Roethlisberger is Bortles, Bortles is Roethlisberger

The comparison for Jacksonville rookie quarterback Blake Bortles has often been Ben Roethlisberger. On Sunday, Bortles made his official NFL debut in the second half of a blowout loss against Indianapolis. The numbers just happened to catch my eye and made me realize this was as close as a start as Bortles can have to Roethlisberger, almost 10 years to the date of his debut.

benbort

Same TD:INT ratio and passer rating? Really? About the only major difference was Indy’s lazy defense didn’t feel like tackling Hurns on a 63-yard touchdown.

I don’t expect Bortles to go undefeated as a starter with the league’s worst defense, but for one half, he has lived up to the Roethlisberger comparison.

Quarterbacks: Most Fourth-Quarter Comebacks and Game-Winning Drives by NFL Team

Lost even on me in Sunday afternoon’s chaos was the fact that Tony Romo moved past Roger Staubach for the most game-winning drives in Dallas Cowboys history. He has 24 now. Last season Romo took the lead in fourth-quarter comeback wins (21 now) in Cowboys history as well.

That’s newsworthy by itself, but what about the other 31 NFL teams? Who are their all-time leaders in fourth-quarter comeback wins and game-winning drives? I compiled the table, which will be added to the NFL STAT TABLES section I plan to do much more with in the near future.

TM4QCGWD

As usual, playoffs are included. How typical of the Jets to feature three different quarterbacks here. Not much else surprised me, but I’ve been working with this data for years so that’s to be expected. Let’s just say the bar is really low in Tampa Bay, but I doubt Mike Glennon will ever step his big ass over it.

Matt Ryan needs two more 4QC wins to move past Bartkowski for the outright Atlanta lead. He would be the 9th active quarterback to hold the lead in 4QC and GWD for his team, which just goes to show how impressive this current crop of quarterbacks really is.

All nine of the active leaders have been with their team since at least 2009. That’s when Jay Cutler was traded to Chicago and Matthew Stafford was the No. 1 pick in the draft.  If we think about that season some more, Marc Bulger (STL), Jake Delhomme (CAR), Donovan McNabb (PHI) and David Garrard (JAC) were still on their teams, so that’s 13 quarterbacks who went on to become their team’s GWD leader all active in 2009. Peyton Manning (IND) and Matt Schaub (HOU) were still on their teams too, so that’s 15. Brett Favre was in Minnesota, but he was already Green Bay’s all-time leader, so that kind of makes it 16, which is half the league.

So in 2009, there were 16 active starting quarterbacks who have eventually led an NFL franchise in career game-winning drives.

Some people disagree that this is a really special era of quarterbacks, but I keep finding evidence to support that it is. When teams like Cleveland, Oakland, Tampa Bay and St. Louis keep going through quarterbacks, I gain more respect for the players who keep starting year after year.

Even Flacco and Eli.

him

Defenses Continue to Hurt Themselves in Today’s NFL

I’m not a X’s & O’s guy, but most reading this already know that. I do statistical analysis and watch a lot of games to pick up on trends and how certain teams/players perform on the field.

What I think I have is a common sense approach to how the game should be played. Part of my educational background is studying how to limit motions to improve efficiency for various processes. Leaving a team’s best receiver wide open is probably a terrible decision no matter if the defense that was specifically called was done correctly to the coaches’ wishes. Now this is a rant that literally just popped in my head so this may get branched out into a legitimate article later, but for now, just bear with me.

In preparation for the AFC Championship between Denver and New England, I have been pointing out how limited the New England passing game is without any tight end threat or even a real vertical threat at this point. It’s basically all Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola (Austin Collie when they need a breather) running short routes, often from the slot, and yet no one has really found a way to shut it down yet. Shane Vereen can catch passes out of the backfield, but he’s not Marshall Faulk. New England has mostly worked on the running game lately, but the passing game will be crucial for the remainder of the postseason and it has to be these same receivers.

So when coaches who get paid millions of dollars like Chuck Pagano, John Fox and Jack Del Rio sit down to prepare for this Rob Gronkowski-less offense, how can they not see the same things I see from my home? I’m not going to get into the statistics for the increase in short passes, but we know most teams throw shorter more often today. Yards per completion are down as the spread/shotgun offense is used more. Yet we still see defenses play this archaic style of trying not to get beat deep, even when the very best vertical  passing games will be lucky to hit 30 passes more than 20 yards down the field in a given season.

