It’s that time of year folks. The NFL season is fast approaching and you are planning on using your football knowledge to impress your buddies on Sundays. You will be figuring out strategies and breaking down defenses along with judging what should or shouldn’t be going on inside the field of play. But, let’s be honest, half of us don’t even know what it means for a team to be in a 1-3-1 defense.
The other half of you that claim you do understand, didn’t realize that a 1-3-1 defense is only feasible in basketball and we are discussing the NFL right now. (Stay with me) Anyway, in our first installment of Football for Fools we are going to discuss the latest NFL trend – The Zone Read/Read Option. So, let’s break it down in layman’s terms and figure out the complexities of this particular offense and why it is being used so widely.
The first thing that makes the “Zone Read” work is athleticism at the QB position. The QB is the prime piece that makes this type of offensive play work. This is why we see QB’s like Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Michael Vick, and etc. as the best candidates to use this style of play. It all begins with the read, in most zone reads the offensive line is required to block down on the defensive line, all except for the Defensive End.
This is where the reading takes place. The QB reads the end, if the DE widens and contains, the QB will hand the ball off to the RB however, if the DE crashes down, the QB will keep the ball and run around him. This option has created confusion for the end and gives your athletic QB the ball in space and the opportunity for a long play.
You also have a third option here; the end may decide to crash down on your RB, the QB can then keep the ball and this works as a great play action pass to further break down the defense. The trick is that there really isn’t a trick to this offense. It’s based off of the Defensive End being wrong in whatever decision he makes.
You contain and you are beat, you crash down and you are still beaten. In the passing game, the best part about the read option is the fact that during the play fake or ball fake, the QB’s eyes never have to leave down field. He can ride out his ball fake without ever turning his back to the defense. This way he sees the movement of the linebackers and secondary at all times.
Now it wouldn’t be fair if I did not give ways for defenses to stop or counter the read option. Does anybody remember when the “Wildcat” was the next big thing in the NFL? The snap would go directly to a RB/speedster and he would take off in any direction. For a while it seemed unstoppable. Many teams adapted its use. Well, almost as soon as it was started, it was finished. Defenses always adjust, and there are many who say that just like the Wildcat offense, to the NFL the zone/read option is a gimmick and will not be around for long.
The best way to counter the read option is with SPEED. Yup, that’s the answer. Overall speed on team defense is the most productive way to get rid of this type of offense. Teams must get quicker on the perimeter and be flying around the field at all times. Remember, this offense is predicated on the defender. Whatever choice you make, you are wrong, so pick your poison.
A fundamentally sound player will make a fundamentally sound decision, and his decision by no fault of his own would be incorrect. Being technically sound is important but being quick on your feet and athletic means more when dealing with this offense. Secondly, and maybe the most important way to stop this offense is to TAKE SHOTS ON THE QB.
Once the QB leaves the pocket he is a runner. Defenses must take advantage of that fact. I’m not advocating any more scandals like “Bounty Gate” but if a QB thinks he has a right to run outside of the pocket and be protected at all times, it is the job of any good hard hitter to make him painfully aware that is not the case. After a few young star running QB’s get knocked out during the course of a game (we saw this with RGIII a few times last season) coaches will be slower to let their franchise players run all willy nilly over the field of play. The more your QB runs, the more opportunities he has to be injured.
For now we must keep the Read/Zone option into perspective. I wouldn’t marginalize the offense by calling it a gimmick but I wouldn’t go as far as to saying it can be the sole basis of any 1 teams offensive scheme. I believe that when used in the right spots and with the right personnel as we have seen already, this offense can be very effective. Check back next week for more ways to sound smart at the water cooler.