Seattle v Portland: A Tale of the Read-Option

The Seattle Spartans are in a season of change! One thing that remains to be seen is the overall scheme packages of both the offensive and defensive coordinators. While the offense is in the hands of first year Head Coach Boyd Demus, the defense is now under the watchful eye of second year Spartans coach, Defensive Coordinator Michael Winters. Coach Winters will ultimately decide if he retains the base scheme of last year’s Reign or if he sees a better way to attack and defend WFA opponents. With this in mind, we’ll be taking a look at the Portland Fighting Shockwave’s Read-Option concept against the Seattle Spartans previous base defense. Buckle up, let’s talk some X’s and O’s!

Portland’s formation was as follows:

Portland Read Option 1
Portland ready to run Read-Option

To really break this down, we’ll take a look at the play schematic and read option concepts.

Option concept
Read Option Play Schematic

The basic option concept is designed to gain a numbers advantage in the box for the offense. This is achieved by not blocking the play side Defensive End (D End/End/E) as shown in the above schematic. If you’re an aspiring football guru, the thought of leaving the play side defensive end unblocked while running to their side might seem crazy. That being said, conceptually it preys on a potential flaw in Seattle’s base scheme in years previous. Let’s look deeper.

Note: The following is color coordinated to correspond with the above schematic.

Per the play schematic, the Quarterback is going to read (note the name “read-option”… clearly a complex naming system) the movement of the unblocked player (noted in yellow). You should see in the schematic, no one is blocking the yellow end (E). This allows those players to go and block other players, such as a double team on the 3 tech, and then a downfield block on the Middle Linebacker (M). The offensive unit starts by running a dive (in red). The Tailback (T) is shooting the A or B gaps depending on defensive alignment. Because there is a Tightend (Y) on the play side, she will also pass up the D End and block the outside backer (S). When the Quarterback opens for the hand-off to the T on the dive, her eyes are going straight to that play side Defensive End. If the End bites on the dive and crashes down, the Quarterback has an option (see… read-option. The naming system is as complex as Egyptian hieroglyphics). The Quarterback can give the ball to the Tailback and allow the dive to continue OR she can pull the ball and keep it. When the End crashes on the dive her angle is too shallow to tackle the Quarterback, so ultimately, the Quarterback is going to keep the football and rush around the end. If the End stays outside and defends the QB keep, the QB will hand the ball to the Tailback and run the dive. Either way, the End will be wrong rendering her out of the play WITHOUT being blocked.

Here enter the triple option concepts. The second back (H) from the backfield runs a sweep to the dive side. She exists as a pitch option for the quarterback for if/when the End follows the dive.

RO Art 1
The options are stacking up. The End is trapped and the Y is scoping out the Outside Backer.

Remember the play side Tightend (Y)? It’s their job to block the play side outside backer. If the backer can’t be blocked or the safety is tight, they’ll step up to play the run. When they commit to tackling the Quarterback, she pitches the ball to the Sweep back and the play continues.

RO Art 2
The Quarterback should challenge up field here, forcing tacklers to commit to her run.

The Tightend (Y) does a great job trying to get the block on #2 Cornist here, but ultimately fails to execute. Cornist, displays great blockshed and forces the pitchout to the sweep player.

RO Art 3
The Quarterback Pitches to the Sweep Option player just prior to getting hit.

Again, the concept is designed to make the defense choose how to defend a play and then to make them wrong. If the initial read End stays outside, the offense has eliminated her from the play – Advantage Offense. If the End crashes, the Quarterback keep nullifies her rush – Advantage Offense. If the offensive tackle or Tightend fails to block the outside backer (I know you’re thinking advantage defense here) the Quarterback pitches to the sweep back -Advantage Offense….

Where this becomes increasingly interesting is when facing certain defenses. Like a 4-3 cover 4 base defense the 2018 Seattle Spartans (Everett Reign) deployed. To cover this briefly, the 4 in 4-3 denotes the number of down linemen (the E, 1, 3, and E on the schematic) and the 3 is the number of linebackers (the W, M, and S). Cover 4 is the assignment of the remaining 4 defensive backs (C, C, F and the deep S). They’ll play deep quarters down the field.

Base 4-3 Cover 4

The challenge here is in the initial assignment of the outside backers. While not a particularly huge issue of the strength side due to a 3 technique (outside shoulder of the guard) B gap rusher, the weak side with the 1 tech (inside shoulder of the guard) covering an A gap is a problem. This leaves the Weakside backer (W) on a two gap assignment- weakside B-gap and a flat… the perfect problem for a read option concept that attacks both B gap on a one tech side with a dive and the flat with a pitch. I’ll highlight the issues on the play schematic here:

Weak Backer Probs
Two potential assignments for the Weak Side Backer

Simply put, the Weakside backer can’t cover both positions. Especially considering the End between her assignments will be eliminated from the play due to the read. If the end were to take the inside B gap, then the W would just become the new read player, which would be even worse! Now, you might be thinking… “Coach, this play can’t be run to that side. You even said the sweep back starts opposite the dive side and the previous schematic shows the play going toward the Tightend.” Well, have I got news for you: They flip the sweep back!

Read Option Oppo 1
Portland flipped the formation. Everett did not!

Now, Portland ran this concept only three times in their initial meeting last year. The first run, to the defensive strength went for 11 yards and was executed quite well. It’s the play broken down throughout this article. The End crashed, the QB kept, when #2 Cornist finally got off the Y’s block, she attacks the QB who pitches flawlessly to the sweep back for another 6 yard gain! The ideal look was the second time it was run, shown in the last photo. The formation, being balanced due to the tight end and offset back, didn’t change the strength side of the defense. This left the B-gap/Flat outside backer (W) on the read side. The play, ultimately forced into the dive by Sarah Cooper at Defensive End, looked primed to go for decent yardage before Portland fumbled the ball. This fumble seemed to influence Portland’s decision to go away from the option, which is notable for its ball security risks. Ultimately, the lesson remains. While Portland didn’t capitalize on the schematic advantages, the concern of the exploitable 2 gap outside backer should be noted. Coach Winters will undoubtedly put in the work and put Seattle in the best position to be successful.

Go Spartans!


-Mark Flickinger

Seattle Spartans Sports Writer

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