Tom Brady, for example, is 14/58 on passes thrown 21+ yards this season. Is that really something to fear? That’s in line with his previous seasons too. You can even leave a guy open and there’s a decent shot he will miss him, like he missed Amendola against the Saints this season. With the way offenses are setting records for points and yardage these days, giving up a quick strike is hardly the burden it used to be. But alas, I’m ranting again and need to get to what I saw in Saturday night’s game against Indianapolis.

Edelman caught 105 passes this year. He’s clearly Brady’s No. 1 target, so the Colts naturally should counter with putting their best starting cornerback Vontae Davis on him. That’s smart. But look what happens on this play early in the first quarter. It was 2nd-and-9 with Brady in the shotgun so there’s no reason not to expect a pass. You can see Davis lined up on Edelman at the snap:

rant1

Here’s what I would have done on the play as a defensive coordinator (and yes, I only have Paint and not Photoshop):

rant2

I shadow Edelman with Davis so he would pick him up on the crossing route. I let my linebacker, who has no chance with Edelman here, come up to prevent the running back having open space in the left flat. There, those two players are taken care of with the proper matchup for their skill talent and you can see the right side is matched up well already too.

What did the Colts do?

rant3

Davis took a few leisurely steps backwards and ended up covering nothing on the play because Brady’s pass was already out  and easily caught by Edelman, who had a lot of open field to run after the catch and turn it into a 25-yard gain.

How can any coach justify Davis’ defensive assignment on that play? It’s not like Brady’s going to pull it down and run and make Davis the last line of defense. That’s not Kaepernick out there. Is RB Brandon freakin’ Bolden out of the backfield worthy of Davis’ coverage? You mean to tell me your best corner isn’t better off covering the guy with 105 catches? Is Darrelle Revis, under Rex Ryan at least, really the only cornerback capable of covering a guy all over the field? Even that performance was probably overblown.

Say what you want about the late Al Davis, but that concept of playing tight, bump-and-run man-to-man coverage makes the most logical sense. Throw off all these timing routes with the contact you’re allowed to have within five yards. Why are coaches leaving a team’s favorite receiver wide open or letting him breeze past linebackers that have no hope of covering him? Yeah, you can mix it up with man and zone, but what value does leaving Davis where he was on that play have for the defense? What in the hell is he going to limit there that a linebacker can’t?

It’s hard to play defense now, but a lot of that is self-inflicted when guys, by instruction or not, are letting receivers go and watching action they have no shot of doing anything about.

If you think I’m freaking out over one play, consider what happened in the second quarter. This time Davis did stick with Edelman out of the slot, but Edelman just beat him on the catch after a play-action pass. Still, the defense was there to limit this to a 12-yard gain instead of a 25-yard gain like the earlier crosser. You can see the defense in great position to wrap Edelman up at the 40:

rant4

Well, Edelman broke tackles and gained 15 more yards to turn it into a 27-yard gain. So it’s poor defense either way, but it’s a hell of a lot better to live with the designed coverage on that play than the free release and easy 25 yards on the first play.

Then again, for a coach who thought punting on 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter down 43-22 was the right call, is it even a stretch he would think having Davis spy the running back would be better than following the guy most likely to get the ball?

Sport Science Deceives Again After a Controversial Monday Night Football Ending

George Orwell probably could have envisioned a TV feature where propaganda is fed to the masses all under the disguise of “Sport Science.”

Oh, they used science, so us simpletons can’t possibly dispute it!”

ESPN airs Sport Science segments and it just so happens that Monday Night Football has had the two most controversial endings since the 2012 season. Last year it was the Golden Tate play, which of course prompted a Sport Science feature. The NFL supported the call the whole way, but the general public was outraged over the touchdown. Naturally, the feature flat out lied to say M.D. Jennings “made first contact with the ball” even though it’s clear he did not.

tate

Jump to this week and the game-ending play between the Patriots and Panthers. Luke Kuechly certainly makes significant contact with Rob Gronkowski in the back of the end zone, but the pass was underthrown and intercepted in the front of the end zone by Robert Lester. A flag was thrown, but picked up and the game was over.

