Over the past 12 months, the NFL has fixated itself with a simple, yet seemingly unstoppable QB run- RB run read option play. As a result, teams with mobile QBs have found near exclusive offensive revitalizations. However, the QB run- RB run read option is inaccessible for teams with classic pocket QBs, such as our Dallas Cowboys. Interestingly enough, that's not a problem. The Cowboys can incorporate variants of the Read Option by optioning through multiple plays at a mesh point according to the actions of a single defensive player. Sounds complex? It isn't. Allow me to illustrate in the two examples below. Excuse my penmanship on the slides.
Example 1. Option Between a Delayed RB Draw and a Post Combination Pass. Read is the Strong Saftey.
Slide 1: Pre Snap
- The Cowboy offense is on the field with 11 Personnel. Terrance Williams (WR 83) lines up split left, with Miles Austin (WR 19) manning the left slot, Jason Witten (TE 82) and Dez Bryant (WR 88) split right. Romo (QB 9) is in shotgun, with DeMarco Murray (RB 29) to his left.
- For the sake of this illustration, the defense is playing a standard Cover 2. The Weak Side Linebacker can really be interchanged for a nickel defensive back.
Slide 2: The Play and how the Defense will initially React. Note that the red is the defense, with the red dotted lines as how the defense will react/ attend to its responsibilities.
- There are two plays happening here. The QB will choose which one when he meets the RB at the mesh point a second or two after the snap.
- First, we have a simple passing play, with Out Route/Skinny Post combinations on both sides. The purpose of the passing play is to have the outside WRs challenge the safeties deep at around the numbers on the field, and use the inside targets (Slot WR, TE) to bring the Linebackers/ Nickel DBs to the sidelines (effectively out of play).
- Second, we have a delayed draw to the Right "B" Gap (Between the RG and RT).
- The defense is in Cover 2 and acts accordingly.
Slide 3: Post Snap. The read option.
- Because the defensive ends are crashing up the field, a circular pocket forms, leaving large gaps for the RB, especially between the RG and RT.
- The out routes have effectively dragged the WLB/Nickel DB and the SLB out of the play.
- The CBs afford the WRs inside leverage, "funneling" them to the safeties, who gain depth to cover the deep routes. The WRs, already with inside leverage, break inside at a low angle (hence, "skinny" post), almost right towards the safeties.
- The MLB has dropped to the deep middle of the field, where nothing is happening on the play. When he realizes this, he is too out of position to have a chance at a statistical "stop" if the QB chooses the draw.
- At the mesh point, the QB places the ball in the RB's belly and reads the Strong Safety. If the SS gains depth to cover the deep post, the QB hands the ball off to the RB. It is effectively a delayed draw, with most defenders out of position. If the SS smells the draw and comes downhill, the QB takes the ball out of the RB's belly, and throws it deep to WR88. The WR is in-breaking deep with already existing inside leverage. Easy completion.
- The play would work against any base defense that does not notice it.
Example 2 - Option between an outside pitch and a zone run. Read is the RDE.
Slide 1: Pre Snap
- The defense is in a base Cover 2. Because right side WR 88 Dez Bryant demands more deep safety help, and Jason Witten can be a run blocker on the left side, the FS has taken the right side, and the SS has taken the left side.
- The offense is in 21 Personnel, with Miles Austin and Dez Bryant split out wide. Jason Witten is lined up next to the LT. There are two RBs (25 Lance Dunbar and 29 DeMarco Murray), lined up on each side of Tony Romo, who is in the shotgun.
Slide 2: The Play and How the Defense will respond
- There are two plays happening here, both of which are running plays.
- The first play is a zone run to the left. As is the case with zone runs, the offensive line attempts to move the defensive line left and push them away from the line of scrimmage. The runner (RB 29, DeMarco Murray) can either hit the "A" or "B" gaps on the left side (between the LG/C and LT/LG respectively), swing around the entire line (run outside of the TE, the "D" gap), or even cut back to the right side "B" gap. He would receive the handoff at the "mesh point", and is generally the better "between the tackles" runner of the two RBs.
- The second play is a swing pitch/toss. The runner (RB 25, Lance Dunbar) swings all the way around the QB and right side RB (RB 29) mesh point, and is tossed the football when he is a couple yards behind and to the right of the QB/RB mesh. The RB receiving the toss turns upfield and runs vertical (He should generally be the better open field runner/ "jitterbug" of the two).
- The line shifts two the left. The RG/C take combo block the 1 Tech DT, the LG takes on the 3 Tech DT, and the TE/LT combo block the LDE. The RT ignores the RDE, and moves to block the SAM LB. The WRs block their respective corners.
- The safeties react by moving towards the line of scrimmage, particularly towards the left side of the OL, where it appears a zone run is headed. The Will LB, MLB, and SS move to fill the "A" and "B" gaps (the WLB will likely also mind the "D" gap, which is outside the TE).
- The RDE, who has not yet been mentioned, now has a choice. More on that in the next slide.
Slide 3: Post Snap, at the Mesh Point.
- Slide 2's key points explained where everyone is moving to, and who is blocking who, so let's get on to the fun part.
- The QB and RB 29 are at the Mesh Point, a couple of yards behind the right side "A" Gap. The QB places the ball in the RB 29's belly, and reads the RDE. If the RDE runs left along the line of scrimmage to stop the zone run, the QB pulls the ball out of the RB 29's belly and tosses it to the swinging RB 25. If the RDE runs vertical to cover the toss to RB 25, the QB completes the handoff to RB 29, and we have a simple zone run.
- If the play becomes the zone run, the entire defense will shift left to follow RB 29 and plug the left side holes. If they successfully plug the holes, RB 29 will cut back and run behind an enormous "B" Gap (the RDE, who would provide edge contain, has moved himself out of the play by going vertical). This should be an easy 10-20 yard run before the out of position FS can get to him.
- If the play becomes a toss, there really are no defenders in the vicinity because the RDE has given up his responsibility to the right edge, and the SAM LB is blocked. Additionally, the presence of the "mesh point" and faked left zone run gets the rest of the defense out of position to handle a toss to the right. Again, this should be an easy 10-20 yard run.
- The goal of the read, in either case, is to eliminate edge contain.
- The success of both plays relies on WRs not allowing CBs to beat their blocks inside, as well as a lack of interior penetration at the line of scrimmage (combo blocks are designed to stop this).
So there we have it. Our Cowboys can use the read option in 2013, even without a running QB. What do you think? Please comment and share you thoughts below!