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Quick Inside Slant: The Post Season 2

Impressions of the 2012 NFL Season as perceived by a Creative Writing graduate student, part-time amateur stand-up comedian and collegiate intramural flag football legend.

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By: Dustin Fisher

Schemes are only gimmicks if it turns out they don't really work but if Colin Kaepernick keeps winning then the Read-Option is here to stay.

Schemes are only gimmicks if it turns out they don’t really work but if Colin Kaepernick keeps winning then the Read-Option is here to stay.

Apparently when Seattle plays on the east coast, their offense doesn’t arrive until halftime.

Wow. This was probably the best weekend of football in the last 20 years. Unless you’re a fan of Denver. Or defense. Three of the four teams that were in the final four were there last year. And none of them managed to get it done. Luckily for them all, I’ve managed to identify the keys to victory from all four teams going into the playoffs this weekend.

New England: You won this exact same game last year. So just do exactly what you did then. Play a tough game, get a lucky defensive play at the end and screw with the downs on the scoreboard to throw off the Ravens’ idiot kicker. Only this year, that idiot kicker is still an idiot, but no longer a kicker. And Lee Evans dropped the ball on his NFL career too. But you’re the Patriots. That fairy dust just seems to find its way to your sideline in games like this – unless you’re playing the Giants.

Baltimore: You almost won this game last year. Play exactly like you did then. Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff won’t have the chance to screw it up for you and when the Patriots seem about to pull out their magic fairy dust, put on Giants’ helmets.

Atlanta: This one is easy. Take a page out of the Giants’ book from last year and kick the ball to Kyle Williams.

San Fran: Show the world that the Read Option is here to stay. Let Copernicus put up another 181 rushing yards on a team that already sucks against the run and in crunch time, put Alex Smith back to fair catch punts and kickoffs. Make him feel like he’s done something.

The Latest Gimmick?

The West Coast offense was considered a gimmick when Bill Walsh started using it back in the 80s. As was the Run and Shoot offense that planted seeds for teams like the Packers and Saints of today. Buddy Ryan called it the “Chuck and Duck.” But sometimes you never know what new thing is going to be the thing of the future. Except the Wildcat. I think we all knew that was nonsense.

I have to give the Redskins credit for coming out with this on Week One against the Saints. When they traded all those picks to get RG3, they also took his playbook. And the success the Redskins had with it sent offensive coordinators running to the lab to figure out how they too could harness this new thing. Soon, everybody knew what the “pistol” formation was and teams with mobile quarterbacks like Seattle and Carolina were giving it a run (pun intended). Jim Harbaugh liked it so much, he dumped his old quarterback after a near perfect game and got this new guy to run it. Then the Eagles went out and hired Chip Kelly, who runs a similar system in Oregon for their high-speed offense. So is this just a gimmick or the future of the NFL?

One of the biggest differences between the Read Option and the Pitch Option (or whatever you call it) is that the quarterback is the second option as a ball carrier. In the Pitch Option, the quarterback has the ball and waits until the unblocked defender commits, and then pitches it. But as RG3 found out in the Bengals game, this means very big men are allowed to hit you as hard as they want to. And they do this while you’re unprotected because you’re trying to get rid of the ball rather than brace yourself for a hit. The Bengals’ defensive line decided to allow the pitch man to gain his seven yards and instead sent their unblocked defensive end to clobber RG3, ball or not. RG3 stayed took a couple extra seconds on the grass to reflect after that particular play. That was the last game they ran the Pitch Option.

In the Read Option, the quarterback rides the handoff as long as he can before deciding to give it to the running back or run with it. If the unblocked defender goes after the quarterback in the same manner that the Bengals did on that one play, RG3 hands the ball to the running back and backs out of the way with his hands up in the air in this “Please don’t shoot” pose. Hitting him at this point will likely draw a flag. But you can use this time to take his wallet.

Because of this, the quarterback takes many, many fewer hits. But as Haloti Ngata pointed out, it doesn’t completely protect you from injury. Of course, as the Eagles’ offensive line pointed out, your quarterback is sometimes in more danger while in the pocket. But this Read Option, which forces the unblocked defensive end to choose between defending the running back or the quarterback had huge success wherever it was run this year. It also gives the linebackers more responsibility in the run and lengthens the time it takes to diagnose the play, which opens up the intermediate middle of the field behind them for the play-action pass.

Will defenses be able to catch up with it just like they did with the Wildcat? Or will they grunt in the face of this “gimmick” while it runs all over them, like Rob Ryan? It’s no coincidence the Cowboys probably looked the most lost around it, given their defensive coordinator has that “Chuck and Duck” mentality in his blood.

Here’s what is going to happen. Some offenses are going to try to force this offense into their scheme with quarterbacks that have no business running it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see people like Blaine Gabbert and Brady Quinn running this kind of offense next year. And yet, Tim Tebow is still being laughed at as a potential starting quarterback. But not everybody can run this thing. If you could just take Michael Vick’s legs and put them on Drew Brees or give Peyton Manning’s field vision, arm strength and accuracy to LeSean McCoy, people would have done it already. But H. G. Wells was wrong. And given the choice, history has made itself clear; which is why there will always be a place for the Brady’s and Manning’s in the NFL today, regardless of the sexy new thing.

Also, defenses that need to (NFC East and NFC West defenses specifically) will get much better at defending it. But as for whether or not it’s a gimmick, I doubted. This may become the wave of the future. Not all teams will run it successfully (and certainly not all the time), but those with the right guys in place will have a large amount of success with it. And the “old school” defensive coordinators who laugh at it and wait for it to go away will be the new gimmick.

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Dustin Fisher is an amateur standup comedian, storyteller, freelance writer, and stay-at-home dad, all of which are just better ways of saying “unemployed.” He worked in the area of collegiate recreation for the previous 14 years at UMBC, Miami University and the University of Baltimore. There, he became somewhat of a folk legend on the flag football field and actually got paid to play fantasy football. Dustin is currently in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore seeking a Masters degree in Creative Writing. He has made contributions to various publications including The Good Men Project and the Baltimore Fishbowl. For more about Dustin, check out his stay-at-home dad website, Daddy Needs a Nap. Dustin lives with his wife and daughter in New Carrollton, MD in a house surrounded by too many trees to get the Dish Network.

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