For this special holiday time of year the Analysis Notebook is offering a special edition too. We’re still bringing you three interesting plays from the Week 16 action, but this time they all have something in common.
It wasn’t long ago you wouldn’t see an option play in the NFL from anybody, lest they run the risk to their precious quarterbacks and ruin a multi-million-dollar investment. Now teams are running out of conventional ‘pro-style’ quarterbacks and are being forced to run whatever works and–as it turns out–that’s the option.
In this festive edition of the Notebook, Sam Monson brings you three touchdown plays (on three quarterback runs), as teams start to use the athletic ability of their passers instead of bubble-wrapping them for fear of injury.
Tampa Bay @ Carolina | 3rd Q, 00:33 | 2nd-and-4
Cam Newton scores a 49-yard rushing touchdown on a read-option play to bury the Buccaneers.
Why it worked:
Tampa Bay was playing all day like they had never before seen the read-option concept or had ever had to deal with it and this particular play is blown wide open because they play it in exactly that manner.
In the gun with a running back to his right, Newton fakes the running back dive up the middle, and everybody on the Tampa defense bites on it, but none more egregiously than defensive end Michael Bennett. With three members of the Carolina offensive line releasing to the second level, Bennett is the only thing setting the edge to his side and containing the run, but instead of honoring that, he crashes down on the running back. Bennett drills the running back in the side a yard behind the line of scrimmage, but unfortunately for him, he doesn’t have the football. Newton has kept it and is now looking at nothing but open real estate.
The right side of the Panthers line has been able to get to the second level of the defense and they double team MLB Mason Foster out of the play. Because the Panthers ran this from three-wide personnel, the Bucs are in nickel and there are only two linebackers to account for. The second one is picked up by C Ryan Kalil and at this point Newton has 20 yards of open field to run into before he encounters the back line of defense, safety Tanard Jackson.
Jackson of course is leading the league in missed tackles, and adds another one to his tally here, allowing Newton to outrun the defense to the end zone. Corner E.J. Biggers gets hold of him 12 yards out, but is outweighed by north of 50 pounds and can’t bring Newton to the ground before he scores.
Minnesota @ Washington | 3rd Q, 9:30 | 2nd-and-goal (from the 9)
Joe Webb scores a 9-yard touchdown run on a bootleg option to take the lead back from the Redskins.
Why it worked:
It’s option time in the NFL, and here we have another successful example. This time the Vikings are going to roll quarterback Joe Webb out on a bootleg to the backside of the play and running back Toby Gerhart (deep in the backfield as a lone tailback) is going to run outside of him as his option.
The Vikings are set up in a heavy formation with nothing but tight ends to the right; in the direction Webb is going to run to. This means that the blockers can collapse down on the line and leave just SS DeJon Gomes, to deal with the option of two possible runners.
Caught in a no-win situation, Gomes gives Webb just enough room to the inside for him to cut up field and burst towards the end zone, but Webb still has work to do. The defensive line has been taken out of the equation and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe has been able to get to the second level to take care of London Fletcher, but that still leaves safety Reed Doughty one-on-one with Webb, between him and the end zone. Webb simply jukes past Doughty as if he wasn’t there and takes it in for the easy score.
The option has long been out of fashion in NFL circles, with teams reluctant to expose their big-money, fragile quarterbacks to unnecessary hits and punishment, but at the college level it is still heavily used. The NFL now finds itself with a wealth of athletic quarterback talent that can run an option extremely well and put pressure on defenses that they’re simply not used to dealing with. It’s paying dividends for the offense right now.
Denver @ Buffalo | 1st Q, 7:18 | 3rd-and-goal (from the 1)
Tim Tebow scores a rushing touchdown from the 1-yard-line to open the scoring against Buffalo.
Why it worked:
It’s an option special this week in the Analysis Notebook and we couldn’t have one of those without breaking out a Tim Tebow play, could we? Interestingly though, this Tebow touchdown wasn’t an option.
The Broncos come out in a heavy formation with a receiver split wide right and a lone tailback behind Tebow under center. They then shift formation, bringing a tight end back across to balance the line of scrimmage, and drop Tebow back into the shotgun, now flanked by a lone running back.
Buffalo actually changed very little from their initial goal line package, which seemed unusually weak on the strong side of the formation. Maybe they hadn’t bought the Broncos’ initial look, or maybe they just had an unusual alignment, but either way they ended up in the right position to defend the play the Broncos eventually ran.
The fullback flanking Tebow in the backfield turns lead blocker and Tebow is able to follow his block and that of a pulling lineman around the left edge of the line of scrimmage and pound it in for the opening touchdown. This is another example of the kinds of plays that can be effective but NFL teams wouldn’t run for fear of risking their quarterback.
The advantage this kind of play brings is the same as the Wildcat, in that it removes the quarterback as simply a mechanism to get the running back the ball and replaces him with an extra blocker.