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Coaches on read option: 'Flavor of the month,' 'no magic'

Mar 19, 2013 -- 6:24pm
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Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore and the 49ers ran through the Packers defense in January.

PHOENIX – Thanks in part to the Green Bay Packers’ epic struggles with Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers’ read-option, a lot of NFL coaches will be devoting part of their offseason studying the scheme.

But based on the opinions of a handful of head coaches at Tuesday morning’s AFC coaches breakfast at the annual NFL Meetings at the Arizona Biltmore hotel, the read-option is not going to revolutionize the game.

“I think the read option is the flavor of the month. We will see whether it’s the flavor of the year,” Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “A few years ago, people were talking wildly about the Wildcat. There’s less of a discussion now. I think that there are coaches in rooms preparing themselves to defend it, coaches in rooms that are also preparing themselves to run it, and I think it is going to sort out on the grass. I look forward to it.

“I always take a skeptical approach. We will see. We will see if guys are committed to getting their guys hit, because when you run the read option, obviously they are runners, and there is something associated with that.”

Added Colts coach Chuck Pagano: “It’s like when the Wildcat first came out and Miami sprung that on some people. It kind of caught some guys off-guard. But everybody, like us, is going to do their due diligence in the offseason. The first thing you talked about, ‘OK, let’s gather every bit of information we can gather from every resource possible, put all the plays on a tape, start studying it and figure out how to defend it.’ We feel very confident from a defensive perspective that we can come up with some scheme and we can get those schemes taught.”

The Packers yielded an NFL quarterback record 181 rushing yards to Kaepernick in their 45-31 NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the 49ers in January, although not all those yards came on read-option plays. To combat it, Packers coach Mike McCarthy made arrangements for his defensive staff to visit Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin for insight. They’ll also devote more time to it in the offseason, something they failed to do before facing the 49ers.

And there’s good reason for that: Among the Packers’ 2013 opponents, which were set when the season ended, are the Philadelphia Eagles, who’ll run a version of the read-option with new coach Chip Kelly, who ran it at the University of Oregon; the Washington Redskins, who use it with their ultra-dynamic quarterback Robert Griffin III; and the 49ers, in a rematch that will be played in San Francisco in what almost certainly will be a prime-time affair.

Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said Tuesday that he intends to use the scheme periodically with his quarterback, second-year man Ryan Tannehill, but he also said that the read-option isn’t the end-all, be-all as a scheme.

When the ex-Packers offensive coordinator’s team faced Kaepernick and the 49ers on Dec. 9, Kaepernick ran the ball six times for 53 yards – five times for a combined 3 yards, and a 50-yard touchdown with 2 minutes 10 seconds left in the game that sealed San Francisco’s 27-13 victory. The Dolphins sacked Kaepernick four times in that game and kept running backs Frank Gore (12 carries, 63 yards) and LaMichael James (eight carries, 30 yards) in check.

“I think it’s no different than any other play in football – to stop it, it takes good discipline, fundamentals, tackling. There’s no magic to it,” Philbin said. “On paper, it’s a good play. But a lot of plays are good on paper from an offensive standpoint.

“We lost force on Kaepernick on one big run. Most of the time, we shut that play down big-time. Just like Kaepernick’s scrambling ability, he didn’t scramble against us because we had great discipline in the pass rush, we were compressing the pocket. He had nowhere to go. We sacked him what, four times? And we stuffed the run game really well – except we lost force on the contain on the ball and the guy went 50 yards and iced the game on us.

“I think it’s good football; we have it in our offense. But people think that’s a magical play. There’s no magic to it. You have to execute the play from an offensive perspective, and certainly if you play good sound defense and you’ve got a force player and an inside-out player and good pursuit and you don’t have guys on the ground, you can stop it.”

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