In the months after the read option took the NFL by storm, defensive coaches became hellbent on eradicating it. The Baltimore Ravens made it a part of their studies, as well.
“The read option was a major priority,” Coach John Harbaugh said. “It was something we just felt we had to get a handle on. Actually, we felt like we defended it well last year. I thought [coordinator Dean] Pees and the defensive coaches had a good handle on it. But we studied it in the offseason, we visited colleges, and we’re looking forward to testing out some of our theories this Sunday.”
The Ravens will get their first chance to show what they have learned on Sunday when they play the Buffalo Bills and mobile rookie quarterback EJ Manuel.
The read option didn’t consume Ravens defensive coaches as they prepared for this season. None of the teams on their schedule ran the scheme last season. But they figured they would see it at some point, so the coaching staff sometimes ran the film from the Ravens’ games last season against read-option teams, the Washington Redskins (a 31-28 loss in Week 14) and the San Francisco 49ers (a 34-31 victory in the Super Bowl).
Every three days during training camp, the Ravens devoted a practice period to working on read-option plays — not just to keep defensive players sharp, but also to benefit backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who could be called upon to run the read option in a game.
This week, Taylor impersonated Manuel while running the scout team in practice.
“You definitely have to devote some time to it. You can’t ignore it,” Pees said.
The Ravens are confident their preparation will pay off in Buffalo.
The Bills have started to use the read option to try to take advantage of Manuel’s athleticism and the skills of running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Florida State dabbled in the read option with Manuel, the 16th overall pick in April’s draft, but Buffalo Coach Doug Marrone said Manuel still is getting comfortable in its scheme.
The Bills presented read-option looks 16 times in a 27-20 loss to the New York Jets last week. Manuel kept the ball just twice.
Pees tells his players to keep their eyes on their assigned man and focus on their individual responsibilities. Big plays can happen when one tries to do too much.
“Things are happening fast back there,” Taylor said. “But for the most part, if he’s coming toward me, then he has no chance of making the play on the running back. And that’s what you want.”
Taylor says the read option has staying power, unlike the Wildcat offense the Miami Dolphins popularized in 2008, because the read option presents a legitimate passing threat, unlike the Wildcat, which has a running back take the snap in the backfield.
Linebacker Terrell Suggs concedes that the read option is “a tough scheme to defend,” but he noted that the Wildcat gave defenses headaches before they figured it out. Defensive end Marcus Spears said the read option “will fizzle away, and there will be something new that we have to defend against.”