Is the read option the best way to protect RG3?

Is the read option the best way to protect RG3?
June 13, 2013, 12:15 pm
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After early playoff exit, Redskins out for revenge

The read option is here to stay.

That is what Kyle Shanahan took a thousand words or so to say in his only offseason media availability on Wednesday.

I went over the key portions of what he had to say here yesterday (and you can read the transcript of his press conference here). There is no one money quote where Shanahan says, “the read option is not going anywhere”. But over the course of the presser that is the message that came across loud and clear.

The subject of potential changes to the highly successful scheme (first in the NFL in rushing, first in yards per play) is in reaction to the perception that it subjects Robert Griffin III to too much punishment. His running and handling the ball near the line of scrimmage makes him a target for the big-body types who roam there.

But is the injury risk a reality or is it just perception? Shanahan thinks it’s more of the former.

“I think some of the zone read stuff is the least he got hit,” he said. “It’s the scrambles and stuff like that where, when guys aren’t blocked and stuff, there’s seven guys in coverage who are coming at him from all directions going airborne to hit somebody. Those are the times when I really get worried.”

When you think about it, and think back through the season, this makes sense. A quarterback on a designed run generally knows where trouble is coming from and he can react and protect himself. He knows where the defenders are coming from.

Shanahan doesn’t think of Griffin’s rushing attempts from the zone read as planned runs. By design, he says, the quarterback does not run the ball unless there is no defender there to tackle him.  

“Those aren’t really designed quarterback runs,” he said. “They’re designed to give the ball to Alf [Alfred Morris] and when the whole defense is not accounting for the quarterback and taking everyone else, that’s when he goes the other way. So, I kind of enjoy the zone read because really, your quarterback’s not taking it unless there’s no one to hit him.”

And when he runs he usually can see where tacklers are coming from and take measure to elude them, slide, or get out of bounds. That is not always the case in the pocket, where rushers from the blindside can pop a quarterback, and scrambling downfield, where what is drawn up on the board and shows up on film breaks down and those big-body defenders like Haloti Ngata appear out of nowhere.

Shanahan said that the threat of the quarterback running that is such an integral part of the read option is another factor that makes the quarterback safer. It forces the defense to play it safe.

“I go crazy thinking about blitzes every week, how we’re going to pick all this stuff up,” he said. “About halfway through the year I’m starting to realize that we’re not getting any of these blitzes that I used to see. It takes a lot of stuff you used to worry about, you don’t get.”

“The threat of a quarterback running makes defense play sound and makes them play 11-on-11, as opposed to 11-on-10 like they’ve been doing my whole career that I’ve seen.”

Stopping or slowing down blitzes is vital. According to Pro Football Focus, last year Griffin was under pressure in 34 percent of his pass plays. That is more frequently than all but six other QB’s. Just imagine what kind of pressure would be coming at him if the team’s scheme did not discourage a defense from sending extra pass rushers.

Is there a risk that Griffin will get injured running the read option? Certainly. But there is a risk in him being in the pocket, too. Football is a dangerous game and everyone on the field on the field can be seriously injured on any play. All a coaching staff can do with a prized quarterback like RG3 is try their best to minimize the damage the inevitable contact will do.

Apparently the read option is the Redskins’ plan to keep RG3 in one piece and they’re sticking to it. Time will tell how well it works out.