San Francisco 49ers: Why Has the Read-Option Been So Ineffective?

Sep 8, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) calls a play against the Green Bay Packers in the first quarter at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

This past off-season, the hot topic in the league was the read-option and how to stop it. With the very recent influx of athletic quarterbacks, every team began studying how to run it and how to stop it. So why hasn’t it worked for the 49ers?

Since the read-option was the main focus in the league, teams have begun studying it religiously on how to stop it. In the first game of the season against the Packers, the 49ers tried running the play a few times, and the Packers stuffed it each time.

If you watched the games, you would notice that the 49ers haven’t even been running it much. And even when they do run it, the running back gets the ball more often than the quarterback. In the first two games of the season, the 49ers ran the read-option a few times each game. Since then, it seems to have been buried in the playbook.

The Packers looked to have sold out against the run that game, and it led to a 400-yard passing game from Colin Kaepernick. This game seemed to be a microcosm for the entire league. Defensive coaches are telling their defenses to stuff the run and to attack the quarterback on these plays. With the new rules regarding hitting the quarterback, offensive coaches aren’t running the play that much. If they do, they might be telling their quarterback to hand the ball off unless they have clear running lane.

After Robert Griffin III was injured last year while running the ball, coaches have been much more cautious with their quarterbacks. That might be the case with the 49ers also. Kaepernick is forcing bad passes when he has clear running lanes, and it might be because the coaches have told him to play safer. If that is the reason, then it makes sense why the 49ers are not running the read-option very much.

Although, the 49ers’ coaches are known for trickery. Last year before the playoffs they didn’t run very many read-option plays and then surprised the Packers in the playoffs. The very same thing could be happening now. After the playoffs, everyone was so focused on the read-option, that it lost its luster. Teams are expecting it now, and the 49ers’ coaches know that.

I would not put it past the coaches to just be waiting for the absolute opportune moment to run it. It might not be very successful now, and the team might not run it much, but don’t be surprised if we see a heavy dose of it later on in the year. Once teams put it into the back of their minds, the coaches might bring it out and surprise everyone.