The NFL official said Monday night the pass was deemed uncatchable as it was underthrown. On Tuesday, the NFL added that the officials felt the contact on Gronkowski occurred at or about the same time as the pass was intercepted. Once a ball is touched, even by the smallest of fingertips, there is no pass interference.

Hardly the same negative reaction as last year’s play, but many (most?) people think a penalty was warranted. Once again we got a Sport Science feature on the play.

Again, their “scientific analysis” goes against the NFL call (and rules), satisfying the public in the process. Scientific? Hardly. Just as I did with the Golden Tate play last year, I took a copy of the game and broke it down with video editing software.

The first problem is Sport Science (SS) uses this spot for when Kuechly makes contact:

contact

That’s not a penalty. Players touch each other all the time down the field, often considered incidental contact, but for it to be pass interference, you have to do one of the following from the NFL rule book:

Actions that constitute defensive pass interference include but are not limited to:

(a) Contact by a defender who is not playing the ball and such contact restricts the receiver’s opportunity to make the catch.

(b) Playing through the back of a receiver in an attempt to make a play on the ball.

(c) Grabbing a receiver’s arm(s) in such a manner that restricts his opportunity to catch a pass.

(d) Extending an arm across the body of a receiver thus restricting his ability to catch a pass, regardless of whether the defender is playing the ball.

(e) Cutting off the path of a receiver by making contact with him without playing the ball.

(f) Hooking a receiver in an attempt to get to the ball in such a manner that it causes the receiver’s body to turn prior to the ball arriving.

Now you can say Kuechly did a few of these at some point on the play, but SS determines it was a penalty as soon as he touched him, which is wrong. Also, there’s some very interesting language in the NFL rules about what is not pass interference:

Actions that do not constitute pass interference include but are not limited to:

(a) Incidental contact by a defender’s hands, arms, or body when both players are competing for the ball, or neither player is looking for the ball. If there is any question whether contact is incidental, the ruling shall be no interference.

(b) Inadvertent tangling of feet when both players are playing the ball or neither player is playing the ball.

(c) Contact that would normally be considered pass interference, but the pass is clearly uncatchable by the involved players.

(d) Laying a hand on a receiver that does not restrict the receiver in an attempt to make a play on the ball.

(e) Contact by a defender who has gained position on a receiver in an attempt to catch the ball.

The part in bold is most interesting as the involved players are Gronkowski and Kuechly. Since Lester intercepted the underthrown ball, it’s no stretch to say neither Kuechly or Gronkowski could have caught the ball, so it’s uncatchable and there’s no penalty. We see end-of-game defense played like this all the time with contact in the end zone. That’s why we’ve seen one pass interference on a Hail Mary in the last 15+ years, and that wasn’t even a good call.

So starting from the wrong time frame, SS concludes “the contact in dispute happened two-thirds of a second before the ball was intercepted.”

So they’re saying 0.667 seconds and the argument would be that’s enough time for the refs to see it before the interception. However, it wasn’t 0.667 seconds. We need to find the point where pass interference actually happened.

This element of the play is what I called “patty-cake” on Twitter. It’s just two guys touching hands; not a penalty by any means.

patty

At the end of the patty-cake, Kuechly reaches his left hand to Gronk’s shoulder, which is still not a penalty. The restriction comes when he reaches his right arm and makes that bear-hug that has been captured in many still images this week:

bhug

Now we start to have enough contact where one can call it PI should they feel it was catchable, but look where the ball’s at. It’s nearly arrived, underthrown, and Lester is reaching out to make the impending interception.

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If we take the time from where Kuechly gets his right hand around Gronkowski to the point where Lester touches the ball, that’s at most 0.43 seconds (about a “one-miss-is”). It took 1.33 seconds for the ball to leave Brady’s hand and be intercepted by Lester, so the meaningful contact came on just under the final third of the play when the ball was in the air and pass interference was possible.

That’s not 0.667, and in live action with an underthrown ball and the defender already motioning to make the interception, it’s easy to see why the referees would declare the contact happened at roughly the time of the interception.

SS did play up the “Gronk’s superhuman, he can catch the ball!” — no really, that was spoken on TV by someone on another network yesterday — angle, but by botching the point of any infraction, there’s no scientific evidence he could have made a play on the ball had he not been contacted. He clearly never expected the pass to be underthrown and was not headed in the direction the ball ultimately did.

