The Read-Option and the Evolving Defensive Response

Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham had some interesting comments for Tim Twentyman at about the read-option offense, how to play it and what affect its having on the league.

“‘It’s a big thing in the league now, and that’s why we’ve got bigger corners, because they’re going to have to tackle,’ Cunningham said. ‘The ball is going outside, they’re spreading you, and quarterbacks are running the ball.'”

“The read-option puts pressure on the defensive end to make the right play and then the cornerbacks to come up and make a play out wide.”

“‘The key is you need extra people to stop the run because they spread you out,’ Cunningham said. ‘So, you end up playing some man-to-man or shorten your safeties down and if the quarterback can really throw the ball, that’s where we get into trouble.

“‘Miami couldn’t do that with Rickey (Williams) and the other kid that was running the option (Ronnie Brown). But their design was as good as I’ve ever seen in my life and then it got away from them for whatever reason.'”

Cunningham has never been one of my favorite NFL coaches but he’s spot on here. I don’t know that cornerbacks necessarily have to get bigger but everyone, including the corners, is going to have to be able to tackle better at a time when physical contact in practice for refining technique is more and more limited. Being bigger certainly would make you more durable, however, and, as Cunningham rightly points out, shut down corners who can handle receivers in single coverage with a safety in the box are also going to be at even more of a premium than they are now.

The whole interview makes me wonder if zone defenses like the one the Bears have relied upon for so long aren’t going to become more and more difficult to run. Even the Bears spent more time in single coverage in recent years and we’re likely to see it even more. The days of the classic cover-two cornerback may be numbered.

2 thoughts on “The Read-Option and the Evolving Defensive Response”

  1. What perplexes me about that is that when you look at the Bears’ corners, they are as good at playing the run as most out there. And the system puts a premium on linemen and linebackers who can cover the field laterally, so in theory, it should be well-suited to defend it.

  2. Totally agree, Jim. The problem (at least what I think is the problem) is that you are putting the corner in a bind. He jams the receiver and drops into his zone. Now he has to choose – play the run and fill or stay in his zone and cover. He can’t do both and the odds are good that the QB will throw if he attacks and run if he remains in coverage.

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