Saturday, July 10, 2010
So this post is to answer a question from Kevin (hello sir) regarding the most recent post on www.brophyfootball.blogspot.com 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 CoachHuey.com. 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.
Posted by Chris at 2:12 PM