NFL defenses adapt quickly to read-option offenses

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL's shock offensive scheme from a year ago is already becoming more difficult, as two of its biggest proponents are leading their teams in a different direction.

The read option turned heads last year with Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson leading their teams to the playoffs on the back of the offensive scheme. Now one of the offense's biggest proponents is saying defenses are already working out how to stop the scheme, just one year after it shocked the NFL.

Washington Redskins' offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has seen the advantages and shortcomings of the read option first hand. Griffin ran for 815 yards and seven touchdowns in his first year, but the unnecessary wear-and-tear led to a torn ACL the quarterback is still recovering from. The Redskins have adapted their offense, and while it could be attributed to caution, RGIII isn't poised to threaten his rookie rushing number, on pace for 330 yards.

"The thing about last year: A lot of people weren't ready for it at all," Shanahan said. "It was easy at times. Now, it doesn't mean that it doesn't work. You just aren't shocking people like you were last year."

This shock-and-awe factor can't be underestimated, and league-wide teams seem less willing to have their quarterbacks run. Cam Newton was one of the most prevalent users of the read option, leading the Carolina Panthers in rushing last year. He carried the ball 127 times in 2012; this year he's poised for 85 carries. The Panthers continue to de-emphasize Newton as a running threat, turning their sights to traditional running backs.

"When you have something that was that successful ... guys are too smart," Shanahan said of defensive coordinators. "They are going to work all offseason and find a way to stop it. And when that happens you got to better at the other stuff. And I think we do have other stuff. And I think we're getting better at it."

The Redskins are trying to find a place for their read option in the wake of "other stuff," while the San Francisco 49ers are moving closer to abandoning it all together. Through three weeks the 49ers used the read option just 16 times, gaining a paltry 26 yards while using the scheme. Furthermore, offensive coordinator Greg Roman doesn't seem too interested in changing his approach, yet.

"We really haven't placed a big emphasis on the read-option to this point in the season," Roman said. "But that could change."

It remains to be seen whether the read option becomes a fun memory, much like the Miami Dolphins' wildcat offense implemented in 2008. That scheme had huge success as a shock tactic, with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams combining for more than 1,500 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, but started to break down as coordinators countered the scheme just as more teams started to adopt it.

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