So it’s a good no-call, because the last thing we need is an offense getting a second chance for poor execution. This ending also adds to the overwhelming proof that referees would rather go with the result on the field (interception) than to make a critical, game-changing call. It happened with Golden Tate, it happened with Michael Crabtree in the Super Bowl and it will continue to happen. Maybe Gronkowski should have learned from Greg Olsen on how to sell it better.

The only reason a call like this gets so much attention is because it was a prime-time game between two good teams, it was a great game and the final play was everyone’s favorite meathead tight end trying to catch a pass from a golden boy quarterback.

If this was Rams at Panthers in a 1 p.m. Sunday setting on FOX and Kellen Clemens underthrew that pass to Jared Cook, you’d get no outcry over the ending. You would get NBC’s Dan Patrick reading the following over a highlight of the play: “Last chance for the Rams. Kellen Clemens, uhh, not quite enough air. Robert Lester with the interception. Carolina has won six straight. Stay tuned for Hines Ward’s ten words of analysis…”

And you know this, man.

Update, 11/22/2013: It was brought to my attention that the link to the Sport Science video on ESPN no longer works. One link says “NOT FOUND” while clicking on the one I used in this article takes you to this video page:

win

Interesting.

Andrew Luck vs. Peyton Manning: Judgment Day (Terminator Spoof)

Twenty million human lives watched football played by quarterback machines on October 20, 2013. The survivors of the game called it Judgment Day. They were exposed as either a Peyton Manning fan or an Indianapolis Colts fan.

Irskynet, the computer which controlled the machines, sent two terminators back through time. Their mission: to destroy the leader of the fourth-quarter comeback statistic revolution…John Elway.

Irskynet

Johnny Unitas, the first machine model, was the premiere quarterback in the two-minute drill. How else can you explain his machine-like efficiency under pressure? But Unitas never received any credit for his record number of comebacks.

The first terminator was programmed to strike at John Elway in April 1983. This way he could never make fools of the Colts in the NFL draft and never set the franchise back for years. The T-800 terminator was…too smart for his own good. He seized the opportunity to became the new comeback king.

manning_medium

The attack failed…so the team relocated to Indianapolis and eventually wound up with Jeff George.

The second was set to strike at John after his retirement. This advanced T-1000 model was established as a student at Stanford, which is Elway’s alma mater. He even had help from another Irskynet machine, code name “Captain Comeback”. The two machines became more interested in winning games and growing a neck beard, so this too failed.

StT2

The Resistance was able to send a lone warrior. A protector for John. He proved to be…unreliable.

Denver Broncos  at the Oakland Raiders

Little did Jim Irsky, owner of Irskynet, know that the first terminator was reprogrammed by John to become his protector in 2012. This took place shortly after Irskynet shut down the T-800 model due to a neck malfunction. John wooed the T-800 to Denver to find success he could never dream of under Irskynet’s watch in Indianapolis.

PMJEL

Each side had an expensive terminator. The T-1000 was given another shot by Irskynet. Some modifications, perfected by a stroke of luck, like added mobility and shape-shifting to take the form of Peyton Manning. John Elway, Andre the Giant or any solid metal object made the new model a favorite in town. However, as Judgment Day approached, many in Indianapolis were torn over how to react to the event. The football game was one thing, but either John Elway or Jim Irsky were going to perish given the outcome. This war would end here.

Who plays football next to a steel mill anyway?

October 20, 2013 came and went. The T-1000 put up a good fight early, but you can’t keep the original down for long. The T-800 led a record-tying 51st game-winning drive, which sunk Irsky into a vat of molten steel, silencing him once and for all. (The choice of molten steel was an Abby’s hat pick, by the way).

It was not until hours after the game that everyone realized the two could still meet in the playoffs to really settle things, but the reign of Irskynet was over, and the world was a better place for it. The T-800 protected John for two more years before shutting down for the last time, going out on top. The T-1000 aged rapidly, playing the football coach in the 2028 remake of The Faculty.

Analysis: There should be three great quarterbacks in the building on Sunday night. There are not three great films in the Terminator series.

claire

I’ll be back, unless you hated this.

Me Philip, Me…Happy?

