Stopping quarterback Colin Kaepernick (No. 7) and the 49ers offense remains a challenge for opposing defenders. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has called the read-option offense the “flavor of the month” in the NFL, and Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano has said defenses will figure out a way to stop it once they have more time for study.
Yet teams such as the 49ers, Redskins, Eagles and Panthers are incorporating the scheme into their offenses going into 2013 and defenses – many of them shredded by the running abilities of Colin Kaeprnick, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton in 2012 – are putting a lot of effort into coming up with new ideas this offseason.
Of course “new ideas” isn’t exactly true. NFL teams are seeking advice from college coaches who have long been faced with stopping the read-option offense.
Alabama head coach Lou Saban said recently that NFL teams have been seeking his advice.
“Several NFL coaches have come to visit this year to say, ‘How do you stop these guys?’ Because they’re not accustomed to seeing that (offense),” he said on ESPN.
But Saban believes it’s not going to be as easy as Tomlin and Pagano suggest. If a team employs a mobile quarterback with a read-option attack, stopping it may be nearly impossible.
“That’s a pass-rush oriented league,” he told ESPN. “People getting up the field to pass rush is what it’s all about because of the type of quarterbacks – the Tom Bradys of the world, Drew Brees, that’s what you’ve got to stop. You’ve got to put pressure on the quarterbacks. Well, that’s just what you don’t want to do (against a read-option QB). You have to play on the line of scrimmage just like the old option football.”
The Niners’ offense in particular will be difficult to stop, he said.
With offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s creativity with formations, unbalanced lines, extra blockers and new wrinkles, defenses often see things they’re not familiar with.
“I think the teams that do a really good job like the 49ers, they do it from multiple formation looks, so they make more defensive players have to understand how to do it, and I think that’s the biggest challenge,” he said.
Also, too, not all college coaches want to lend their advice.
Jim Mastro, a former coach at Nevada who helped Kaerpernick learn the Pistol and read-option when he was there, says he’s been approached by NFL coaches for advice on how to stop the attack, but has declined.
Mastro, now an assistant at Washington State, told CBS Sports: “As long as Colin is in the NFL, I’m not going to do that. He is like a son to me. There are plenty of people they can get ahold of that can help them.”
Plus, the 49ers aren’t just a read-option team. For much of any game, the Niners can employ a standard pro-set approach, handing off to Frank Gore or putting Kaepernick in the pocket as a passer.
So, if a team elects to do what Saban suggests – hug the line of scrimmage – a team like the 49ers can go a different direction.
Niners offensive tackle Joe Staley, speaking to the media recently, says he believes the Pistol and read-option is here to stay because “it’s not our entire offense.”
“It’s a wrinkle,” he said. “It’s something we do within our offense.”
Added Staley: “We’re blessed to have a very creative offensive coordinator in Greg Roman who takes full advantage of the players we have and the skill sets we have.”