Jack Dempsey, AP
Remember a year ago when the read-option was the best thing to hit the NFL since instant replay and Monday Night Football?
Remember when Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Michael Vick and Robert Griffin III were running wild with the read-option, prompting NFL observers to say it was going to revolutionize football and take over the pro game just as it has the college game?
Remember when the read-option was going to usher in a whole new generation of athletic, running quarterbacks a la Kaepernick, and pocket passers were going to become dinosaurs?
The read-option has been quiet this year. Option-read this: It’s been stuffed like a turkey. It has had little impact on the 2013 season.
The traditional pocket passers — Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, Nick Foles — have thrived. The read-option QBs well, let’s take roll.
Michael Vick — Injured and out of a job. He was replaced by a more traditional quarterback, Foles, who has thrown 19 touchdown passes and no interceptions since taking over as the starter — one short of an NFL record. He has easily the top passer rating in the NFL and the highest rating for one month in history. On Monday, Eagles coach Chip Kelly announced, “He’s the starting quarterback for the next 1,000 years here.” Vick would be 1,033 years old by then — and he still won’t know how to read a defense.
Robert Griffin III — By any measure, the follow-up to his great rookie season has been disappointing. The Redskins, division champs a year ago, are 3-9. Griffin, recovering from a severe knee injury he sustained in last year’s playoffs, ranks 12th in passing yards and 22nd in passer rating. With four games to go, he has about half as many rushing yards as he did last season (460).
Cam Newton — He is running less than ever and his rushing totals are down, but this is attributed not so much to the ineffectiveness of the read-option as it is to his maturation as a quarterback. He is looking to throw first. In other words, he has become more of a traditional pocket passer. He is still not a great passer, though. He ranks only 18th in passing yards, 16th in passer rating.
Colin Kaepernick — Just one question: Who is wearing No. 7 for the 49ers and what did he do with Kaepernick? He is the biggest disappointment in the league, along with Griffin. Similarly, he has followed up his great breakout season of a year ago with a poor encore act, although he has fared better the last two weeks against weak opponents. His effectiveness on the ground and in the air has been down. He is 20th in passing yards and sports a pedestrian passer rating of 88.8. Kaepernick has thrown for less than 200 yards in eight games, which is almost unheard of in today’s NFL. Result: The 49ers have underperformed.
Russell Wilson — He is thriving in his sophomore season as Seattle’s quarterback, but not because of the read-option. He is completing 65 percent of his passes, totaling 22 touchdowns and 2,672 yards against just six interceptions. He sports a heady 108.5 passer rating, third-best in the league, and Seattle boasts the best record in the league (11-1). He is an effective runner when the play breaks down, but averages less than seven rushing attempts per game. Bottom line: He has developed into a very effective, traditional pass-first quarterback, with great mobility, speed and athleticism.
The other read-option quarterbacks? Tim Tebow is out of the league. Vince Young is out of the league. Terrelle Pryor is out of a job. There was some talk of Geno Smith running the read-option, but that’s not really his game and, besides, he is languishing with the Jets.
What happened to the read-option? Teams spent the offseason learning how to stop it. They stop it by hitting the quarterback — declared legal by the NFL at the start of the season when the quarterback is in an option mode — and by “slow-playing” the exchange — the outside linebacker or defensive end is more patient and waits to read the exchange before committing to the running back or quarterback.
The knock on the read-option from the start was that it exposed the quarterback to injury, and most aren’t willing to take that risk, given the money they are paid and their importance to teams (please, see the Green Bay Packers). Exhibits A and B: the injuries to Griffin and Vick. Some believe Griffin hasn’t recovered from his knee injury. That includes at least one opposing player, the 49ers’ Ahmad Brooks, who says Griffin should not be playing — “everybody can see it.” That’s the risk of the read-option.
So where does the read-option stand now? "It's a great college offense," Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said recently.
"The thing about last year: A lot of people weren't ready for it at all," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan told NFL.com. "It was easy at times. Now, it doesn't mean that it doesn't work. You just aren't shocking people like you were last year."
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: email@example.com
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