Zone-read plays could become a valuable option for Brett Hundley

Brett Hundley signals for a first down after one of his two big runs in overtime against the Buccaneers. Dylan Buell/Getty Images

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Brett Hundley's first play as a starting quarterback at UCLA was a read-option play.

"I figured I'd call the most basic play possible to start the game, a little zone-read play where he's supposed to give it to Johnathan Franklin," then-UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said in an interview about Hundley earlier this season. "And he pulls it and goes 72 yards for a touchdown."

It's worth wondering why it took so long for Hundley to try the same thing as the Green Bay Packers' starting quarterback.

Yes, coach Mike McCarthy had called some of those plays for Hundley, but each time he handed the ball off. Until this past Sunday, when Hundley twice kept the ball and ran for gains of 14 and 18 yards. Both came at critical points late in the overtime win against Tampa Bay.

"There's been one or two [zone-read plays before] but nothing where the defense was actually closing," Hundley said. "So that was the first couple where they sort of gave me the option to run it and make something out of it."

It's not something McCarthy would need to consider if Aaron Rodgers were healthy -- nor was the Wildcat with Randall Cobb taking the direct snap that he tried last month -- but it was productive with Hundley, who excelled with his feet in college.

"They've been in our playbook," Packers offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said of the read-option calls. "But you go into every game a little bit different as far as certain things you want to emphasize. Over the last few weeks we've been emphasizing plays like that a little bit more often than in years past."

McCarthy first went to it in the fourth quarter against the Buccaneers. On third-and-2 from the Packers' 44, Hundley faked the handoff to Jamaal Williams and ran right for 14 yards to help set up the game-tying field goal. He went back to it in overtime, and Hundley took it for 18 yards on the game-winning drive.

"You have calls that are normal [down-and-distance] calls, situational calls, [and] you have calls that are both," McCarthy said when asked about the read-option plays. "It was something that was more certain situation when you get to the fourth quarter, things get heightened. The fact that we weren't on the field as much, so we got some situational calls and normal D&D and that was an example of that."

On a day when Hundley was largely ineffective with his arm -- he threw for just 84 yards and never even targeted Cobb -- he made up for it with his feet. He scrambled four other times for 35 yards, and three of those went for first downs. Including a kneel-down at the end of the first half, he finished with seven rushes for 66 yards. The 32-yard on zone-read plays are twice as much as any other Packers quarterback has gained in Rodgers' tenure as the starter, dating to 2008, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"I think it added a lot, especially when not everything is clicking, we weren't in a rhythm for the second half," Hundley said. "But being able to find something like that and put it in there made something happen and made a couple big plays, found a way to get it in there."

Success in the running game was key to making the read-option work. The fact that Williams and Aaron Jones combined for 133 yards rushing against the Buccaneers forced Tampa's defensive ends to crash down on the back, which allowed Hundley to keep the ball and take it outside.

"He has that option," Bennett said. "Obviously we're looking for a certain look, a technique that they're playing, and when we see that look he knows to go through his keys as far as what we're anticipating."