Is NFL's read-option craze here to stay?


Is NFL's read-option craze here to stay?

Maybe it’s here to stay. Maybe it will quickly fade into oblivion, like the Wing T, the Wishbone and the Wildcat.

Either way, there’s no question that as 32 NFL teams prepare for the draft, free agency and the 2013 season, the read option is factoring heavily into everybody’s decision-making.

“That will be the emphasis in everyone's defensive room in the offseason and do a big study,” said new Cards coach Bruce Arians, the former Temple coach and Colts interim head coach. “One of the things we did, I hired a defensive coordinator from college (new defensive backs coach Nick Rapone) who's dealt with it. He's got some good ideas on it.

“I think everyone is going to be going to the colleges, rather than the colleges coming to the pros, as far as information on how to handle it.”

Thanks to the success last year of Robert Griffin III of the Redskins, Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers, Russell Wilson of the Seahawks and -- to a lesser extent -- Cam Newton of the Panthers, the read option has become the single hottest topic in the NFL.

With Chip Kelly taking over as head coach of the Eagles, the sustainability of the read option -- an innovative system that asks the quarterback to read the a linebacker or end as he takes the snap and almost immediately decide whether to run, throw or handoff -- will certainly become a huge issue here in Philly.

“Is it sustainable? If you have one [quarterback] and that's what he does and the other guy doesn't do that, and your first guy gets hurt, now you've got to bring in the other guy and change your offense,” said Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, a former Andy Reid assistant with the Eagles. “That's where you get in trouble.

“If a team's going to commit to it, you're going to see teams have two or three quarterbacks that are the same. If your offense doesn't have any flexibility where it can go from a zone read back to a pro style back to a spread, you can get in trouble. So you've got to be very careful if it's a commitment you're going to make.

“We never really made that type of commitment. We have it as a mixer. We have it just enough that coordinators have to pay attention to what we do. I think off of it we can do so many different things.”

The symbolic arrival of the read option was the 49ers’ 45-31 playoff win over the Packers in the conference semifinals. Kaepernick, in only his eighth career start, threw for 263 yards and ran for 181, and the Niners piled up 579 total yards, fourth-highest in NFL postseason history.

So yeah, Packers coach Mike McCarthy is certainly making it a priority to prepare this offseason for the read option.

“Definitely, there’s a lot of conversation about the read option -- rightfully so,” McCarthy said last week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “Five hundred seventy nine, that’s a number that will stick in our focus as a defense throughout the offseason.”

McCarthy said he has some college coaches coming to the Packers’ facility this spring to work with his assistant coaches, and he’s also sending his defensive coaches to College Station, Texas, to study defending the read option under Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.

“Kevin Sumlin is someone I have great respect for, with his ability to share from both the offensive side and the defensive side his experience in the read option,” McCarthy said. “It’s something from an education, preparation standpoint that we will grow as a staff and be better prepared for in the future.”

The read option is so unique that even Tim Tebow flourished in it.

Tebow led the Broncos to the playoffs in 2011 and a postseason win over the Steelers, a game in which he threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 50 yards and another TD.

Playing in a conventional offense with the Jets, he was a non-entity.

“There’s a lot to be said about it,” said first-year Chargers head coach Mike McCoy, Tebow’s offensive coordinator in Denver. “It creates a lot of problems for the defense. It’s not something they see every day in practice. The teams that don’t have those type of players, it causes them some issues on Sundays.

“You’ve got to play disciplined football. As we did two years ago, if you get out of place, the guy reads it the wrong way, that’s when you saw Tim make some big runs. Or they overplay Tim, you saw Willis McGahee going for 20 yards inside.

“The way guys are playing it right now it’s going to cause some headaches for a time to come.”

But for how long?

Football, as Marty Mornhinweg used to remind us on a daily basis -- if not an hourly basis -- is cyclical.

Offenses find new ways of scoring points. Defenses adjust. It’s happened throughout history. The only real constants are tackling, blocking and hitting.

“It obviously has been successful,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. “Where it will go and how successful it will be, I can’t say.

“Systems come and go, and success of a system will dictate changes defensively. It may fade away, it may not, you can’t really trend where it will stick. All I know is it was successful this year.

