OAKLAND, Calif. – Given its prevalence in the high-school and college game, the read option might seem simple on the surface, but for the Raiders’ defense, it proved as difficult a read as a James Joyce novel.
Seventeen of the Broncos’ 61 snaps to Tim Tebow on Sunday were variations of the read option on which he kept the football for hismelf or handed off to a running back. Three of those saw Tebow keep the football himself; he gained 68 yards on these carries. The rest ended in the hands of running backs Willis McGahee or Lance Ball; Ball had three yards on two carries, while McGahee thundered for 125 yards on his 12 read-option turns, including both of his touchdowns.
That added up to 17 read-option runs for 196 yards — good for an 11.5-yard average. Most significantly, the plays became more frequent and effective as the game progressed; the five read-option runs in the first half picked up 47 yards; the first 11 after halftime amassed 147 yards.
Not too bad for a play that could easily be dismissed as a lark in the NFL but on Sunday became the Broncos’ bread-and-butter call.
“We’ve been in the process of adjusting for the last three weeks,” Broncos coach John Fox said. “It’s a different style, but it can be effective.”
The read option, which Tebow ran frequently at the University of Florida, became more effective as the game progressed for two reasons. The first, and most obvious, is that the Broncos’ ground emphasis wore down the Raiders’ front. But the most important cause of the Broncos’ read-option success might have been an alteration in McGahee’s approach to the play.
“At the beginning I was getting three yards, two yards, and I had a couple of times when I got tackled and the hole was opening up slow,” McGahee said. “I just had to change up a couple of things and just be more patient.”
The offensive linemen noticed.
“He’s very patient,” right guard Chris Kuper said. “When he sees it, he hits it. He gets through there and you ain’t going to get him down with an arm tackle. He’s going to run through those.”
Even though the read-option emphasis was designed with Tebow in mind, it was McGahee who reaped the biggest benefit; his 163-yard performance Sunday put him firmly on a 1,000-yard pace and consolidated his growing case for being the league’s Comeback Player of the Year.
On his 60-yard run, the threat of Tebow keeping the football held up the Raiders’ front lines long enough for McGahee to hit a hole through the left side of the line, cut right and sprint untouched for the game-tying score.
“I was telling my coach, ‘With these guys, we’ve got to get past the D-line,’” McGahee said. “They were sticking eight, nine in the box on us. So I was telling Coach, ‘Just stay between the tackles. Stay in between the tackles. If we get past the D-line, I can hit it.’”
TALK TO THE HAND: The scar on McGahee’s right hand was impossible to ignore if you saw him in person, but his performance Sunday showed zero lingering effect from the surgery he underwent to repair a bone in his hand 12 days earlier.
“It was all good,” McGahee said.
INJURIES: Safety Rahim Moore suffered a concussion on the game’s opening play when he collided with cornerback Andre’ Goodman. He did not return. Moore had returned to the starting lineup after being a reserve the last two weeks … Fullback Spencer Larsen suffered a shoulder injury and did not return … Safety Brian Dawkins and linebacker Wesley Woodyard were treated on the field for injuries and quickly returned to the game.