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Are Hybrid Defenses the Answer to the Read-Option?

  • Kyle Pierce
Colin Kaepernick after running for a touchdown

Colin Kaepernick after running for a touchdown

The biggest topic in the NFL last year was the introduction of the read-option offense. Colin Kaepernick, RGIII and Russell Wilson all ran a version of the read-option and each led their team to the playoffs. This style of offense has been used in pop warner leagues and high-school football coaches because it takes advantage of a quarterbacks natural athletic ability.   Now, NFL teams are starting to add this as another layer to their offense.  The 49ers were able to reach the Super Bowl using different variations of this read-option offense but came up short to the Baltimore Ravens and their experienced defense.

The main reason that the Ravens defense was able to control Kaepernick was because of their Hybrid Defense. The Seahawks hybrid defense was also kept the 49ers and the Redskins high-powered offense’s under check during the regular season and playoffs. The reason why this style of defense is so affective against the read-option is because it combines the best parts of the 4-3 and the 3-4 defenses. Below is a depiction of Mike Pettine’s version of the a hybrid defense and how it will look on any given down.

An overhead view of a hybrid defense

As you can see above you have three main down lineman and four linebacker positions. When the players line up, the weakside linebacker or LEO is always on the line and is a designated pass rusher. In Mike Pettine’s version with the Buffalo Bills, this will be Mario William’s new position where he should excel as he did under Wade Phillips in Houston. The major advantage of a hybrid defense is that you have up to five capable run stoppers and pass rushers on the line of scrimmage. At the same time you have four linebacker positions that can all drop into coverage, two are on the line of scrimmage. Having seven players in this position allows them to keep the offense guessing where the blitz is coming from. This interrupts what the read-option offenses are doing because the defense is constantly sending more than five guys into the backfield. It makes it difficult for younger quarterbacks, like Kaepernick, to decipher what to do when he’s never been in that situation before. Each team that has a hybrid defense implements a different version so it makes it hard on coaches trying to prepare each week, to teach their players what to look for when they are used to 4-3 and 3-4 fronts.

The  Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Houston Texans, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers will be going into the 2013 NFL season with some sort of hybrid defense as their base scheme. Look for the Dolphins, Cowboys, Packers, and Browns to also incorporate more of a hybrid look as the season progresses. Any read option offense should have some difficulty running their style of offense when there are playing these teams. It will be interesting to watch all the different versions of the hybrid defense and to see which ones are more successful than others, especially against the read-option.

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Kyle Pierce

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