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The read option: Fad, or factor?

Jan 16, 2013 -- 2:42pm
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The Packers weren't sure when Frank Gore was or wasn't getting the ball from Colin Kaepernick.

GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers isn’t going to spend his offseason workouts prepping for the Pistol offense to be added to the Green Bay Packers’ repertoire.

While the read-option scheme is clearly becoming a factor in the NFL – as evidenced by the news Wednesday that the Philadelphia Eagles had hired Oregon coach Chip Kelly – the Packers quarterback, his head coach and the team’s defensive coordinator do not believe it’s going to completely revolutionize the game.

Which, of course, would be good news for the Packers after what San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did to them in their 45-31 NFC Divisional Playoff loss last Saturday night.

“I think the league is cyclical and things can come back around that were being used 20, 30 years ago. But this too will pass,” Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and on Tuesday. “Some of the pistol read-option stuff will eventually pass. Now, that may not be for 10 more years.

“The athletic quarterback I don’t think is going to pass at all. I think you’ve seen a trend of more and more guys who can make plays when the pocket breaks down and extend plays, who are also good passers. I think you’re going to continue to see that; we’ve seen a lot of that the last few years especially.

“Obviously (look at) the year that (Washington’s) Robert Griffin (III) had this year and his mobility. (Seattle’s) Russell Wilson is an athletic guy and (Indianapolis’) Andrew Luck, as well, is an underrated athlete. So you’re going to see more of the top picks being big-time athletes as well like Kaepernick.

“But I think that as we saw five years ago with the wildcat stuff – it had its success and less and less people are doing it and now. It’s more of the zone-read stuff – reading the end or keeping it and pulling it with a quarterback who has some athleticism. At some point, on some level, they’re going to figure out how to consistently stop that, and then that will make its way up to the NFL. Or, enough for these (quarterbacks), who are going to be franchise guys if they’re not already, may take some unnecessary shots or decide that they’d rather stay in the pocket and throw it then rush the ball 15 times a game. And then you can kind of see it gradually go in the other direction, I think.”

Both coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who saw their defense shredded by Kaepernick to the tune of an NFL single-game quarterback record 181 yards – albeit not all on read-option plays – pointed to the cyclical nature of football as well.

“I can remember Jimmy Raye, long-time coach in the NFL and played in the league – I think he’s got to be in the league 50 years now – and he told me, ‘Just remember, this game is a big circle. Right now the Bear defense may be en vogue, then it will be the 3-4,’” McCarthy said. “He talked about the history and how certain people, I think maybe Lou Holtz tried to take the option into the (New York) Jets, so I think it isn’t very often that you come up with something new.

“There are some new wrinkles. I think the Pistol is definitely a new item that’s here to stay. Anytime someone has success with something, everyone else is going to look at it. But to me it’s still football. … Whether you’re running an option route in the passing game, whether you’re running the option in the run game, those are good schemes. And when you have someone that has that experience versus a group that does not have as much experience against it, you’re in a threat of what happened to us on Saturday night.

“It’s no excuse. I don’t feel good about the 579 yards. Make no mistake about it. But that’s the type of things that happens, I don’t want to say yearly, but I think a lot of people will be looking at, and you may see more of it.”

Capers said defensive coordinators league-wide will be looking for the antidote to the read-option after seeing its impact this year.

“I think the more people see it, you're going to see a defensive response,” Capers said. “We know this: Moving forward, we're going to see more of this, so we'll be prepared for it. Washington is running a lot of it and now with Kaepernick, you're going to see this. It's just an element that's come into our game from college football. Really, up until this time, you haven't really had to deal with it.”

Capers said the potential for injury to the quarterback might prevent the read-option from truly taking off, but he believes it will be a factor as a change-up that will keep defenses on edge, especially when rushing the quarterback.

“I think the general consensus has been that there’s concern about getting your quarterback hit. If you made a big investment in the quarterback and all of a sudden you’re exposing him to being hit,” Capers said. “Now, we didn’t get any great hits on Kaepernick, but I think with a guy like RGIII, you see that, over the season, the number of hits that you take, you’re always concerned about that.

“I think that it’s something that’s here to stay in terms of what we’re going to see with these young and athletic quarterbacks because of what it does to you defensively. A lot of that stuff you want to do rushing the passer, it calms you down a little bit because you’ve got to make sure you’re sound if, all of a sudden, the quarterback pulls the ball down and runs with it. I’ve always said that you’ve got to be careful how much you blitz and pressure because you get people at different levels of the defense – and that happened twice to us when we did blitz. He came out of there and ran for first downs on both of them.”

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