“If we have to play a team that utilizes that system, we have to be prepared for it. But you don’t necessarily draft -- at least we won’t -- to play a particular scheme.”

As exciting as the read option can be, Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman points out that most successful teams still run a conventional offense.

Joe Flacco won the Super Bowl. There’s still a place for old-school quarterback play in the NFL.

“Ten of the 12 teams in the playoffs this year had true pocket passers,” Gettleman said. “I think the read option is an option, exactly what [it’s called]. But at the end of the day, your quarterback has got to make plays from the pocket, and if he can’t you’re going to struggle.”

Cards general manager Steve Keim was one of the few NFL executives who spoke at the Combine who was less than enthusiastic about the read option.

He emphasized that a quarterback still needs to have a quality NFL arm to win football games and said the hits that quarterbacks are likely to take running the pistol or read option make the scheme very dangerous.

We saw it with Robert Griffin III in Washington this year. He put up incredible numbers, but when the playoffs came around, he wasn’t healthy and didn’t last the game.

“At the end of the day you need to be able to spin the football and spin it accurately,” Keim said. “I think that one of the concerns that comes with that is durability. Those guys are going to take shots, and durability really equals availability.

“And if a player is not going to be available, that's an obvious concern.”

RG3 got hurt, and Kaepernick started only half the season, but Newton hasn’t missed a game in his two-year career, and the Seahawks’ Wilson managed to stay healthy all year as a rookie.

“Russell … would run out of bounds, he would slide, he would do things to keep him out of harm's way,” said Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley, who was the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator last year, when Wilson and the read option carried the Seahawks to the playoffs.

“That's the big thing with quarterbacks -- if they're going to keep the ball and run on the perimeter, they're really opening themselves up to some hits and injuries. Franchise quarterbacks are so difficult to find, you really need to protect them.”

And that will likely get harder and harder to do as defensive coaches start devising ways to stop it.

“Without a doubt now defenses are going to start preparing more for it through the offseason program, through training camp,” McCoy said. “Two years ago we were the first ones really to get into this on a game-by-game basis. Now a lot of teams are doing it. So there’s a lot more time in the offseason to prepare.

“‘What is our plan? How we going to stop this? What are we going to do?’ So really, the advantage changes a little bit to the defense having more time to prepare.”

It’s one more thing for defenses to worry about in an era when practice time has been curtailed, two-a-days have been eliminated and offseason workouts have been reduced.

“We’re doing as much as we can,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “It’d be foolish not to.”

Best of NFL: Matthew Stafford's late TD pass leads Lions past Redskins

Best of NFL: Matthew Stafford's late TD pass leads Lions past Redskins

DETROIT -- Matthew Stafford threw a go-ahead, 18-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin with 16 seconds left.

The Lions (4-3) extended their winning streak to three games. The Redskins (4-3) had won four straight.

Stafford, who set up game-winning kicks in the previous two games, led his team to another win in the 100th game of his career. He was 18 of 29 for 266 yards, one TD and no turnovers.

Kirk Cousins scored a go-ahead TD on a 19-yard run with 1:05 left (see full recap).

4 interceptions power Giants past Rams in London
LONDON -- The Giants capitalized on four interceptions of Case Keenum in the first NFL game played at London's home of English rugby, a sold-out and raucous Twickenham Stadium.

Keenum, coming off the best start of his career, had the Rams at the Giants' 15-yard line with 50 seconds left when he lobbed a pass in the left corner of the end zone that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie easily picked off. Keenum's intended target, Brian Quick, failed to get the quarterback's audible and cut off his route early.

Keenum, who finished 32 of 53 for 291 yards and one touchdown, has thrown an interception on the Rams' final offensive play of the last three games. That likely will fuel debate on a potential quarterback change to overall No. 1 draft pick Jared Goff.

Landon Collins returned his first of two picks 44 yards for a second-quarter touchdown, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie also had two interceptions (see full recap).

Seahawks, Cardinals play to ugly 6-6 tie
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Seattle's Stephen Hauschka and Arizona's Chandler Catanzaro missed short field goals that would have won it in overtime and the Seahawks and Cardinals tied 6-6 on Sunday night.