Philip Rivers has been caught giving us many great expressions over the years, though most have come after humiliating defeat. To show I’m not biased, here’s Philip after what Jerry Jones would call a glory-hole day: beating the Colts.

rivers

I guess that’s happy. Here’s the slower version:

prslow

NFL Week 5 Predictions and the Touchdown Pass Record

Short on ranting this week with some Saturday research to do, but let’s quickly look at the passing touchdown record. It seems to be the one in most jeopardy from the potential season-long juggernaut in Denver. Of course it would be Peyton Manning reclaiming the record from Tom Brady (50), which he would have already had if the Colts did not pull him after one series in Week 17 2004.

To earn a touchdown pass, you must have possession of the ball. So I took the drive stats for Manning ’04 (and four games into 2013) and Brady ’07 to see how many drives each had and how many they sat out. Kneel down drives are excluded from all stats.

(QB1 = Manning or Brady)

PTDR

The numbers are eerily similar with Brady throwing one more touchdown on one more drive. Manning did sit out twice (16) as many drives as Brady (8) that season. It’s still very early, but he’s actually had 11 drives per game this year, which could give him a better shot at record volume. The 2007 Patriots were more efficient at scoring than the 2004 Colts, though you can see the Colts had more missed field goals and Manning’s skill players fumbled five times compared to none for Brady, who had 12 total turnovers (Manning with 11). The 2013 Broncos are scoring TDs at a better rate than the record-setting 2007 Patriots, but again, it is still very early.

The 2013 Broncos have already punted 7 times (BAL) and 5 times (Giants) in games, which did not happen to the 2004 Colts until they had 6 punts against the Ravens in Game 14. So it hasn’t been all perfect in Denver, though if Manning continues to get closer to 11 possessions per game, then you can see the potential this offense has. The best defense against Denver has often been itself. Cut down on some of the mistakes and some records will likely fall this season.

2013 NFL Week 5 Predictions

The Thursday streak continues at 5-0 with my pick of Cleveland. This week’s schedule looks very enticing.

Winners in bold:

  • Lions at Packers
  • Eagles at Giants
  • Chiefs at Titans
  • Ravens at Dolphins
  • Saints at Bears
  • Jaguars at Rams
  • Seahawks at Colts
  • Patriots at Bengals
  • Panthers at Cardinals
  • Broncos at Cowboys
  • Texans at 49ers
  • Chargers at Raiders
  • Jets at Falcons

Season results:

  • Week 1: 11-5
  • Week 2: 12-4
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 9-6
  • Season: 40-23

Game-Winning Drive Progress for FOX?

On November 13, 2011, the Saints and Falcons were playing in overtime. This was the game where Mike Smith went for it on 4th-and-1 at his own 29 and failed. This graphic from FOX came up about Drew Brees and his game-winning drives:

vlcsnap-2011-11-14-13h41m36s22

The fact I have this saved in a folder means I probably ripped them for this in Captain Comeback that week. For one, the semantics are ugly as “game-tying” should never appear in the text. As for the number, it even says including postseason, yet it should have been 27 instead of 25.

Indeed, Brees picked up his 28th game-winning drive that day. Flash forward to Sunday between the Saints and Buccaneers, and FOX had this graphic at the end of the game:

brees

Now it’s up to 31, and Brees was in fact going for his 32nd game-winning drive, which he got after a dagger to Marques Colston to set up the field goal.  Notice it also kept the language much simpler and accurate.

So it took a few years, but maybe FOX has it sorted out now. Or maybe I’ll just watch a different game with a different production staff next week that tries to use the same “game-tying” mess I’ve seen in the past.

But I’ll try to be optimistic for a change.

Draftday.dk Interview: Evolution of the NFL

In early July I did an interview with Danish NFL site draftday.dk. Excerpts were used in their series on the evolution of the NFL, focusing on topics like the passing game and read-option craze. People like Greg Cosell and Jason Cole were also interviewed. You can view the read-option article here. 

As always I had a lot more to say, so here is the full interview:

1. Many sources point to the 2003 AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and the Colts as the turning point that led to the “passing league”. The Patriots’ manhandling of Peyton Manning’s receivers led to the league instructing its officials to more strictly enforce the “chuck” rule or the “Ty Law rule”. Do you agree? How much of an impact did that game have on the league?

