When your defense gives up 750 yards and 55 points, you’ll take whatever you can get in terms of standout defensive plays. This week, we look at how Pete Robertson’s technique on defending the zone read was essentially perfect and how he neutralized a deadly runner in the backfield.
There are several different techniques of defending the zone read. And once again, I’m going back to the well here at Grantland and Chris Brown as he writes about how defenses are scheming the stop the zone read (if you can’t tell, he’s a really smart guy and I’m a big fan).
The read-option forces defenses to bring in additional defenders to stop the run — but that’s only the first step.2 According to 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, on read-option plays, offenses are “not even blocking one of the guys at the point of attack, so it actually becomes 11 against 10 if they do it right. So, the numbers are flipped” (from a typical running play, in which the quarterback doesn’t have to be accounted for). Read-option plays get a three-for-one: They add an additional offensive player whom defenses have to worry about, allow the offense to get additional blocks and double-teams by leaving a frontal defender unblocked, and allow the offense to “block” a defense’s most fearsome defender — think DeMarcus Ware or Jason Pierre-Paul — with a player who has probably never blocked anyone in his life: the quarterback.
The article actually focuses a lot on a different technique of defending the run known as “scrape,” or gap exchange, but that’s not what Tech did here to stop Trevone Boykin.
We’re just looking at Pete Robertson here. He starts in a standing position on the end of the line closest to the bottom of the screen. At the snap, he sees the play is a zone read option play.
After the snap, you see the tackle leaving Robertson to be read by the QB. Robertson initially shuffles his feet, and then attacks the mesh point, or where the QB and the RB come together.
At this point above, because Robertson was crashing in, Boykin read to pull the ball and he did. But because Robertson was attacking the mesh point and not crashing in to intercept the running back, he’s put himself in a position to make a play on either the RB or the QB.
Robertson continues to crash in and grabs Boykin, who tries to spin out of the tackle but Robertson has his legs wrapped enough that all this spin does is throw Boykin to the ground. You can also see the penetration that Fehoko got, which would have redirected the RB or maybe even getting Fehoko the tackle for loss. Demetrius Alston has also beat his block and is closing in on the QB.
And this is what you like to see – defenders closing in on the ball carrier to ensure the tackle is made. Alston essentially falls down on Boykin, completing the tackle for negative yards.
Running the read option is an effective way to slow down a talented rushing defensive end. A lot of offenses in the SEC attempted this when JaDaveon Clowney was terrorizing everybody. This play is an example of an effective way to defend the option, but it takes a disciplined defensive end and one that recognizes the play and reacts quickly enough not to just chase the running back. Had Robertson chased Green, Boykin would have had quite a bit of room off of the edge to make up some of the penalty yardage from the previous play.