Reading Russell’s read option a Minnesota Vikings key

The Seahawks run game is one of the best in the NFL and Russell’s Wilson read option is a big part of it.

Every quarterback has something special he brings to the table that has made him a starter in the NFL. Some have cannons for arms. Some are risk-taking gunslingers. Some have pinpoint accuracy. They all bring their own skill set into play.

Few players have the ability to run the ball like Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. He can escape sacks like few others and turn what appeared to be losses into gains – often significant gains.

His forte is the read option, which, simply stated, keys on defensive ends on what appear to be rushing plays. If the defensive end crashes down toward the running back, the QB pulls it back and runs to the vacated spot. If the end stays on the outside, he hands the ball off.

The pressure Sunday will be on Minnesota Vikings defensive ends Everson Griffen and Brian Robison to limit Wilson from making the big gains off the read option that have become his trademark.

“We’ve been going up against the option for a long time,” Griffen said. “You’ve got your rules, you stick to your rules and you play them. The No. 1 rule is that you make him go to the inside where the help is.”

Head coach Mike Zimmer said there’s no easy solution to quelling the read option. There are multiple things that can be done out of the read option aside from the “give or keep it” choice. They can throw downfield out of the read option look. They can run reverses. They can throw screens.

It isn’t as simple as an either/or option. But the more looks the Seahawks have given other teams, the more opportunities defensive-minded coaches have to come up with as counter to it, much like teams had to learn how to deal with the Wildcat formation.

“It’s just assignment football really,” Zimmer said. “At the end of the day, there’s so many things off of it. They’ve got play actions off of it. They’ve got the keeps and then they get other guys in the backfield involved. There’s a lot of different things. It just keeps you off balance. I do think that there’s a lot of good coaches in the NFL and each new thing that comes out – whether it be the Wildcat or the unbalanced line a few years ago, the zone read now or the double A-gap blitz – guys figure a lot of stuff out. That’s why it’s always kind of got to stay on top of things and keep trying to invent.”

The key, according to Robison, is to maintain your position, read what the lineman in front of you is doing and react accordingly. The problem most defenders have with the read option is allowing their own aggression to get the best of them.

“It’s just about doing your job,” Robison said. “Whatever the defense calls for on that play, you do. There’s a certain way that we play the option and it’s based on reading your keys and have 11 guys being where they’re supposed to be.”

It’s a delicate balance that defenders have to take because of Wilson’s uncanny escapability. It requires players to remain disciplined, which, in the high-octane world of the NFL, is easier said than done.

Even when defenders do everything right, Wilson still has the ability to make plays, so maintaining their gap integrity is critical.

“He reads what we’re doing and we have to stick to our keys,” Griffen said. “You have to force him to go where you want him to go and get him on the ground. There aren’t many guys who do it as well as Russell Wilson, so we have to be on our game and execute on every play and, when they run it, get after him.”

One thing that has sprouted from the rise of the read option is that running quarterbacks no longer are afforded the same protections in the backfield that pure pocket passers are given.

One of the primary deterrents that exist for slowing down the read option is to deliver big hits on the quarterback when he is running or gives the impression he still has the ball. At that point, he loses the protection given most QBs and, when the chance arises, defenders can hit him like they do any other runner with the ball.

“If you think he’s a running back with the ball, he’s just like any other running back – you get after him,” Robison said. “Obviously, he can’t be turned around looking at the play and you hit him. The way I understand the rule, if he’s in a position where he looks like he’s running the ball, you can hit him.”

The Vikings are trying not to make too much of Sunday’s game with the two-time defending NFC champs. It isn’t always easy because of the magnitude of the game and, given the national attention Sunday’s game is receiving, the Vikings are keeping their excitement about the possibility of beating Seattle tempered.

Perhaps they learned from their mistakes against the Packers, but, whether they say it or not, they know the gravity of knocking off the big dog of the NFC.

“Every game is important,” Griffen said. “We want to keep on winning and Seattle is just the next team we’re up against. That makes it the most important game, just because we’re playing it now. We don’t get caught up in what this means or what that means if we win. We just want to get a ‘W’ on Sunday and that means beating Seattle.”

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