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Is the NFL Read Option the New Wildcat?

Remember when the “Wildcat” was all the rage in the NFL in 2009? The Miami Dolphins ran it early and often behind Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown and finished 4th in the league in rushing (139.4 ypg). The Dolphins had become so enamored with the Wildcat in 2008 that it spent a 2nd round draft pick in April 2009 on West Virginia QB Pat White. After the Jets were burned by it, linebacker Calvin Pace called the Wildcat “nonsense.” Carson Palmer and Matt Ryan called it a “fad.”

Defenses were caught off guard by the new look, and other teams started to incorporate a version of the Wildcat. The Jets occasionally ran it with Brad Smith; the Cowboys put in a few plays for Tashard Choice and so on.

The Dolphins lost their final three games of 2009 and missed the playoffs. Two years later, and the Wildcat is only being used sparingly – if that – throughout the league.

The new running trend in 2011: The Read-option!

Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers are running some read option. It’s working. The Panthers are 8th in the league in rushing (129.6 ypg). Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos are running the read-option, too. They read-optioned the Raiders to death Sunday (299 yards rushing. 7.9 ypc), and are currently 5th in the league in rushing (147.5 ypg).

There are many similarities between the two teams and their read-option QBs: Both players ran the spread option offense in college (Newton at Auburn, Tebow at Florida). Both QBs are bulkier (Newton is 6-5, 245; Tebow is 6-3, 240) and more nimble than their NFL brethren, so they can take a brutal pounding carrying the ball. There’s no way Mike Vick’s sleight frame (6-0, 210, which is tiny for a QB) could take the beating Tebow and Newton are absorbing.

Newton and Tebow are not remotely traditional QBs – Newton possesses the ability to throw a beautiful deep ball, but he’s still learning how many steps back he must take for certain throws (among other things); Tebow’s mechanics, throwing motion and ability to read defenses are all a work in progress. So instead of trying to make that traditional QBs, why not run something they’re familiar with?

My inclination would be to say that the read-option is here to stay for Newton because of how incredible he’s been this year, and that it probably won’t last beyond the end of next season with Tebow.

Of course, the opposite could be true: What happens when Newton gets hurt on a running play, and the franchise decides they need to be more of a pocket passer? Or what happens if Tebow somehow is able to lead the Broncos to the playoffs this year? The latter point will be further addressed Monday … if Denver beats Kansas City.

 

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