Hauschka's 27-yard field goal was wide left with seven seconds left after Catanzaro's 24-yarder bounced off the left upright.

The last tie in the NFL came in 2014, when Carolina and Cincinnati tied 37-37. The tie was the Cardinals' first since Dec. 7, 1986, a 10-10 draw at Philadelphia when the franchise was based in St. Louis. It was the first for the Seattle since entering the NFL in 1976.

The Cardinals (3-3-1) dominated the game statistically and looked to be in shape to win it after Carson Palmer's 40-yard pass to J.J. Nelson set up Catanzaro's short kick.

The Seahawks (4-1-1), stuffed throughout regulation by the Arizona defense, took over and Russell Wilson completed passes of 31 yards to Jermaine Kearse and 27 yards to Doug Baldwin to give Houschka his short attempt. Both kickers made field goals on their teams' first possession of overtime.

Catanzaro, who kicked field goals of 46 and 45 yards, also had a 39-yard field goal blocked by a stunning play by Bobby Wagner when he hurdled Arizona long snapper Aaron Brewer.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians argued loudly for a penalty and was charged with a timeout when he challenged a play that is not reviewable. That proved significant when the Cardinals couldn't stop the clock to get off a short field goal attempt as the first half ended (see full recap).

Fitzpatrick relieves Smith, propels Jets to comeback win over Ravens
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.  -- Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced an injured Geno Smith and led the Jets on three scoring drives, and a rejuvenated defense came up with two rare interceptions.

Fitzpatrick came in for Smith in the second quarter and led the Jets on a go-ahead drive capped by a 13-yard touchdown catch by Matt Forte. Fitzpatrick finished 9 of 14 for 120 yards and a touchdown as the Jets (2-5) snapped a four-game losing streak.

Smith injured his right knee while taking a sack from Baltimore's Matthew Judon. Fitzpatrick was efficient after losing his job earlier in the week.

Joe Flacco started for Baltimore (3-4), loser of four in a row, after being questionable with a sore shoulder. He went a team-record 176 consecutive throws without an interception before Buster Skrine picked off his pass in the third quarter (see full recap).

Ajayi rushes for 200 yards in second straight game as Dolphins top  Bills
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Jay Ajayi tied an NFL record by surpassing 200 yards rushing for the second game in a row. Ajayi rushed for 214 yards in 29 carries after totaling 204 yards a week earlier in a win over Pittsburgh. He scored on a 4-yard run, and busted a 53-yarder when the Dolphins were pinned at their 3 and trailing in the fourth quarter.

The Dolphins (3-4) used an extra lineman much of the time to clear big holes for Ajayi, who tied the NFL record for consecutive 200-yard games held by O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams.

Miami overcame an 11-point deficit with 16 minutes left to end a four-game winning streak by the Bills (4-3) and beat them for only the second time in their past seven meetings.

Buffalo RB LeSean McCoy, ranked second in the NFL in rushing, started, but totaled only 11 yards in eight carries before departing with a hamstring problem (see full recap).

Luck improves to 8-0 vs. Titans in Colts' 34-26 win
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Andrew Luck threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jack Doyle with 1:55 left to put Indianapolis ahead to stay, and the Colts rallied to beat the Titans for their 10th straight win against their AFC South rival.

The Colts (3-4) came in having lost two of three, including blowing a 14-point lead in an overtime loss last week at Houston. But Luck he improved to 8-0 against the Titans with yet another comeback win. He finished with 353 yards passing and three TDs, the last after Tennessee went up 23-20.

T.Y. Hilton caught seven passes for 133 yards, including a 37-yard TD. The Colts shook off 12 penalties for 131 yards in pulling out their 15th win in 16 games against Tennessee.

The Titans (3-4) saw their two-game winning string end.

Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri kicked a pair of field goals, and the second, a 33-yarder with 3:46 left in the third quarter gave him an NFL record 43 consecutive field goals made (see full recap).

Patriots prove to be too much for Roethlisberger-less Steelers
PITTSBURGH -- LeGarrette Blount ran for 127 yards and two scores while Tom Brady completed 19 of 26 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns.

Steelers quarterback Landry Jones played capably while filling in for Roethlisberger, who watched from the sideline after undergoing left knee surgery last week.

