A Follow-up on the Panthers' Read Option

Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

On Tuesday, I posted a study overwhelmingly in favor of the Carolina Panthers' Read Option that was met with some fair skepticism.

There were three main concerns that I found in the comment section that I wanted to look address: Some didn't trust the yard-per-carry averages and felt the many long runs produced by the Read Option inflated those numbers. Others labeled the Read Option a "boom-or-bust" play, and the number of bust plays killed drives. And, lastly, some posited that the Read Option was only effective against poor rush defenses.

In order to figure out if those criticisms were legitimate, I looked at ever traditional running play the Panthers ran in 2012, which excludes every Read Option, every Cam Newton run, every Wildcat run and all end-arounds by wide receivers. This would tell us if the negative aspects of the Read Option were exclusive to these runs.

Before getting into the concerns listed above, let's just take a look at a comparison of the team and individual runners' performance on both Read Option and traditional running plays:


If you read my previous post, you're not surprised how much better the Panthers' ran the ball out of the Read Option. But it is shocking just how bad the team was on traditional run plays. Imagine if the team had to navigate that offensive line carousel last season without Newton carrying the running game on his back.

Some blamed the struggles with the traditional running game on the injured and just flat out bad offensive line blocking for it, but the Read Option was run behind that same injured/bad line and it flourished. The Read Option makes the offensive line's job easier; it will make a bad line look good and good line look even better.

Now let's get to the concerns listed above.

The long runs inflated the Read Option's yards-per-carry average.

There's no arguing against this theory. As someone pointed out in the comments of the original post: If you take away the 16 carries that went for a combined 437 yards, the Panthers' yards-per-carry average drops to 3.7.

But that argument assumes that the same can't be said for any rushing attack -- traditional or otherwise.

When you take those 15+ yard runs away from the Panthers' traditional running game (all three of them!), the yards-per-carry average drops to 2.8.

But, hey, the Panthers offensive line was bad, so you can't really trust those numbers.

How about the best running back in the NFL, Adrian Peterson. Of the 2,097 yards he ran for in 2012, 1,428 came on only 61 carries, according to Take those big runs away, and Peterson ran for 669 yards on 287 carries, good for a robust 2.3 yards per carry average.

What about the Washington Redskins, who led the NFL with 2709 rushing yards on 519 carries?

1,444 of those yards came on only 88 rushes. Take those away, and the Redskins' yards-per-carry drops to 2.9.

And you'll find that every team and every great runner is susceptible to this same test, so it's not a valid argument against the Panthers' Read Option, which actually stands up better than the best running back and best running team in the NFL when you take those big plays out of the equation.

The chance of the Read Option going bust is too high and those plays kill drives.

A couple posters argued the Read Option gets stuffed far too often to sustain drives, and, although it goes for a lot of big runs, it doesn't get 4- and 5-yard runs consistently. Because of this, the Read Option can't be counted on as the team's base running scheme.

But, once again, that assumes the same isn't true for the Panthers' traditional running game.

In fact, the Panthers' traditional running game was more likely to get stuffed or go for three or less yards. And the Read option was more likely to get those medium gains (4 to 9 yards) than regular running plays, not to mention its considerable advantage when it comes to big plays.


So those drive killing runs occurred on nearly 60 percent of the Panthers' traditional runs compared to just over 40 percent on Read Option runs.

The Read Option only worked against bad rush defenses and was shut down by good ones.

There's no denying that the Panthers' featured the Read Option more against bad rush defenses, but it was not shut down by any defense very often.

Here's a comparison of the Read Option (LEFT) and traditional running game (RIGHT) broken down by week:


Only Seattle, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay (twice) held the Read Option for less than 4.5 yards-a-carry, and only the Buccaneers finished in the top-15 in rush defense out of those three teams. So it wasn't really the good rush defenses shutting it down.

The traditional running game, on the other hand, gave the Panthers more than a 4.5 yard-per-carry average only twice, and those came against the 25th and 32nd ranked rush defenses.

And the traditional run game performed better on a per-play basis only once all season. So when these two systems faced the same defenses week in and week out, the Read Option outperformed the traditional running game 14 times and tied it once. So when the Read Option was getting shut down, so was the rest of the Panthers' running game.

So there you have it. The Read Option stands up to every test you throw at it and out-performs the Panthers' traditional running game in every aspect. The one concern I can't dispute with stats is that the Read Option might take a couple years off of Cam Newton's career... but it should add a lot more wins to it, as well.

Click here for the traditional run play log.

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