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Shakespeare’s Read Option

The read option has created a buzz in the NFL and it is all the rage, changing the game as we know it. But some wonder whether or not it is fatally flawed, a tragedy of sacrificial talent subjected to the whimsical ways of powers, rulers and authorities.

With under seven minutes to go in the second quarter of the San Francisco 49ers-Seattle Seahawks game on Sunday night, the future of the read option in the NFL came into question: “To run the read option or not to run the read option?” That is the question…and a franchise’s option, indeed.

Ahmad Brooks pancaked Russell Wilson while trying to run the read option. Brooks did not hesitate. He did not honor the handoff/fake. He created a vertex by running at a 45-degree angle from the line of scrimmage and almost, figuratively speaking, decapitated Wilson. It was a hit quarterback coaches, offensive coordinators, head coaches, general managers, owners and significant others never want to see and are loathe to repeat.

For the record, Marshawn Lynch cut right back to where Brooks vacated — which is why Wilson handed it of to him in the first place — and gained significant yardage on the play. The play worked exactly as it was designed and it demonstrates how effective the play really is. The read option works and has a diabolical package of plays that comes with it.

But at what cost?

How many more times do the Seattle Seahawks wish to expose Russell Wilson to bone-crushing hits? What if early in a game a defensive coordinator made sure his crashing defensive ends did nothing but hit the QB with every ounce of energy they had? Sure you may have given up a 12 to 15-yard run, but are you really winning on that play?

And this is the question that faces every organization that wishes to run the read option: Are you willing to sacrifice your quarterback’s health and well-being in order to run that play/package? Are you willing to sacrifice short-term gain at the expense of long-term stability?

In order to answer that question one needs to assess the variables. How rare are quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and RGIII? Are they system quarterbacks or franchise quarterbacks that you build your team and future around? Are they really that special — all three experienced meteoric success in their first year starting (Kaepernick was in his second season last year before he exploded) — or are they beneficiaries of being in the right place at the right time, athletic specimens riding a high tide of a read-option fad?

Isn’t it a little unusual that a kid from Nevada that pro scouts didn’t think had the acumen to play quarterback in the league, a third-round pick that is under 5-foot-11 and another rookie phenom ALL experienced unreal success their first year of playing/starting while running the read-option package? Throw in Andrew Luck and rookies ruled the league last year! I thought rookie quarterbacks struggled? I thought there was a learning curve to the position?

So, is it the offense, or is it the talent running the offense? Although I believe it’s the latter, time will tell. Until then, teams running the read option have an option: to run or not to run. Because the pancake man is coming, isn’t he Mr. Brooks?