The zone-read option is a staple of college football, something Chip Kelly is renowned for at Oregon, and it's working its way into the NFL in general and Seattle in particular.
RENTON — The moment of truth arrives with Russell Wilson holding the ball at Marshawn Lynch’s belly, the quarterback’s eyes on the defender who’s unblocked at the line of scrimmage.
Wilson has the option on this play, but it’s really the opponent forced into a choice: Pursue Lynch or honor the threat that Wilson might run.
So Wilson watches, waiting to see which path the opponent chooses against Seattle’s zone-read option, a play with a complicated name that belies a simple premise. If the defender stays put, Wilson gives the ball to Lynch. If he comes barreling off the edge in pursuit of Lynch, Wilson pulls back and runs free around the edge. The goal is to neutralize that defender with a decision instead of a lineman.
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“It really does call for very specific discipline for the defense,” coach Pete Carroll said.
The play has become a staple of college football, something Chip Kelly is renowned for at Oregon, and it’s working its way into the NFL in general and Seattle in particular. The Seahawks started practicing it in October and began using it three games ago in Detroit.
“It’s always been in the plans,” Carroll said. “But we just needed to wait until we felt like it was time. It’s worked out very well.”
The Seahawks typically run the play out of the shotgun formation like they did on the final play of the third quarter in their Week 10 victory against the Jets. Wilson kept the ball that time, running outside for an 18-yard gain after Jets linebacker Bart Scott committed wholesale to chasing Lynch.
“I wouldn’t call him a running quarterback but he has the ability to run,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “Then it just gives you another dimension. Any time you put the ball in front of Marshawn or any of our backs, they have to honor that.”
Three plays after Wilson’s 18-yard run, the Seahawks showed a third option to that play. Wilson faked the handoff to Lynch, dropped back and passed to Sidney Rice for a 31-yard touchdown.
“We’re just getting going,” Carroll said.
For years, people have dismissed the viability of certain college quarterbacks. Now, NFL teams have begun to not just use the quarterback’s legs, but they’re taking pages out of college playbooks as well. There’s one member of Seattle’s offense who sees that as a sign that NFL teams are playing catch-up.
“I’ve always thought the league was about eight to 10 years behind college in that,” fullback Michael Robinson said.
The Carolina Panthers are using the play with Cam Newton and Washington with Robert Griffin III. Don’t expect the Seahawks to turn back any time soon.
“There’s no question that there is room in the league for stuff,” Carroll said. “The issue has always been not wanting your quarterback to get hit.”
That’s not as much an issue for Newton, who weighs 245 pounds. It’s a little more of a risk for Wilson, at 5 feet 10. His priority is avoiding contact, whether running out of bounds or taking a baseball slide.
Besides, Wilson doesn’t want to keep the ball, per se. After all, Lynch has rushed for more than 100 yards each of the past four games and has already surpassed 1,000 yards this season.
“I’m always trying to hand the ball to the running back,” Wilson said. “When I’ve got the best running back in the National Football League, why wouldn’t I hand it off to him? And if something changes, then we’ll see what happens.”
And once Wilson sees what the defender is doing, he’ll choose how to react.
• G James Carpenter returned to practice after missing the past two games because of a concussion and appears on track to be available Sunday. DT Red Bryant missed practice Thursday with a foot injury.
• WR Charly Martin was re-signed to Seattle’s 53-man roster, taking the spot left open because of S Winston Guy’s four-game suspension.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @dannyoneil