The triple option has been a staple of the Carolina Panthers offensive playbook ever since Cam Newton’s rookie year in 2011. Interestingly, the Panthers chose not to call any option runs the first two weeks of the 2017 season, instead opting to go with the traditional run game from under center and shotgun. However, just when we thought the option was gone for good, the Panthers brought it back for their Week 3 matchup against the New Orleans Saints. By using the triple option to complement their traditional run game, the Panthers were able to effectively move the ball on the ground against the Saints defense.
The triple option is an extension of the zone read. In the zone read, offenses use a modified zone blocking scheme up front by leaving one player (usually the weak-side edge defender) unblocked on purpose. The quarterback’s job is to read this unblocked player’s actions and either hand the ball off (if the defender plays contain on the edge) or keep the ball and run (if the edge defender crashes inside). The triple option is an extension of the regular zone read because it also incorporates a pitch to a second running back (or wide receiver), called a “pitchman” who will also be lined up in the backfield.
The Panthers ran the triple option off the inside zone blocking scheme three times on Sunday. On the first drive of the game, Jonathan Stewart gains 17 yards on the pitch from Cam Newton:
The edge linebacker is being read here.
Although he doesn’t really crash or play contain, Cam still pulls the ball out because he sees there is no defender assigned to Jonathan Stewart, the pitchman.
Stewart has a massive run lane and is able to pick up 17 yards.
The second time they run the triple option, it’s a 3rd and 1 situation. Christian McCaffrey is once again the “dive” back, and he is able to pick up two yards and a first down:
On this play, the Panthers choose to leave the strong safety unblocked.
The safety stays home, and Newton also sees there is a defender over the top who can take Stewart on the pitch if necessary, so he makes the correct decision to hand it off.
The Panthers have five linemen to block the five remaining defenders, and McCaffrey is able to gain 2 yards and a first down.
The Panthers next run the triple option in the red zone:
On this play, the defensive end is being read.
The end chooses to crash inside, and the linebacker plays the pitch, so Newton keeps the ball.
Newton is able to power his way into the end zone for a touchdown.
The zone read is officially back. It may no longer be the foundation of the Panthers run game like it was in the past, but as a change of pace option, it can be a great way to punish undisciplined defenses. Expect the Panthers to continue to use more option elements on offense as the season progresses.
All GIFs and images courtesy of NFL.com