Why the Panthers struggle with the Read Option

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

On Cat Scratch Radio last night [download recording and listen here] I tried to talk about the Panther read option game. But I feel like I did a poor job so I wanted to try to gather my thoughts and explain myself better. After really looking how different teams have run the read option this year this is what I have come to understand.....

Carolina tips their hand in their read option concepts as to run or pass prior to the quarterback exchange / play action with their offensive line. Simply put, 2nd level defenders can ignore the quarterback exchange or read option oriented concepts and focus on if the offensive line is firing out or if they are in a pass blocking posture.

First off let me kinda give context here. There are 2 types of option games I am referring too. And these aren't offical terms. Just from a lack of a better way to put it I am going to refer to them as "read option" and "zone read option"... these are terms I am using the best way I know how in order to explain what I am seeing.

The "Read Option" where you have a dive man and the quarterback reads the end and keeps or gives... QB outside RB inside dive.. With the pistol you can run triple option concepts as well which the Panthers and Redskins have used.

The "Zone read Option" which is purely spreading a team out unblocking the end and Quarterback reading and keeping it or giving it. This style has a lot less moving parts but is used by Carolina, Washington, San Fran and Seattle.

Let me talk about it from the stand point of what happens to the 2nd level defenders vs other teams......

Washington Redskins

The Redskins make a point to have play action concepts that look just like their run concepts. Even within their read option game. More specifically, their play action pass game has 2 pivot points. Amplified by their emphasis on creating confusion. And this is how they do it.....

1. A healthy Griffin forces more zone coverage. You don't want to be in a lot of man with a QB that can cover a lot of ground if they escape pass rush.... this is the first dynamic that the Skins share with Carolina.

2. Vs a zone defense motion doesn't really impact coverage responsibilities, however it can modify option responsibilities (who has the QB?... who has the pitch man?..... who has the dive?). Washington Redskins use shifts right before the snap to create a situation where 2nd level defenders are forced to >> communicate with each other any changes in their option responsibilities. Not that this is overly complicated or rocket science .... but that is the point the skins are trying to make. They are simply trying to keep the 2nd level's gears turning in their concerns with read option concepts.

3, Two pivot point play action concepts.... The 2nd level defenders vs the Skins on a play action pass have to go on this journey >> verify the QB hands off to dive man >> verify option responsibilities >> "oh crap it is a pass"...... On any play action pass the point is too get the Defensive 2nd level to take a dead step up or at least pause to verfiy it is a hand off... vs the Skins teams had to check the hand off AND option concepts prior to getting depth (key reason why Robert Griffin throws to guys with nobody on the screen with them).

4. Key difference that defines the Redskins read option and Carolina's. The Redskins offensive line fires out as if they are run blocking for the Dive man even on play action plays. (I find it very interesting watching this play action because the Redskins treat it like a real read option play. Meaning, they don't even block the end. He is completely unblocked as if they are going to isolate him for the read option. Only instead when the quarterback pulls it out of the runners belly the runner cuts the end OR the Full back cuts the end.... so basically guys like Demarcus Ware he simply gets ignored by the tackle and a TE / Fullback will cut him followed by the back...basically it is physically the same identical play only the quarterback didn't hand it off) There is NO key for a defense to pick up other than visually checking where the ball is. ..... With Carolina 2nd level defenders simply ignore the QB dive man exchange and watch the tackles. In Carolina's scheme the tackles on play action read option dive fakes drop back into typical pass block leverage. This really is the big glaring difference and defines why nobody buys the read option play action fakes. And if the 2nd level isn't buying into a play action concept from any run formation / look / personnel package / run action... they will sit on it and blow it up. IF THERE is a legit play action concern then defenders are left standing there because they can't risk trying to anticipate because they can't key.

Key point with this is the play action aspect of the Carolina "read option" game is easy to diagnosis and leads to defenders not buying into the pass and allowing them to crash it if it is run. The concept its self must be run with out giving away keys from the offensive line.... .this is why the Redskins make 2nd level defenders simply stand there....and teams vs Carolina simply blow up the LOS and why there aren't wide open receivers like Washington when it is a play action pass.

Simply route concept off of read option play action looks

One major Note on the Redskins passing game that I find to be very interesting from that play action read option look. They run only one route combination.... that is right. On every single one of those plays with no exception they run a post over a slant route combination. The point in this is that they are doing a "high low" route concept attacking the single high safety. The ONLY way to stop this play is you have to stop the run. If you can't stop the run and you are playing single high safety. Griffin would chose the man the safety left one on one..either or... you can't win. What this did is result in teams trying to sit the safety on the slant.... which lead to Robert Griffin leading the NFL in big plays of 45 yards or more headed into week 15, because now the Post is open (remember Aldrick Robinson on Thanks giving day getting deep on Dallas?) Well basically the safety has to decided on giving up that or allowing Griffin to hit the Slant which basically teams ended up conceding.

The Cowboys and Steelers on film are the ONLY teams that figured out the defensive scheme needed to stop that play. (both 34 teams that simply dropped one of their inside linebackers into a zone to sit on the slant and safety sat on the post......only the Steelers stopped the run) Yet the Cowboys could not stop it personnel wise because Morris ran for 200 yards in one game and 122 in of course you have to add a safety. This means single high safety.... this mean a rookie QB with a 102 QB rating and all he had to do is look at the safety and pick the guy he doesn't help on. This isn't a knock on Griffin, this is infact OUTSTANDING offensive coordinating. And there is really no excuse for not copy pasting this play into a Panther playbook.

Again this plays into scheme infrastructure that allows the Read option off of it to work so well... in a simply scheme. And honestly there is no excuse for the Panthers not to copy cat this play design because it simply is unstoppable and simple....oh and don't worry about getting Blitz. (There is a reason Griffin was the number one rated passer vs the blitz in the NFL)..... this scheme and route combination in its totality is a must copy cat for the Panthers. Easy low risk play action reads with a run scheme that is a mirror image of what the passing plays.

Those that call this a college offense need to really study this scheme because the ONLY answer to it is stopping the run. (defines why the Panthers mopped up the Redskins in their meeting because they didn't allow the run which would have caused all of those other issues above)

Seattle Seahawks, 49ers

These teams doesn't really run the read option... they run the outside zone read. In English, they simply use this when they spread teams out in the shotgun and unblock the end and QB decided keep or give it. Carolina runs this and it has worked really well with Newton ripping off big runs. This aspect of the Panther "option game" works really well.

Going forward

Though I do tend to believe the Panthers would be better off with a more conventional play action style off of a power running game. I think that the read option can be a very good tool IF they simply copy what the Redskins did and remove the heavy run / pass keys from their schemes. It is a good scheme, maybe not at high volumes but it should still be apart of the Panthers identity.

I do think that many fans where displeased with the use of those schemes early in the season. But some of that was just bad design / high volume of use / tactically disadvantageous use vs down and distance (game situation)

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