LITTLE ROCK — The retrospective on Sunday’s Super Bowl will be more long-lasting than the legacy of a retiring linebacker or the maturation of a 20-something quarterback.
For years, offense in the NFL have been structured around certain niches — passing from the pocket by quarterbacks and rushing exclusively by the running backs. The evolution has been pretty much confined to an increased emphasis on the pass to take advantage of rule changes.
Now comes a scheme that incorporates a running quarterback and San Francisco’s performance in New Orleans could alter the way coaches and execs in the NFL think about offense in general and quarterbacks in particular.
When a hobbled Robert Griffin befuddled Dallas with the option at the end of the regular season and supposedly too-short Russell Wilson led a comeback from a 20-point deficit against Atlanta in the playoffs, the lack of preparation time was the excuse for the Cowboys and the Falcons.
Not this time. Baltimore will have two weeks to get ready for Colin Kaepernick and the option.
A bonus for option advocates is that the Ravens are associated with good defense even though the team’s persona is evolving as linebacker Ray Lewis ages and quarterback Joe Flacco emerges as one of the best.
Those in charge have shied away from the option, contending NFL quarterbacks cannot run the ball without getting hurt and they cite the injury to Griffin to support their position. They are correct to the point that the option is useless unless the quarterback is a running threat, but I’m on the side that contends a quarterback in a pocket seven yards behind the center is an easier target for a 320-pound rusher than a quarterback on the move.
Besides, Kaepernick (6-4, 230), Griffin (6-2, 217), Cam Newton (6-5, 245) are as big or bigger than many running backs. And, they also know to slide.
Newton is not necessarily an accurate passer — his ability to scramble enabled many of his big throws at Auburn — but Kaepernick and Wilson made some extraordinary pinpoint throws during the playoffs. Unlike Tim Tebow, they are not simply big men who can run well and throw so-so.
With Flacco taking the snaps for Baltimore, the lines are clearly drawn. He is a dropback passer who keeps the ball about twice a game and then only out of necessity.
To corral Kaepernick, Baltimore must be disciplined and I wonder if linemen and linebackers who have spent years pursuing the man with the ball can stay at home, particularly if Kaepernick leaves the ball with Frank Gore time after time as he did vs. Atlanta. In fact, after running wild against Green Bay the previous week, Kaepernick never kept the ball on the option against the Falcons, who were determined to prevent a big running play by the quarterback. Instead, he had several easy throws to Vernon Davis and others.
The onus is on Kaepernick to make good decisions and, if he doesn’t, old-school NFL folks will say, “told you so.” I contend it is easier to read one defensive end a few feet away than it is to decipher a slew of defensive backs and linebackers deploying sideline to sideline in pass coverage.
Already, NFL guys are divided about the viability of the option.
Marc Ross, director of college scouting for the New York Giants, says his team will continue to draft the best players and not worry about what other teams do on offense. “We’re not going to drastically change anything we do, based off of those new offenses,” he said.
Recently fired as New Orleans’ defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo says he plans on practicing defending the option wherever he is coaching in 2013.
If Chip Kelly has the right quarterback, he will incorporate the option at Philadelphia.
I suspect Kaepernick and the 49ers are going to convert others on Sunday.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.