GDHQNFL14_f-Zone Read4

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in 2013—even if it seems counterintuitive, turning relatively slow Nick Foles loose when defenses paid too much attention to 2013 rushing champ LeSean McCoy. “We have these quarterbacks who are skilled in their ability to run the ball,” Bevell says. “We have to make sure we take care of him and keep him out of harm’s way, so that he can play 16 games, but there are some young guys in the league who are very skilled at the zone read.” Wilson averaged only six carries a game in 2013, hardly the equivalent of Marshawn Lynch’s “Beast Mode” load. But the QB still gained 539 yards and averaged a strong 5.6 yards/carry. Better than that, he absorbed few gruesome hits, thanks to the nature of the zone read. Because the offense is “optioning” the end on the same side as the back, the quarterback is making a decision based on whether he has an open lane or not. If the end crashes down to defend the handoff, as New York’s Moore did when Tuel faked to Dixon, the QB has the opportunity to sneak outside and find some room to run. If the end stays home, the signal-caller hands off and gets out of the way. As a result, he isn’t often putting himself in danger. At least that’s the idea. As much as defensive coordinators dislike the idea of having to account for the quarterback in the ground game and don’t enjoy the prospect of someone like Kaepernick getting loose in the open field, the idea of being able to have an angry linebacker get a clean shot on an unprotected quarterback is quite attractive. Last year, when he was the defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals, new Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer spoke excitedly about the prospect of having a chance for his defenders to wallop a quarterback on the run. “Teams are trying to use the athletic ability of the quarterbacks more, and they can create big plays, especially if you’re not disciplined on defense,” Zimmer said. “But the more LEON HALIP/GETTY IMAGES SPORT Illiterate Quarterbacks Last season, Peyton Manning set NFL records for TD throws (55), yards (5,477) and four-TD games (nine). He led Denver to a league-record 606 points and 76 touchdowns. But perhaps the most memorable moment of his 2013 season—other than that safety in the Super Bowl—was his running touchdown against Dallas. The Broncos held a 21-17 second-quarter lead and were on the Cowboy one-yard line when Manning faked a handoff that drew the entire Dallas defense into the middle of the field. He kept the ball and strolled around left end for the season’s most improbable touchdown. It was one of his 32 carries during the year, and the one-yard gain was the longest of his runs. The NFL may be embracing the zone read, but there remains a cadre of pretty successful quarterbacks that isn’t about to change. Yes, Seattle won the Super Bowl last year and had a quarterback—Russell Wilson— capable of tormenting defenses on the play. But Manning, New England’s Tom Brady (also 32 carries), New Orleans’ Drew Brees (35) and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (30) form a pretty sturdy contingent for whom the run is an absolute last resort. Further, their coaches have no desire to expose them to any more abuse from defenses than is absolutely necessary. All four of those passers have Super Bowl rings, and each is perennially among the top 10 QBs in the league. Last year, only two (Wilson and Colin Kaepernick) of the top-10-rated quarterbacks could be considered regular threats to run. They are certainly dangerous, but the preferred method of moving the ball in the NFL remains via the pass. For players like Manning, Brady, Brees and Rodgers, that is just fine. They’ll leave the running—and absorbing the hits—to the young guys. THOMAS B. SHEA/GETTY IMAGES SPORT The Browns’ Johnny Manziel is one of the more exciting rookies to enter the NFL because of his ability to get around in the open field. Tom Brady


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