The events of January 18, 2004 unquestionably had a major impact on the NFL. Not only in the AFC game, but the NFC Championship between the Eagles and Panthers also showcased a lot of contact in the secondary, especially by the winning team. Carolina’s Ricky Manning Jr. etched his name in playoff lore by intercepting three of Donovan McNabb’s passes in a 14-3 upset.

Earlier in the day in the AFC game between the Colts and Patriots, the referees clearly swallowed their whistles. The game had seven combined penalties and they were all for false starts, delay of game and offside/encroachment. That means not a single penalty was called on anything that happened after the ball was snapped.

The most egregious part was the end of the game. Despite how badly they had played, the Colts were down 21-14 at their own 20 with 2:01 remaining and two timeouts. Football fans and the NFL’s media partners live for these moments. A game-tying touchdown drive to force overtime or even just a march into the red zone – these teams already played a classic regular-season game that year that ended with a goal-line stand – would have made this an instant classic.

Instead, on two consecutive plays Peyton Manning targeted tight end Marcus Pollard, who was first jammed at the line and grabbed by the jersey by linebacker Willie McGinest. He was then passed off to linebacker Roman Phifer, who continued the contact more than five yards down the field, which is illegal.

The second play came on a decisive 4th-and-10, and it was the same approach with McGinest getting a clear hold around Pollard’s neck before passing him off to Phifer, who made even more contact this time, including a subtle arm pull just before the ball arrived incomplete. No flags came and that clinched the win for New England.

POL

After the game the league quietly admitted referee Walt Coleman, infamous for the “Tuck Rule” call two years earlier, and his crew missed penalties on both plays. It was too late for the Colts, but their general manager Bill Polian had clout in the league and the competition committee listened to his complaints. While the “Ty Law Rule” is really just the “Mel Blount Rule” from 1978, it was a message to referees to call more illegal contact, which is defined as non-incidental contact more than five yards down the field.

Looking at the penalty data on Pro-Football-Reference, there were 51 illegal contact penalties in 2003. That number sky-rocketed to 123 in 2004 after the re-emphasis on the rule. Since then things have calmed down with an average of 78.5 illegal contact penalties per year (less than 70 the last three years), but you could see the immediate impact it had.

Manning threw 49 touchdown passes and set the passer rating record in 2004. Since then both records have been broken along with Dan Marino’s 1984 record of 5,084 passing yards. The league-wide passing numbers continue to increase in volume and efficiency with the 2012 season boasting a league-wide record 85.6 passer rating.

In fact, the eight seasons with the highest league passer rating have all come since 2004.

Now an influx of great quarterback talent and other rule changes for illegal hits on defenseless players have also played a big part, but the shift to a dominant passing league was really set in motion by the events on Championship Sunday over nine years ago.

2. Some believe that speed will be the most important new feature on NFL offenses in 2013 – you will see more up tempo, no huddle offenses (like Chip Kelly’s Oregon offense or Patriots’ offense in 2012). What’s your take on that?

I’m not buying that maximizing your offense’s play count is the right way to go about things. Ideally, I would want an offense capable of going on multiple touchdown drives in a game that take 6-8 minutes off the clock each. That means efficient runs and completions in the passing game. Bleed the clock as you build the lead, forcing the other team to force things and play one-dimensional offense.

Someone like Peyton Manning has used the no-huddle for years, but he will still often use most of the 40-second play clock to diagnose his matchups. That cat-and-mouse game is still an important part of football. The Dolphins used a surprisingly high amount of no-huddle with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill last year, yet it’s not like that prevented them from being one of the bottom-quarter offenses in the league. You still need to know what you’re doing out there.

There’s a lot of mystery about how Chip Kelly’s offense will operate in the NFL. I get the feeling it’s either going to be a great success or a failure that will make Steve Spurrier look like a good NFL coach.

My fear for the Eagles is that they will find themselves going three-and-out too often, which will wear out the defense. It’s a defense that has not been very good in recent years, so you could see a team that falls behind by a few scores in the first half with regularity.

Running the fast pace may help them come back, but I just do not view Michael Vick as a quarterback capable of making this offense work. Maybe if Kelly can last long enough to find his next quarterback, we will get to see more of his college genius at work. Oregon’s offense was heavy on the run, though this is the most pass-happy era in NFL history. Teams passed on 57.7 percent of plays last year, which is the highest ratio ever.

