Option football has evolved so much in the last decade that it has become hard to keep up as defensive coaches. Offensive coordinators are constantly finding new ways to neutralize our best football players by reading them, instead of blocking them.
Starting with the Triple Option, and moving right up into the Zone Read Option of today, the whole concept was to read the guys you couldn’t block. Not many offensive linemen in college football have hopes of blocking Jadeveon Clowney, but well-coached option quarterbacks can use his speed and athleticism against him by reading him.
As defensive coordinators, we have found ways to deal with teams reading the defensive end. Take the Power Read Play as an example. This could be a Two-Back Power, with the same concepts, but we will work against a One-Back Power running play.
Our concepts here are run out of a 4-2-5 Defense, but could be applied to almost any defensive scheme.
Defending the Power Read
In the One-Back Power, the back side Guard on the play will pull and work up through the first daylight he sees to the play side, attacking the play side Linebacker.
Otherwise, the play works just like the Zone Read Option. The back side Defensive End works up to the back side Linebacker, leaving the Defensive End to be read. If he comes down the line to chase the back, the Quarterback pulls the ball and replaces. If he squats, the Quarterback gives the ball to the back. The Defensive End has been completely neutralized.
Why run the Power Read instead of the Zone Read? By pulling the back side Guard, the Offense gets an extra blocker to the point of attack for the running back. Essentially, this creates an extra gap. The back side Linebacker now must scrape over top to keep the defensive numbers advantage.
On the defensive side of the ball, we can affect the play by using an X-Blitz by our weak side Defensive End and Will Linebacker.
The defense will set the strength call to the side of the back, to force the offense to run the play at our strong side. We’ll play games with the Quarterback using the X-Blitz. The Defensive End will slam hard inside on the snap. He’s attacking the near hip of the Guard. When he sees that Guard pull away from him, he chases. That gets our extra player to the pull side, keeping numbers.
The Linebacker will scrape over to the outside, replacing the End. The hard slant by the Defensive End should let the Will get over top freely, and be waiting for the Quarterback. The crash by the End gives a pull read to the Quarterback, but he runs into the Linebacker waiting for him.
Power Reading the Linebacker
Now the chess match really gets going. When the Offense finds they’re having trouble running the Power Read on the Defensive End, they can move the read. Many coaches will adjust the read based on who is giving them the most problem at that point in the game. With a simple tag, they can move their confusing Read Option games to a different defender, thus slowing him down.
If the Offense goes to read the weak side Linebacker, they will turn the back side Tackle out on the Defensive End and seal him. Another method is to pass set, and then turn him out when he rushes up the field (similar to a Draw play). Everyone else runs the play as they did before.
The Quarterback reads the Will Linebacker to see if he scrapes over to give the defense the numbers they need to the Power side of the play. Many Linebackers are trained to scrape over top when they see a Guard pull, while others are taught to run through and replace where the puller left.
Either way, the Quarterback will be right on this play. If the Linebacker scrapes, he pulls and runs through the vacated space. If the Linebacker fills the gap, the Quarterback gives to the back, who is running behind more blockers than the defense can handle to the play side.
One way we can combat this defensively, is to use a defensive line stunt. We will run a TEX Stunt, telling the Tackle and End to cross. The Tackle will go first, slamming hard across the face of the Guard into the B Gap. The End will cross over behind the Tackle and key his eyes to the Guard. If he sees the Guard pulling, he will continue to scrap across the face of the center blocking back on him.
The Will Linebacker is the read backer, so he is able to sit back and diagnose the play. The defense has a numbers advantage on the Power side, and a free backer to check both cutback and Quarterback.
Moving the Read to the Safety
Another way that defenses have found to combat the Power Read is to let the back side Safety become more aggressive in the running game. This is particularly true in 2-Back Power running games, but also a potential threat in the 1-Back Power.
Teams like TCU have begun using calls to get the Weak Safety heavily involved in the back side running game, while shifting the Linebackers to gain an even stronger numbers advantage to the play side.
For the Offense, the Weak Safety can become the problem in the Option game. And what do you do with someone you can’t block? You read him.
The Tackle turns out on the Defensive End, just as he did for the Power Read on the Linebacker. The slot receiver comes inside to crack down on the Will Linebacker, who’s probably scraping over for the Power. The crucial part of the play is the initial release of the slot. He pushes hard up field, simulating a pass release and trying to get the Weak Safety to bail, before turning his path inside and hunting down the Linebacker.
The Quarterback keys the Weak Safety for a Give/Pull Read. If he bails for pass, the Quarterback pulls the ball. If he doesn’t bite and comes up hard on the run, the Quarterback gives the football. The Offense may also add a pass option off of the play (as with any of these variations).