If our little band of bloggers had a more robust travel budget, we might have made the trip to Friday night's Maxwell Awards Dinner in Atlantic City. We missed out, but that's all right, because Greg Cosell was there.
The NFL Films guru was kind enough to pass along an interesting nugget from Chuck Pagano. The Indianapolis Colts coach reiterated what many of his peers told Cosell at the NFL Scouting Combine: Defensive minds around the NFL feel the read-option attack won't be a big issue once it undergoes more study. That's a primary subplot heading into next season.
Read-option plays can be run from multiple formations, including the Pistol, used liberally in Washington and San Francisco last season. Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers received plenty of attention for their ability to take off with the ball on read-option plays -- Russell Wilson, too -- but as Cosell points out, it comes down to this: The ability to throw will always be king in the NFL. All three of these quarterbacks are outstanding passers. Being mobile isn't enough.
Still, the Pistol formation, a relatively newer concept, might be around for the long haul. With the right quarterback, the Pistol removes some of the run-game limitations inherent to a traditional shotgun formation. With your quarterback and runner aligned closer to the point of attack, defenders -- especially linebackers -- struggle to see ground plays develop.
Not everything coming out of the Pistol formation is a read-option play (they're often mistaken to be one and the same). We saw the 49ers fry the Falcons in the NFC title game without running Kaepernick. Having to account for the possibility of a mobile quarterback freezes the defense -- that's the point -- but the Pistol's innovator, former Nevada coach Chris Ault, told NFL Network that even plodding passers could operate out of the formation. That wouldn't involve read-option plays, per se, but it speaks to the effectiveness of the ground game out of a shortened shotgun.
Defenses might catch up tactically, but read-option plays (especially from the Pistol) force defenses to account for so many possibilities out of the backfield. Next season's defensive counter-punch will be interesting to watch.
Everybody talks about what Kaepernick did on the ground in that game, but he's dangerous because he can make every throw. San Francisco has a quarterback that can do it all -- that's why the 49ers' offense will continue to evolve.
It's a fascinating time to be a fan of the game. We don't know where all of this is going. Read-option concepts have staying power, they've been around for ages, and mobile quarterbacks are going to draw more interest than ever. But mobile quarterbacks who can't deliver the football -- no matter what the scheme -- will never thrive at the pro level.