18.May.2010 How to Stop the Spread (Read) Option
As an Oregon State fan, the read option has had me tugging my hair for some time. I have always figured the solution to stopping it would lie in the esoterics of x's and o's; that is, run-stopping defensive formations such as the 46 or 4-4. Then I had a eureka moment. So simple, so elegant, so obvious. Why hadn't I thought of it before?
First, let's understand what happens during a typical a read option. This video does an excellent job of demonstrating the simplicity of the play from the offensive perspective: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDu-livhN-k
As you can see, the idea behind the read option is to create indecision for the defensive end (sometimes this can be the linebacker as well). The Oregon variation is to leave the DT unblocked. This is a good wrinkle since a DT is usually slow and therefore cannot recover from the smallest indecision. So the question that's eluded Beavers coaches and fans for years is "how do we stop it?" Mark Banker has been trying to answer that question for seven years.
In the remainder of this article, I postulate that the solution is based on a simple, yet profound paradigm shift that has little to do chalk board diagrams. The idea is based upon this one simple proposition: Reverse the defensive player's indecision onto the offensive player. This is done by:
1. The DE (or LB or DT) "bluffing" a quick initial step towards either the QB or RB, then bouncing the other direction once the QB reads the defensive player's initial (bluff) move.
2. Variation in the bluff. It doesn't matter if the DE bluffs to the QB or RB, so long as he changes his strategy often enough so as to not form a pattern. This is an idea I've known intuitively for some time, but it wasn't until about six months ago when I began reading about (applied mathematical) game theory that I learned of the name for it–"mixed strategy." The idea and use behind a mixed strategy is simple:
A player would only use a mixed strategy when s/he is indifferent between several pure strategies, and when keeping the opponent guessing is desirable – that is, when the opponent can benefit from knowing the next move.
There is an infamous study on soccer penalty kicks that describes the [intuition of this] phenomena beautifully: http://www2.owen.vanderbilt.edu/mike.shor/courses/game-theory/docs/lecture05/MixedSoccer.html In short, by using a mixed strategy you can create an endless loop of "what if's" on both sides.
For example, in the soccer example it would be something like this: "I will kick left. But what if the goalie is guessing I'm going to kick left? Then he will block my kick. Therefore, I will kick right! But what if he knows that I think he knows that I'm going to kick left and therefore adjust to the right? Then he will block my kick to the right. So I will kick left."…and so forth. You can see how this quickly becomes and infinite and complicated loop in thought, and that is the precise idea–to nullify and level the offensive advantage (i.e. taking advantage of the defense's "pure strategy") via creating equal indecision. —————————————————————————————————————————————-
The notes below are taken from an interesting paper I found online, written by Mike Bellotti himself at a Nike camp in 2008, on the advantages and disadvantages of a shotgun spread offense.
Spread Shotgun Advantages:
1. Force defense to defend the width & depth of the field
2. Create more 1-on-1 situations for more RAC (run-after-catch) opportunities
3. Can see the blitz coming or it must come from a distance
4. Easier to read coverage
5. QB separation from line of scrimmage
1. Lose lead back running game
2. QB's eyes must be on shotgun snap, affects ability to read coverage
3. Defense can always outnumber – need options, hots, sight reads in the offense
4. QB must be a viable run threat
Some astute ideas here. While interesting, I see no purpose in focusing on the advantages on this list. The disadvantages offer great insight into how to further stop the read option. For example, if the QB must focus on the snap, an audible late in the snap count would likely work wonders. It's interesting to note that the defense can always outnumber, which is why Oregon loves to have a mobile QB and even that playing field. ———————————————————————————————————————————————– Conclusion The combination of reversing confusion onto the offense with defensive bluffs and late audibles should stop the read option. If the defensive players' commitment is a bluff, the quarterback has an unreliable "read" and therefore the pre-snap becomes an infinite guessing game that an offense would likely not want to play, and the post-snap would be bedlam. I'd love to find some of the Boise State film and see if this is precisely how they shut down Oregon.