The run and shoot. The spread offense. The wildcat. NFL history is peppered with trendy philosophies, strategies and tactics that come on strong and many times go away just as quickly. The latest? It appears to be the read-option offense.
The Vikings will get a close look at this attack on Sunday night when they travel to San Francisco to play the 49ers. They’re a team that has a quarterback who seems custom-made for this type of assault – Colin Kaepernick.
"I know we’ll see it," Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams said earlier in the week when he was asked about preparing for the 49ers read-option offense. "It’s the flavor of the month for the NFL, so a lot of teams are going to it and they’re a team that does it well."
Williams’ "flavor of the month" comment was made somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as the Vikings second-year coordinator is not one to denigrate another team’s philosophy. But the playful jab at what some view as a trendy offensive scheme does illuminate what many defensive minds across the NFL think of an offense that, while effective at times, does expose the quarterback to so many hits.
"I’m not quite sure," Williams said when asked where he sees the read-option offense going from here. "I think the owners will take care of that to see how much they’ll let their quarterbacks get hit and to see if the quarterbacks can sustain a full year of running the ball and being able to pass it. We’ll see. I’m not going to make any predictions as far as how long it’ll stay in and what the evolution will be of it down the road. It’s something that the offenses are going to. They had some success last year and we’ll see how much success in the NFL they have with it this year."
Later in the week when Williams met with reporters once again, he said he could see the read-option being relevant in the NFL for "at least another year," also adding that a lot of teams the Vikings are scheduled to play this season can employ the attack – Carolina, Seattle and Washington, to name three.
"It is good for us to test run, test some ideas out, and test some things out that we would like to do and see how they fare without it counting. It will be good for us," Williams admitted.
Williams was also careful to point out, however, that it’s not as if the 49ers offense is one that relies only on the read-option.
"We looked at the read option in the offseason, but also, with that, you do not want to fall into the trap when you actually count the number of times that the play comes up," Williams said. "It is not as much as you would like to think, but at the same token, if they run it four times, you do not want it to be four touchdowns or four big plays. You do have to pay attention to it, and teams, if you do not stop it, teams will run it again and again and again. You do have to make sure that you shut it down, but not at the expense of stopping a team’s bread and butter type plays."
At the end of the day, Sunday’s game marks the Vikings third preseason game. It’s viewed by many as the most important of the exhibition games because it’s the contest in which starters will see the most playing time. It’s that fact, more than facing the latest offensive trend, that has Williams the most excited to coach Sunday’s game.
Asked in what areas he would be judging his players on Sunday night, Williams shifted the focus away from the read-option and instead honed in on the fundamentals and basics.
"Really the same ones, even though we are talking about the option football and the zone read and these type of things," Williams said. "We still want to stay to our core values, which is our players playing smart. Are they recognizing situation football? Do they recognize situations in a ball game? Are they playing disciplined? We always talk about being a disciplined football player, hitting your gaps, playing assignment football, no pre- or post-snap penalties.
"Then, are we playing fast and physical? I just want to see ‘Are we more physical than the team we are playing against? Are we living up to the Vikings standards of running to the ball, hitting, and creating turnovers?’ Those three things are really what we want to judge our guys against."