Making his third career start, Jones threw for 281 yards with a touchdown and an interception. But undermanned Pittsburgh (4-3) lost its second straight when its defense failed to keep Brady under wraps.

New England (6-1) remained perfect since Brady returned from his four-game "Deflategate" suspension, emphatically responding to a push by the Steelers with a pair of second-half touchdowns. Brady improved to 9-2 against the Steelers, throwing for 26 touchdowns and three interceptions (see full recap).

Chargers rally from 17 down to earn OT win over Falcons
ATLANTA -- Josh Lambo's 42-yard field goal in overtime gave San Diego its first road win of the year as the Chargers rallied from a 17-point deficit.

The Chargers (3-4) trailed 27-10 in the second quarter. They had lost 11 of their past 12 road games.

Linebacker Denzel Perryman delivered two key plays late in the game. Perryman's interception of Matt Ryan's pass for Julio Jones set up Lambo's tying 33-yard field goal with 18 seconds remaining in regulation.

Perryman's fourth-and-1 stop on running back Devonta Freeman gave San Diego the ball at Atlanta's 43 for the Chargers' winning drive. Perryman grabbed Freeman's feet behind the line for the key tackle on the Falcons' gamble (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Oilers blank Jets to win outdoor Heritage Classic

Best of NHL: Oilers blank Jets to win outdoor Heritage Classic

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Cam Talbot made 31 saves and Mark Letestu scored the first of three second-period goals, lifting the Edmonton Oilers over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday in an outdoor game delayed almost two hours by sunlight melting the ice.

The Heritage Classic victory extended Edmonton's winning streak to three in front of 33,240 at Investors Group Field. Fans wore both Jets and Oilers jerseys to the league's 19th outdoor game.

Zack Kassian had a goal and an assist and Darnell Nurse also scored for Edmonton.

Connor Hellebuyck, who had a tuque attached to his helmet, stopped 29 shots for Winnipeg.

The NHL said the start of the Heritage Classic game was delayed "due to intermittent sunlight on the playing surface" and "in the interest of player safety." (see full recap)

Girardi leads Rangers past Coyotes
NEW YORK -- Dan Girardi scored 1:55 into the third period and New York beat Arizona.

Josh Jooris and J.T. Miller also scored for New York, which has won consecutive games to improve to 4-2-0. Henrik Lundqvist made 27 stops.

Radim Vrbata had both of Arizona's goals, and Louis Domingue made 23 saves. The Coyotes have lost their first four games on a six-game trip since beating Philadelphia in overtime at home to start the season.

Girardi put the Rangers ahead with a slap shot from the right point. The veteran was paired with rookie Brady Skjei in his first game after missing New York's previous three with a strained groin, and Skjei assisted on the goal (see full recap).

Tavares' big night helps Isles defeat Wild
NEW YORK -- John Tavares had two goals and an assist, Johnny Boychuk scored for the second straight game and New York beat Minnesota.

Calvin de Haan, Alan Quine and Thomas Hickey also scored to help New York get its highest scoring total of the year and win for the third time in four home games after opening with two road losses. Thomas Greiss stopped 26 shots for his first win in two starts this season.

Islanders rookie Anthony Beauvillier had two assists, giving the 19-year-old at least a point in three straight games.

Zach Parise scored twice for Minnesota to top 300 goals for his career, and Nino Niederreiter also scored. Second-string goalie Darcy Kuemper made 27 saves (see full recap).

Ducks hand Canucks 1st regulation loss
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- Nick Ritchie scored the tiebreaking goal on a rebound with 8:36 to play, captain Ryan Getzlaf had three assists and Anaheim finally opened its home schedule with a victory over Vancouver.

Andrew Cogliano, Cam Fowler and Corey Perry also scored for the Ducks, who have won two straight after a four-game winless start. John Gibson made 17 saves in the Western Conference's final home opener, thanks to a schedule that forced Anaheim to play in five teams' home debuts this month.

Henrik Sedin scored the tying goal early in the third period for the Canucks, who lost in regulation for the first time this season. Bo Horvat scored a short-handed goal, and Loui Eriksson had two assists (see full recap).