In the NFL, you don't see a lot of option plays. Only the most mobile of signal callers – Michael Vick, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III – can have success with an offense that relies as much on a quarterback's legs as his arm. While read option is successful at the college and high school levels, the speed and size of NFL defenders limits its effectiveness. It also puts the quarterback at high risk of injury.
Against the Chicago Bears Sunday afternoon, the Seahawks struggled to put points on the board. Wilson and Seattle's offense had just 10 points starting a drive at their own 3-yard line with just 3:40 left in the game. Down by four points, the visiting team needed a touchdown to take the lead. Three points would do them no good.
Seattle then turned almost exclusively to read option plays and carved up Chicago's defense. The 97-yard drive resulted in a go-ahead touchdown. In overtime, Wilson again exploited the Bears through a number of read-option plays, resulting in an 80-yard drive capped by the game-winning touchdown pass to Sidney Rice.
QB Russell Wilson
In addition, Wilson was able to use his legs to repeatedly scramble away from pressure. Even when the Bears collapsed the pocket, he still was able to pick up big chunks of yards on the ground, which ultimately sunk the home team.
"That whole drive, contain was a big issue for us," said DE Corey Wootton. "Wilson likes to get out of the pocket. He scrambled around a lot and we didn't do a good job up front of containing him. Simple as that."
The read option, which also utilized RB Marshawn Lynch, leaves a defensive end unblocked, forcing him to make a decision between the quarterback and the running back. Based on what the end does, the quarterback will either hand off the ball or keep it himself. Using this scheme, the Seahawks ate up Chicago's defense late in the game.
"[Stopping it] is as simple as us being assignment sound," Wootton said. "I thought early on we did a pretty good job. As the game got on, not so much as far as just containing him. It's as simple as sticking to our assignments. We didn't do that."
Defensive tackle Henry Melton said Seattle was plugging the middle of the defense, allowing Wilson room to run outside.
"In the fourth quarter and overtime, they were leaving chips in. So they would chip inside and he would just scramble outside," said Melton. "We shouldn't have let him out. We've got to keep that edge. We've been working on it all week. We knew he was going to do it. We just let him out."
Because so few teams use read-option plays, most defenses have a hard time adjusting to it on the fly. Such was the case with the Bears on Sunday.
"We go over it. Our coach makes it an emphasis," Wootton said. "Especially when you have a mobile quarterback, a guy like Wilson, a guy like [Minnesota's] Christian Ponder, who we're playing next week, [who runs] a couple of read options. We just have to stay assignment sound. That's the biggest thing for us."
Wilson's ability to beat the Bears on the ground was the deciding factor on a number of crucial plays late in the contest. In Seattle's final drive in the fourth quarter, they converted a crucial 4th and 3 that would have sealed the game for Chicago had they gotten the stop. And in the Seahawks' game-winning overtime drive, they converted three 3rd downs.
"There were just plays we should've made. You just can't get those back," said Melton. "It's a hard pill to swallow. Some of those 3rd downs we definitely should've got off the field and put it back in our offense's hands to win the game for us. We just couldn't do it."
Going forward, teams with mobile quarterbacks, like the Vikings, may use Sunday's tape as a blueprint on how to beat the Bears with read option. A smart, mobile signal caller obviously can carve up Chicago's defense with this scheme, so they must improve against this type of offense going forward.
One play from Sunday truly emphasizes how dangerous zone option can be against the Bears. Let's break it down.
RB Marshawn Lynch
In overtime, the Seahawks line up for a 3rd and 2 at Chicago's 47-yard line. Two receivers are to the left side of the formation, with another wide right. TE Zach Miller is wing left. Russell is in shotgun with Lynch to his left. The Bears counter with a nickel set. DE Julius Peppers is on the offense's left side, with LB Brian Urlacher a few yards off the line of scrimmage.
At the snap, Lynch crosses in front of Wilson, who nestles the ball in his running back's stomach. Peppers goes unblocked and he immediately races down the line after Lynch. Wilson sees Peppers following the running back, so he pulls the ball out and keeps it, running off the left side. Urlacher also goes unblocked on the play, yet he's unable to catch Wilson until after he picks up the first down.
On this play, the Seahawks had the audacity of leaving two future Hall of Fame defenders unblocked. As it turns out, it was a beautiful play call. Peppers bites on the first read, Lynch, opening up a huge gap to the play's left side. Wilson takes advantage and out-races Urlacher to the first down line.
In the future, Peppers and the rest of Chicago's defensive ends must be more patient against the read option. Let the play develop and see where the ball ends up, instead of guessing and putting yourself out of position.
But Urlacher also needs to make this play. He left the game with a hamstring injury but he was fine on this snap. The knee injury he sustained in the season finale last year has hampered him all season. He is nowhere near 100 percent. Urlacher has lost his trademark explosiveness and speed, without which he'll never be the player he once was.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.