July 2, 2013

Quick Thoughts on Speed Option

Speed Option itself is a relatively simple play that I've never been a huge fan of until this past season when I began to see it for what it is: a cheap, easy, quick way to punish the defense for poorly adjusting to a formation.

My uncle is a pretty successful shotgun coach and was really one of the pioneers of the shotgun in this part of CA.  For years he was a 21 personnel I formation kind of guy, but he just couldn't get over the hump.  Part of the problem was this: he was lining up 185 lb tight ends against 225 lb OLBs (specifically Andre Carter, who went on to play in the NFL).  One game against Mr. Carter, they ran a sweep to his side.  Outraged at their audacity, Mr. Carter reached over the 185 lb tight end and grabbed the running back and threw him to the ground.  At that very moment, my uncle had what alcoholics/drug addicts refer to as a moment of clarity.

His school just wasn't going to compete with the tops of their league by running the same stuff as the tops of their league.  With a population that is ~50% Asian, he perennially lacks numbers and size.  He realized that if he split his TE out, he was also removing their OLB from the box, effectively trading a pawn for a knight.  So, he began opening up his formations and throwing the ball more, while using his reduced box to run the ball more effectively with his undersized but well-coached offensive line.

But he began having problems with teams that started manning up on them and play Man Free, getting a numbers advantage in the box while limiting the quick game that they were fairly reliant on.  He did what good football coaches do and went to an expert, Matt Logan of Corona Centennial HS in SoCal.  Logan was one of the first shotgun coaches in CA and more than a bit of an expert.  When he met with Logan, he came back with a lot of really great ideas and one really big piece of the puzzle: speed option.

This was before zone read was all the rage, their run game was mostly just direct handoffs with fakes by the QB.  Enter speed option.  What speed option allowed them to do was punish teams for manning up on their receivers and for overshifting their underneath zones toward 3x1 sets.  Because of the nature of how force responsibilities tie into coverage, when teams were manned up that left their DEs responsible for playing force.  When that happened, at best speed option became a real threat to create an opportunity to get a RB out in space quickly with lots of space in front of him and at worst it became a really cheap 4-5 yards for the QB to basically just fall forward to pick up.  At the same time, zone teams were taking their curl/flat player and flipping him to the other side in 3x1 formations, leaving no one to play force on the backside.  Same situation: the DE can't really win.

The primary reason why I'm now a fan of Speed Option and I think it merits inclusion on top of Zone Read is this: Zone Read represents two players going in opposite directions while Speed Option is two players going in the same direction.  That full flow, instantly threatening the perimeter RIGHT NOW nature of the play isn't seen in shotgun offenses very often.  Zone Read has a sort of rhythm to it with the snap, mesh, read, while Speed Option is just snap and gogogo, forcing a decision sooner and threatening the defense faster.

So, at the end of the day, I think it boils down to this: Speed Option is cheap to install, easy to be good at, and offers great return on the time investment.  I'm honestly considering whether it's worth it to have Speed Option be an automatic check for the QB any time he gets a certain look to the weakside of the formation because I really think it's just that good for dictating how a team can adjust to you.

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