Inside Slant: Read-option, 'packaged' plays

On the eve of the regular season, colleague Mike SandoInsider and I separately wondered if the NFL's offseason obsession with the read-option was merited relative to its limited use in 2012. Would a scheme that accounted for less than two percent of the league's total plays last season truly impact the league as much as the hoopla suggested?

As we near the midpoint of the season, we can make at least two important observations:

  • NFL teams have already run more variations of read-option plays (519) than they did in all of 2012 (415).

  • Success per play is down, from 6.21 yards in 2012 to 4.61 through seven weeks of 2013.

The chart helps us understand where the uptick in play selection has come from. The Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills each have new coaching staffs that have implemented a variation of the scheme known as "packaged plays," which give the quarterback the option to run, hand off or throw out of the shotgun and/or pistol formation.

(Here is an excellent explainer on packaged plays from Chris Brown of Grantland.)

The Eagles and Bills, in fact, have accounted for about 45 percent of the plays classified as read-option runs in the NFL. Still, such plays account for less than four percent of the 13,990 snaps we've seen this season.

Does that means we're headed toward a mildly impacted season? It might be too early to draw that conclusion, given that Week 7 provided us with a combined 162 rushing yards on read-option plays from just three quarterbacks: the Washington Redskins' Robert Griffin III, the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick and the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson.

If I had to guess, we'll be talking more about "packaged plays" than simply the read-option by the end of the season. They are all the rage in high school and college, the addition of the passing element theoretically makes them more difficult to defend and ultimately they expose quarterbacks to less contact. The NFL always catches up to fads, but usually not before the next one begins.