’ve taken 5 extra seconds on Google to figure out, and screw that noise), the notion that hitting the quarterback “stops” the read-option is what we’ll focus on. Namely, because hitting the quarterback doesn’t stop the read-option; it, at best, stops the quarterback from running.
This where there the disconnect seems to start; analyst and defensive coordinators alike treating the read option like a designed quarterback draw, rather than paying attention to the “option” part of it. Wherein the quarterback has the option of either keeping the ball for himself, or handing the ball off to the running back.
It’s interesting Benoit brings up the way the Ravens played the 49ers in the Super Bowl, because in the Ravens’ Week 14 match-up versus the Redskins, they employed the same “hit the quarterback” strategy that is supposed to be all the rage.
And Alfred Morris destroyed them on the ground.
The following are all from the Redskins first drive versus the Ravens, using their “hit the quarterback no matter what” tactic.
The Redskins line up in their pistol set with 21 personel (2 WRS, 1 TE, 1FB, 1RB) grouping. Paul Kruger is line up at the right DE/OLB spot, and he’s going to gun straight for Robert Griffin III at the snap.
Right away, you see Kruger has no intention of going after the ball carrier. His job on this play is to squash RG3.
But, that’s where the whole “read” part of the zone-read or read-option comes in. Griffin reads Paul Kruger crashing down towards him and hands the ball of. Alfred finds a huge cutback lane and cuts this up field for a gain of 29 yards.
Next, we see the Ravens are goin to send a blitz off the left side of this formation with Courtney Upshaw and Benard Pollard. Again, they’re job is to completely ignore the read and hit the quarterback.
This time, the Redskins run the outside zone play to the opposite side. This ends up only being a gain of three, but a runner with a little more burst than Evan Royster would’ve had a huge lane to the opposite side. Upshaw and Pollard are left looking dumb as they are completely taken out of the play.
Commiting two of your best defenders to stopping one guy, only to leave them completely out of the play doesn’t seem like a great strategy. But I guess I’m not an NFL defensive coordinator.
It looks like they need to try again. The Ravens come out in a 2-4-5 nickel allignment versus the Redskins 11 personel. (3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 RB).
Upshaw isn’t concerned with the run or with Pierre Garçon’s motion in the back field. He just wants to zero in and hit the quarterback.
But this defense is screwed just by design. Logan Paulsen comes up threw the hole to block #51, and Tyler Polumbus got to the second level to block #53.
If Alfred Morris had cut to his right off Logan’s block, this could’ve been an even better gain than just 5 yards.
Upshaw gets his feet screwed into the ground nowhere near RG3.
Second verse, same as the first. Upshaw ignores the run and the back field motion…
Upshaw actually does get a shove on RG3 this time by shoving him. But you can already see Logan Paulsen coming through the hole and getting to the second level to take on Ed Reed.
Great job hitting the quarterback long after he’s gotten rid of the ball. Bad job of actually stopping the Redskins opening drive. At this point, Kyle Shanahan knows the Ravens are going to be hitting Robert Griffin III on the read-option plays. But the Redskins are gaining substantial yardage on every play. So why on Earth would he stop calling it?
This time it’s big Haloti Ngata that guns for RG3 of the zone-read play fake…
Ngata does put Griffin on his butt, but now before Pierre Garçon catches a screen pass that goes for 23 yards, setting the Redskins up for the first touchdown.
Griffin attempted only 1 pass before Pierre Garçon set the Redskins up in the red zone, and they moved the ball 80 yards using the read-option. Furthermore, on their following drive, the success of the read-option and running the ball was so great that it opened up the play action pass game to set up two straight scoring drives.
“But that was the Ravens without Terrell Suggs!” I can already here someone say. Well then, let’s go look at how hitting Colin Kaepernick worked in the Super Bowl.
Huh. Well it certainly didn’t work here on this 7 yard gain from Frank Gore…
Or this 9 yard gain from LaMichael James…
Suggs guns it towards Kaepernick…
And it’s a huge 21 yard game that helped the 49ers keep the momentum.
Suggs crashes on the quarterback again…
And he gets blocked by LaMichael James while Kaepernick goes for 3 yards that set up a 7 yard touchdown scramble.
Oooh, looks like Suggs is really going to put a lick on Kap this time…
And he does…but not before Gore gains 8 yards.
Suggs has all eyes on Kaep…
Goes right for the quarterback…
And gets to watch Frank Gore rip off a 33 yard run.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from the 49ers Super Bowl loss, it’s that they should’ve stuck with the read-option. Despite giving some read-option looks, in the first half, most hand offs to Frank Gore were “conventional” runs. In the 4th quarter alone, the 49ers gained 67 of their 187 rushing yards for the whole game utilizing the read-option, including both of Frank Gore’s game changing runs, which accounted for 54 of his 110 rushing yards on the game.
And once the 49ers realized it was working, they did not stop running it, despite being down when conventional wisdom says you have to throw the ball late to get back in the lead, despite the fact that the Ravens were sending Terrell Suggs to hit Kap every time he handed it off. Instead, they kept running it. Like any good offensive coordinator would do.
If these two games aren’t a big enough showcase of why hitting and focusing on the quarterback doesn’t work, Kevin Grant broke down the 49ers vs. Falcons NFC Championship game where, yet again, hitting the quarterback and focusing primarily on him didn’t work. If you want even more proof, go and look at the Falcons vs. Redskins game, where Alfred Morris ran for 115 yards on 18 carries.
Perhaps defensive coaches are thinking they’ll gladly give up the chunk yardage on the ground as long as the quarterback doesn’t run. That seems to be the goal; to stop the quarterback from running and only stop the quarterback. It’s a flawed premise that is not based in any sort of factual or realistic analysis of film. Further more, the things you can do off the read-option play fake in the passing game further complicates matters for defenses.
(Of course, if you’re Robert Griffin III, play action is supposed to be a bad thing, because of, ya know…REASONS, I guess.)
Andy Benoit is just parroting the same ol’ stuff that people keep saying about the read-option, and pushing the same sort of lies about the offense, and defensive coordinators seem hell bent on trying the same thing over and over and over again hoping this time it’ll work.
As I’ve asserted before, the best way to defend (not stop, but defend) the read option is to get ack to basics, play with discpline, and make good solid tackles. As has become increasingly clear in the NFL, defenses have relied more and more on being aggressive and laying big hits than discipline.
The read-option will leave on, and it’ll continue to be successful. It remains to be seen if defensive coaches and columnist like Benoit will be willing to admit their mistakes.
(My bet is on “nope”.)