The last time the Green Bay Packers squared off against the San Francisco 49ers, the 49ers rumbled their way to an astounding 45-31 beat down on the heels of accumulating 323 yards on the ground with 181 from Colin Kaepernick and 119 from Frank Gore. Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman admitted to shielding his cards in the final weeks of the regular season to avoid showing the Straight Flush that he had set up for the Packers.
Chris Brown, a fantastic football strategist and writer at Grantland, produced a great piece on on how teams are preparing to defend the Read Option. A lot of the attitudes of defensive minded coaches is that the Read Option is going to go the way of the other offensive fads: the Run & Shoot or the Wildcat, ignoring the fact that the first wasn’t shut down so much as not coached anymore at the NFL level, and the second was primarily conceived as a one-dimensional designed HB run off the G or T.
Now, with the evolution of intricate packaged plays, the Read Option has turned into essentially a true Triple Option attack. One such variance can be executed with up to four options built in and dependant upon how the defense aligns: If 6 or less in the box, the QB can run the base Read Option and read the defender. If the defense plays the run and aligns 7 or more in the box, the QB can have the option of a quick screen to the outside WR (or a bubble screen to the slot WR with the outside WR blocking) in hopes they can defeat the one-on-one coverage.
In the end, even execution still reigns supreme regardless of the coaching and scheme. In 2011, Alabama allowed 302 yards rushing and a team 7.7 yards per carry to Georgia Southern, an FCS powerhouse despite media brushing aside the squad beforehand and proclaiming it as largely a glorified scrimmage. For comparison, Alabama whom would eventually win the National Championship, ran for 272 yards and a team 5.6 yards per carry on just 10 more attempts.
On this simple run, Kaepernick only gains 4 yards but executes the Inside Veer by reading the DT. If the DT takes the RB, Kaepernick has the option to keep it and take it left or right depending on the positioning of the DT. If the DT tries to play Kaepernick instead, he has the option of handing off to Gore for a downhill run for huge yardage.
San Francisco starts out with 7 blockers right off the bat. 1 TE and a FB in the backfield in addition to the 5 offensive linemen. Green Bay shifts out of a Cover 2 look to bring the SS up, indicating a Cover 3 look with the far CB forced to stay back in case Kaepernick fakes and goes for a quick pass outside. The deep safety takes himself out of the run because he has to protect against any deep pass. Already you can see the issues for Green Bay as they have 7 defenders in the box to go up against the 7 blockers that San Francisco is deploying. By reading the DT, Kaepernick is able to allow a double team because that DT has to decide between taking the RB or the QB at the mesh point of the hand off. His indecision leads to him being ‘blocked’ by an invisible blocker.
Upon the snap and Kaepernick starting the mesh point with Frank Gore, you immediately see that the DT is shifting laterally towards his left to take away the cut back from Gore. Good execution but by opting to take Gore, that means that Gore now can block him. That makes the blocking count 8 on 8 or man to man. Also excellent execution by the San Francisco 49ers here. The TE and RT take on the ‘blitzers’ disguised above clearing them outside. The LT and LG are allowed to double team the DE. The linebackers are easily handled because the C is allowed to take out 1 LB while the FB takes out the other LB. Why is this the case? The DT has to handle the RB or QB, remember? This means that the C doesn’t have to block him because he’s blocked himself. This allows for the C to get to the 2nd level. Take note of the Packers LBs shifting left to overcompensate for the handoff leaving a wide open line right to the single deep safety as a cutback.
If not for Kaepernick being forced to dance a bit, he could’ve raced off to an easy touchdown or at the very least, a huge run. San Francisco executed basic, fundamental offense and that is why they tore up Green Bay defensively even when Green Bay played mostly sound defense. Every single player is occupied despite a “zone” run because Green Bay simply got out executed. Take note of the C and FB now reaching the second level with the LBs along with Gore occupying the DT. The double team from earlier has transitioned, allowing the LG to move ahead and take out the deep CB who played off to respect the outside run and/or quick pass to the outside. Right now, Kaepernick only has to beat the deep single high safety. Defensive Coordinators can talk about scheme and blitzing but if the offense shows the numbers initially, the Read Option can only hope to be contained but it will not be muzzled.
Later on we get a wrinkle with the Zone Read and San Francisco again displays execution, this time against Green Bay defenders that lose their contain and display unsound technique. As a result of the breakdown, Kaepernick runs for a 13 yard gain to the outside.
San Francisco starts the play off in a 4×1 formation with trips on the left before motioning TE Delanie Walker inside as an H-Back. The 49ers still have 3 WRs so the Green Bay defense has to respect the pass, especially since this is a 3rd Down & 2 situation. Once again, San Francisco is able to dictate the numbers in their favor with 6 blockers going up against 6 defenders in the box. The outside CBs have to defend the pass and the single deep safety has to play the deep ball, allowing room inside if Kaepernick decides to hand off to Gore.
Kaepernick correctly reads that both defenders on the right side of the formation are keying on RB Frank Gore. The LBs turn their hips inward, especially the OLB off the edge, allowing for Gore to block the deep ILB with the RT walling off the other ILB. Due to the extremity of playing Gore on the inside give, the OLB is both out of position and lacks the hip quickness to turn and keep up with Kaepernick if he keeps it, which is precisely what he does.
With the left side completely covered with blockers, as a result of Green Bay having to position their players predominantly towards that side due to the initial formation shown, that has opened up the right side of the field completely. Here we can see the wrinkles coming into effect. The TE, Delanie Walker who shifted inside to an H-Back position, is now pulling hard. Due to the ILB and OLB biting so hard on the inside give, Kaepernick is able to beat the OLB to the edge to open space. Normally, Gore would probably have taken the ILB and the pulling Walker would have sealed off the OLB allowing Kaepernick to try and shake n’ bake the deep safety. As it is, the deep safety now has two San Francisco blockers coming right at him while the Packers LBs, who would have played the edge contain, are both trailing in a foot race.
Take note that the left field has 7 49ers including the two wide receivers positioned there prior to the snap of the football. Green Bay also has 7 players, making every single matchup a one on one encounter, ideally favored for the offense running the Zone Read.
With the Packers and 49ers getting ready to square off again Sunday afternoon at 4 PM ET/1 PM Pacific, it will be interesting to see whether Green Bay falls into the same traps of struggling with execution or if San Francisco can properly execute by getting the numbers in their favor.
Credit to NFL.com and NFL Game Rewind for images found within article. Credit to hdnux.com for feature image