Dissecting the Option Football Read

The most important aspect of option football is the read. It is the primary factor controlling whether or not your team will be successful.

I have seen option football teams with good offensive lines and solid running backs have less than average results when the quarterback struggles to make the correct read. With this in mind lets explore how a read is made. For the purposes of this article, I will be discussing the Inside Veer play out of a Flexbone set versus a 4-4 front using the “Ride and Decide” mesh method.

Pre-Snap Considerations

The first thing the option quarterback must do is determine which players are going to serve as the read players. This is taught in several different ways, usually involving some sort of count system and different rules to help the quarterback and other players determine who will be the read keys.

The first player to identify is the Dive Read. In many systems this will be the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOL) to the play side and is labeled #1. The rules vary, with many systems indicating this player as the first lineman who is shaded on or outside the Offensive Tackle. When playing against a 4-4 front this is usually the play side defensive end.

The next player to identify is the Pitch Read. This player is usually identified as being the next primary run defender outside of the Dive Read and is labeled #2. Some indicate this as the force player. Against a 4-4 front it is the play side outside linebacker.

The Quarterback needs to determine which defensive players will be the Read Keys. In this example the Dive Read is #1 and the Pitch Read is #2.

The quarterback must also be aware of possible stunts. Are backers showing? Is the outside linebacker tighter than normal? Are the lineman stemming during the cadence? The key is awareness. The option quarterback must be aware of what the defense is doing prior to the snap and be thinking about what they might do once the play has started.

The quarterback must be able to take in this information without tipping the play. He should survey both sides of the defense and be sure to not stare down the read keys. Obviously this will tip the defense to the direction of the call.

 Post-Snap Considerations

Once the ball is snapped, the Quarterback immediately gets his eyes on Dive Read and takes his steps to get on the Fullback’s dive path. As the mesh occurs the Quarterback will watch the Dive Read to see his response to the blocking scheme and backfield action. Against the triple option, the Defensive End will usually respond in seven basic ways.

  1. Heel Line – The Dive Read will immediately run down the line of scrimmage to take away the fullback’s path
  2. Squeeze – The Dive Read will get a punch on the offensive tackle and squeeze him into the fullback’s path
  3. Mesh Collision – The Dive Read will attack the mesh point and try to tackle the ball while the mesh is happening
  4. Up Field Charge – The Dive Read will rush up field to contain the option play and keep everything inside
  5. Sit – The Dive Read will sit and attempt to play both the fullback and quarterback
  6. Crash 1 – The Dive Read will attack the mesh and attempt to force a “pull” read, then react to the quarterback when he pulls.
  7. Crash 2 – The Dive Read will make an up field charge to force a give read, then crash inside to take away the fullback’s path.

Option Quarterback Reads

The quarterback’s ability to read these reactions are critical to option football success. For each reaction, the quarterback must make a decision. Generally the reads will be as follows. (Note: Good defenses will do other things such as cross charge the reads in an attempt to confuse the read. In these instances, the reads will vary, and might include a quick pull and quick pitch scenario.)
  1. DE Response: Heel Line – QB Read: Keep
  2. DE Response: Squeeze – QB Read: Keep
  3. DE Response: Mesh Collision – QB Read: Keep and Follow the FB  (Note: fullback must collision the Dive Read player)
  4. DE Response: Up Field Charge – QB Read: Give
  5. DE Response: Sit – QB Read: Give
  6. DE Response: Crash 1 – QB Read – Usually a Give. However, it may depend on how close the DE gets to the FB’s path. If the QB feels the DE will have an arm tackle he will give. If the QB can pull and out run the DE, he will keep. Another option might be to pull and cut off the Dive Read collision. This requires a certain feel for the play and how good the DE is. Proficiency with this read will improve with a high number of practice reps and multiple reps throughout the game.
  7. DE Response: Crash 2 – QB Read: – Same as Crash.
In the video below we see a Heel Line response, giving the quarterback a pull read.

Now we see the defensive end sit in response to the triple option, giving the quarterback a give read.

In the clip below, we see a crash response from the DE. He is trying to force a pull read and then take the quarterback. The quarterback reads it well and makes the hand off before getting into his option fake. The read works and the result is a big gain for the fullback.

The Pitch Read

When the quarterback gets a “Keep” read, he will immediately get his eyes on the Pitch Read player. As stated above, against the 4-4, this will be the outside linebacker.

There are a few different ways of teaching the quarterback how to attack the Pitch Read. One school of thought is to have the quarterback attack the Pitch Read’s outside hip. The other technique would be to attack the Pitch Read’s inside hip. Both have their merits, however, I tend to like the way the outside hip technique affects the play. I feel it puts more pressure on the Pitch Read and forces him to make a more definitive decision. This makes the read easier and opens the running lanes more when the correct read is made.

To better understand why I like attacking the outside hip, consider these points.

  • When the defender commits to the QB, the pitch is made and there is no way he can recover to take the pitch back. The Pitch Read will always be out leveraged. This will often lead to big plays on the edge.
  • If defender sits and tries to play both, the quarterback can stick his outside foot in the ground and cut up field. The Pitch Read may make the tackle in this instance, but it will usually happen after the QB has gained three or four more yards. Since the Pitch Read usually occurs after the line of scrimmage, this will usually result in a quality gain. Also, if the the Pitch Read doesn’t react quickly to the QB’s inside cut, there is the potential for a big gain.
The video below show how effective option football can be once the ball is on the edge and the quarterback makes a good read for the pitch.

Take another look at the clip below to see how the option quarterback can cut the ball inside the Pitch Read for big yardage.

Advanced Option Football Read: Cross Charge

When a more complicated read occurs, the quarterback might need to make a quick pull and quick pitch as shown below. This technique is known as “Reading the Stack” and is essential when playing against a 4-3 front or team that likes to cross charge with the DE and the OLB.


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