The read option has come into favor in the NFL in the past two years, and the Bills got a firsthand look at how effective it can be. The option play takes advantage of a quarterback’s speed and his ability to bait the linebackers and defensive linemen into leaning the wrong way. These two articles from Smart Football describe the play very well: read option one, read option two.
The two plays I’ll highlight are from the first quarter in Toronto. The first is the Russell Wilson fourteen yard touchdown run.
Wilson fakes the handoff to Marshawn Lynch going to the left side of the line. Mario Williams, coming off the left defensive end position (bottom/right from camera perspective) takes a path to chase Lynch down. In the second pane in the photo above, you can see Williams running past Wilson and preparing to tackle Lynch.
Bryan Scott, the strong side linebacker (bottom/right from camera perspective also), cheats down to the middle of the field. He is clearly looking to prevent a cut-back lane for Lynch and doesn’t notice Wilson still has the ball. Now that both Williams and Scott have given up containment of the right edge, Wilson has a running lane, which can be seen in the third pane (bottom right).
Sidney Rice gets a nice block on Stephon Gilmore, and Wilson goes untouched into the end zone.
On their next possession (just one offensive play after the touchdown), the Seahawks call another read option. This time, the receivers are bunched on the right side of the field and Wilson’s run is called to the left. This unbalanced formation is going to open a lot of space for the speedy quarterback.
Leon Washington sells the fake to the right well enough to freeze the linebackers and bait the defensive linemen to the right side of the field. Kelvin Sheppard (weak side linebacker, top/left from camera perspective) even gets caught leaning from his position and steps in front of Nick Barnett (red arrow above). When commentators and analysts talk about players not trusting their teammates and overplaying their assignments, this is what they’re talking about.
The receivers run routes as if Wilson is going to pass, which further spreads the field because the secondary falls back into pass coverage. The two players that can stop this play are circled in red below, Kyle Moore and Ron Brooks.
Moore can’t get back to seal the edge as Wilson flies past him. Brooks gets picked up by Zach Miller, a bigger player and effective blocking tight end. Barnett looks like he has a chance to catch Wilson if he takes the right line, but the quarterback is faster than Barnett initially thinks and gets by the linebacker.
Finally, George Wilson, who was playing deep, comes over to chase Wilson out of bounds.
The Bills defense looked unprepared for the read option and surprised by Wilson’s speed. They were overplaying the running back action in an attempt to stop the league’s second best rusher this season. However, that compounded the effectiveness of the option run.
Option plays are designed to take advantage of defenses running themselves out of position. On both of these plays, the defensive lineman and linebacker on the option side were caught chasing down the running back. If they hold their positions and contain their side of the play, the plays would have gone for small or no gains. After seeing great improvement since the bye week, the run defense reverted their old ways.
Maybe Dave Wannstedt can take a page out of Sean Payton’s book and have this defense’s motto be: “DO YOUR JOB!!”