Saturday, July 10, 2010

Zone Read

So this post is to answer a question from Kevin (hello sir) regarding the most recent post on where Brophy talks about the 'Zone Read' play which is quite common in college football, and speculates that it might make the leap to the NFL. First off I should point out that me and Brophy recently had what can politely be described as a 'disagreement' on I hope this post will remain objective and detached from that incident. Now for those not aware, the Zone read is something of an option play. Run from the shotgun, it consists of a basic run play going one way but with the backside Defensive End (Outside Linebacker in a 3-4) left unblocked. The QB reads this player as he meshes (the process of the hand off) with the RB and makes a decision what to do with the ball based on the actions of the unblocked defender (his 'read key'). If the defender chases down the Line of scrimmage then the QB fakes the hand off and keeps the ball himself, running around the exposed end. If the defender stops and appears to be waiting for the play to develop, then the QB hands off to his back. Normally, if there is any doubt then the QB will hedge his bets and hand it off to the back. So, can such a play permeate the pros and will it, as Brophy believes, change the fundamental nature of the QB position in the NFL? In a word: No. The 'Wildcat', introduced by Miami gives us a good insight into this. When it first appeared, the various plays of the Wildcat series gave defenses fits. Now... not so much. Like any play, or series of plays, the Wildcat poses certain unique problems for a defense. With good coaching it can be a valuable tool in an offense. But defenses are catching up. They always will. Given the amount of time available to NFL staffs, I imagine they have spent more than a few hours studying this offense and finding ways to shut it down. We saw the Saints adopt the approach of forcing the edges of the play hard with their Cornerbacks and met with quite a degree of success. I imagine the same will happen with the Zone Read. Defenses will find a way to stop it. An example of this how some defenses approach the option game in college. The QB is reading certain defenders and making decisions based on their reactions. So defenses change the run responsibilities of their players to try and confuse the QBs read. He thinks the player he's reading is responsible for a certain assignment (say stopping the dive in a triple option) but in fact another player (for example a LB) will come down and fill that role. Expect defenses to try similar stratagems, amongst others, against the Zone Read. The other huge aspect of this is the QB himself. In order for the zone read to work, you need a quick footed QB. Peyton Manning will not cut it. Brady with his banged up knees will not cut it. A Michael Vick or Vince Young is in order. But herein lies the problem. Just how many times are NFL teams willing to expose their QB to danger? Let's not forget that this is the position that teams most covet. It's where the largest deals are. I imagine few teams would be willing to invest large sums in a QB who is going to be exposing himself to danger down field on a regular basis. So will teams draft QBs for this purpose? Not likely. I can't imagine many offensive coordinators who would be happy throwing away their playbooks to accommodate the Zone Read and the very different type of QB needed to make it work. What is more likely is that teams will be more willing to hunt down wide receivers and running backs who have played QB in high school. Armanti Edwards - drafted in 2010 by the Carolina Panthers - is a perfect example. Despite playing QB all through his college career many believe that Edwards will play WR for Carolina. He is the type of player that could make a Zone read work and still be a threat to pass. Much like the Wildcat packages copied by other teams (outside of Miami), I imagine the Zone read will gain the most traction in teams situational packages, for example down in the red zone. For the season ahead, keep an obvious eye on Miami with Pat White, the Eagles with Vick and the Titans with Young. Less obvious? The Panthers I've already covered (by the way, have I ever mentioned that I hate the Panthers?). Now the Jets, there's an intriguing prospect with WR Brad Smith certainly having the ability to run the zone read (gotta get some Brad Smith love in before the season begins). The biggest restriction that will hold teams back though, beyond their roster, is how good their offense is in general. Good offenses typically will not find a benefit in switching personnel for the sake of one play. The Eagles for example only really used their version of the Wildcat to try and solve the problem of their poor performance on third down and in the red zone. Hopefully Kevin, this answers your question. I'll be back later to see what the days news has brought us, until then, have a great day everyone.


Kevin said...

Thanks for the response. I'd be curious to see your discussion on CoachHuey's site. I frequent it and respect both of your football knowledge from what I've read.

I think that the "wildcat" is something to consider when you look at how many athletes playing QB that can now run and pass. I guess my sneaking suspicion is that the up and coming QBs are being groomed to be so athletic that it would hard NOT to use them as a runner. Another angle is that it might be like the "spread offense" in general. Many argued that that offense would not work because the NFL didn't want to have so many receivers on their roster..etc...
From a numbers standpoint it can't be argued that a running QB poses an extra dimension for the defense.
2 arguments against myself include the raw speed and adaptation of all NFL defenses and the damage a running QB takes. Either way, it's a nice twist to see it being developed.

brophy said...

the article itself, was just pointing out the evolution of offenses, and how they adapt through the seasons.

The video illustation went on to show 5 NFL teams running the play.

No assertion was made on the play changing the quarterback position (as it was pointed out that this is a play run for years in the NFL). The open-ended question was whether some teams would take advantage of the 53-man roster limitation to use hybrid players (Tebow, Stewart, Vick, Brown, etc) to stress defensive personnel groupings (teams likewise constrained by roster limitations.)

Chris said...


"No assertion was made on the play changing the quarterback position..." - From your comments

"This may also fundamentally change the way the professional quarterback (prototype) is viewed..." - from your blog post.

I'd say that was pretty conclusive.

Now I understand you may feel this post was an attack on you but it was simply a response to a question raised from someone who I believe reads both our blogs.

brophy said...

'how the quarterback position was VIEWED'


'how the quarterback position was played'

Many will/have said zone read is a college gimmick.....however, the post (the entire intent of the post) illustrated MANY NFL teams currently using it, and not just in "wildcat".
That was the intent of the blog post; not to make a declarative assertion, but deliver an open-ended question about managing personnel.

So, either that point was misinterpreted (and a post about a post was made) or you're saying I'm a liar.

again, dealing with the 53 man roster limitation. It isn't enough to dictate 21 / 11 you have to account for an additional athlete. How do you do that on defense? This isn't an impossibility, but just another squeeze the offense can put on the defense.

The zone read is just the evolution of the zone/stretch + boot from the 80s, and what lead to the success of Donovan McNabb & Mike Vick (who's team was rushing king for years in ATL, primarily because of the horizontal stretch you get with IZ/OZ/boot).

Chris said...

"'how the quarterback position was VIEWED'


'how the quarterback position was played' "

"This may also fundamentally change the way the professional quarterback (prototype) is viewed..."

Let me tell you a bit about myself Brophy. I'm a big believer in Democracy, especially as it stands in the USA, what I would refer to as a "Constitutional Democracy".

But for Demmocracy to work properly, people must be given all sides of an argument in a factual manner and then allowed to make their own judgments.

The biggest barrier to this in the modern world is what I would call "Political Quotes" where politicians mis-quote, or quote out of context in order to shed their opponents in a bad light and/or make themselves look better.

At the top of this comment I posted your last response, followed by your actual quote from your blog. You'll notice that by leaving in the word "Prototype" in brackets as you wrote it, the meaning of that sentence changes.

It changes from 'The way we look at how we use our Quarterbacks and what they do on the field' to 'The type of players we try and recruit as our quarterbacks, to meet the needs of our offense'.

That one word, 'prototype' has a huge impact on the sentence. Now we're no longer talking about a play that asks our quarterbacks to do something new, we're talking about a play that fundamentally changes the kind of athlete we want to play QB.

That's a huge difference.

Now if you'd kindly stop cluttering up my comments section and get on with your own life, that'd be wonderful.