METAIRIE, La. — When Robert Griffin III ran for 42 yards and passed for 320 yards in the 2012 season opener against the Saints, it was easy to call it luck.
When Cam Newton used a similar option-style offense a week later to run for 71 yards and a touchdown and passed for 253 yards and another score, it was evident something else was brewing.
And when Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers to a 31-21 win over the Saints in his first career road start by rushing for 27 yards, a score and threw for 231 yards, there’s was little question, at least in New Orleans, that the zone-read offense was a complete and utter menace.
Luckily for New Orleans, they won’t face a full-scale option offense until Nov. 17, when Kaepernick and the 49ers once again come to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
From the moment coach Sean Payton was back in the fold, figuring out the zone-read offense became an emphasis. In looking for a new defensive coordinator, that became one of the key questions asked.
“There’s an action and then there is some kind of reaction in regards of getting familiar with an offense or a defense,” Payton said. “Certainly, that is one element I think everyone is studying a little bit closer and bringing in a college coaches to visit with and those guys that see it more frequently than we do (can help). It is just about coming up with a sound plan that you feel like gives your players a chance to slow that down.”
This one might not be so simple in figuring out, however.
Griffin, Newton and Kaepernick all are next generation quarterbacks who ran these offenses with great success in college.
And they’ve transitioned that success to the NFL.
In 2012, Griffin ended the season with the third-best quarterback rating (102.4), finished with a 6.8 yard-per-carry average and scored five touchdowns in leading Washington to the No. 5 overall offense.
Newton had the No. 15 rating (86.2) and finished with eight rushing touchdowns on his way to a 5.8 yard-per-carry average and the No. 12 total offense.
And Kaepernick, who didn’t have enough passes to register on the final NFL rankings, ended with a 98.3 rating, which would have been good enough for 6th in the league. He also had a 6.6 yard-per-carry average and five rushing touchdowns.
The key? Doing what you’re supposed to do on defense instead of freelancing.
“Want to focus everybody on the same page because it can get real dangerous when guys that can run the ball and pass it,” outside linebacker Junior Galette said. “Everybody has to be on the same page or it can be a headache.”
But linebacker Curtis Lofton said “no offense is unstoppable” and with an entire offseason to study the offense, it’s likely there will be better game plans evolved for it.
“The wildcat, the read option, all of it comes in and out of the league and it’s just like a rotation of exotics,” Lofton said. “I feel like just like the wildcat, once it was put on film and defensive coaches figured out how to stop it and such it down so people stopped doing it, I really feel that way with the zone read.”
The Saints could be helped by hiring Wesley McGriff as the secondary coach. He coached at Ole Miss, which uses read-option as part of its package on offense, in 2012.
“That’s not just how he got the job but that’s one of the ways,” defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. “He’s miles ahead on that. We enjoy that play. We’re looking forward to it. We know we’re going to see it and that’s great. They’re going to see us, too. So we’re ready for that. We will be.”