The innovation I like is shortening the play calls down to one word if possible. I never understood why someone like coach/broadcaster Jon Gruden took such pride in memorizing these plays that are 10 or more words in length. That’s not being efficient and it makes it harder on the players to memorize a large volume of plays.

If you can get the play out quicker, you can run the no-huddle with a faster pace. But faster does not guarantee better results.

3. If yes, why is speed in the offensive system more important than ever?

See above.

4. Last year the read-option was the hit of the NFL. How do you expect this offense to evolve in 2013 around the NFL?

I expect we will see more teams experiment with it. It helps to have the really mobile quarterback, but quarterbacks like Andy Dalton, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Jake Locker and Ryan Tannehill are mobile enough to run it too. The current crop of quarterbacks may be the fastest and most athletic in NFL history.

Like the Wildcat, I wouldn’t be surprised if some teams put in a package for the read-option just to make the opponent spend some time preparing for it. That may be with a different player under center, such as Denard Robinson in Jacksonville or Joe Webb in Minnesota. I would say Tim Tebow in New England, but let’s not go down that road. He is very predictable in keeping the ball on those plays as he’s already run this style of offense with the 2011 Broncos.

Developing more passing options out of it could make the play-action passing game even more deadly than it already is around the league. I don’t think teams ideally want to see their high-priced quarterback running by design too often. It’s still a game that is about throwing the ball.

5. Some say that the read-option will “fade” out of the NFL like the Wildcat – and some critics are not sure of the longevity of the offense. What’s your reaction to that prophecy?

I think it makes a bigger impact than the Wildcat, but I don’t see it ever being a major part of any successful NFL team.

One of the biggest myths of the 2012 season is just how often teams used it. ESPN’s Mike Sando did a great article on it showing that only 457 plays used the read-option last year. That’s 1.4 percent of all NFL plays.

No team used it more than Carolina’s 147 plays, but even that was only 14.9 percent of the Panthers’ total offense. Seattle with Russell Wilson gets lumped into the teams “heavily” using it, but the Seahawks’ play count was just 55. Beyond the quarterback keeping the ball, star running backs like Frank Gore (16 carries) and Marshawn Lynch (25 carries) rarely ran the ball on the option plays as well.

It’s never going to be as widespread as something like the shotgun, for example.

When news came out recently that Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers didn’t prepare for it against Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers in the playoffs, he had the numbers to support that decision. Before that game, Kaepernick had 12 runs all season on the read-option. He used it seven times that night for 99 yards and a touchdown. It was just not something the 49ers did often, yet they hurt the Packers with it in that one game.

However, defenses adjusted quickly. In the ensuing playoff games against Atlanta and Baltimore, Kaepernick had three designed runs for 10 yards. Only one of those plays came on the zone-read option. It gained three yards.

This is an offensive strategy that will have to evolve to sustain as every team’s defensive staff has likely studied all of those 457 plays this offseason. It really wouldn’t take that long to break them down.

An athletic defense that stays disciplined has a great shot of limiting this style of offense, which frankly is getting too much credit as a 2012 innovation. It’s not that new. In doing various research this offseason, I have seen the 2010 Eagles use it with Michael Vick. Backup quarterback Troy Smith used it for the 2009 Ravens. Even Matt Cassel (Kansas City) has used it before.

The forgotten team that really stands out to me is the 2006 Atlanta Falcons. They opened the season using the zone-read option and rushed for 558 yards in a 2-0 start. They finished the season with 2,939 rushing yards. Vick rushed for 1,039 yards by himself, which is a quarterback record.

However, many forget about this team because it was still not that successful of an offense, ranking 21st in points per drive. The Falcons finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs. We never found out if they could expand upon this offense as Vick’s Atlanta career ended when his involvement in dog fighting was brought to light.

What really made the zone-read option so popular last season is that very young quarterbacks like Kaepernick, Wilson and most importantly Robert Griffin III were leading teams to the postseason by having historic success offensively.

Though as the numbers show, most of their success came without the zone-read option. For these players to continue their ascent in the NFL, it will rest on their progression at throwing the ball.

Should those teams have less success this season, regardless of how they actually perform on read-option plays, you can bet the game will quickly turn a cold shoulder to it as just another short-lived gimmick.