Monday, September 28, 2009

NFL teams don't run the option. Should they?

At this point, I think it's best to just put returner/receiver/former college quarterback Josh Cribbs behind center on every play. The Browns are at their most dynamic offensively with Cribbs in the shotgun, running their "Flash" package (their version of the Wildcat), and it isn't as if there's anyone qualified to throw Cribbs, or Braylon Edwards(notes), or anyone else, the ball. If the Browns hope to be competitive at all, they should scrap the traditional offense altogether and go option-read all the way. Or, they can alternate between two quarterback disasters in perpetuity, until the latest Belichick disciple is fired and they start this nightmare all over again.

Granted, Doug Farrar is half-joking, but it does lead me to wonder. Dozens of college football teams run some variation of the option (Triple Option, Wishbone, etc) with varying degrees of success. The QB throws maybe half a dozen times a game and despite the other team knowing you're going to run the ball, you can frequently rack up 200-300 yards on the ground with the QB and 3-4 different backs.

Many college teams do this because it works, and they don't have the talent at QB and receiver to competently run a passing or pro style offense. Running the ball is easier to do, it runs the clock when you succeed at it and it shortens the game, minimizing your opponent's opportunities to succeed even if you don't capitalize on yours. Sure, if you run into an opponent whose defense is just bigger, faster and stronger than your's, you're probably dead meat, but few fit the criteria well enough to stuff every hole in a system that attacks with diverse looks, cuts and angles. The option is football's version of basketball's Princeton offense.

Why have we never seen an NFL team try to run such an offense? The most common argument is that NFL defenses are talented, fast, strong and well prepared, if not well coached... and that such an offense would die a quick, zero point death after the defense stacks nine guys in the box and just bum rushes whoever carries the ball.

However, 1) NFL teams don't need to run a straight option and 2) The recent success of the option-style Wildcat package shows that an NFL team can move the ball with such a system.

Even the crappiest NFL teams have some QB and receiver talent. Pretty much every QB in the NFL has shown he can capably run a passing offense at some point in his life. Many were option QBs themselves. Many tailbacks and receivers were once QBs themselves. Chiefs QB Tyler Thigpen may suck as an NFL pocket passer, but the reason he's even in the NFL is that at some point in college, he proved himself a capable QB that can read a defense and complete passes against an attacking defense. You don't get to be an NFL QB unless you succeed in college football as a QB. Josh Cribbs himself was a QB once before becoming a receiver and return man. There are so many examples in the league past and present that I'm about to overlook.

If lining up in a pro set and running the usual isn't getting you anywhere, then why not line up shotgun every play and roll the QB to one side with orders to either find an open receiver, reverse to a receiver or back running the other way, or tuck it and go? Or even line up with two TEs or a back in the slot... and shift to a wishbone when the other team has their nickel package on the field? Or when the other team loads the box after a gazillion straight running plays, send your top receiver streaking up-field, slip the tight end 5-10 yards downfield, go play-action and just kill them dead with a bomb or a screen pass? And every now and then, you can screw with the defense by running a straight play from the gun or a single wing and exploiting any basic weaknesses in the adjusted coverage.

It's not like running an option-style offense would leave you totally predictable and one dimensional. A triple shoot style option could scramble a defense's collective brain and leave the defensive coordinator's head in his hands at halftime.

If you were a bad team appearing doomed to a terrible season, why would you not at least try something like this? You have nothing to lose except 12-16 games and your job (which you'd lose anyway under the status quo).

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