The 2012 season saw the rise of the new breed of mobile quarterback and with it came the advent of the read-option offense that utilizes a talented running quarterback and the running back as dual threats to run the ball. The offense has been used in the college ranks for years, but this new style of QB is making it a much more effective weapon in the NFL and it was evident this year by the kind of seasons young QBs like Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick had.
The Falcons faced all the QBs that employ this style of offense in 2012 and found success against the run against many of them. In addition to the Griffin and Kaepernick, Carolina's Cam Newton and Seattle's Russell Wilson run some versions of the read-option attack. Philadelphia's Michael Vick didn't use this style much or at all, but his electrifying talent as a runner has to be respected in much the same way.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith isn't ready to say it's the new face of quarterbacking in the NFL, but based on the success the offensive philosophy had this season, he thinks the offseason will be filled with learning new ways to stop it all across the league.
"Some of the most successful teams this year ran that style of offense," Smith said on Monday. ""It's going to be very important for teams to be able to defend it. More and more are coming from the college ranks. You're seeing more and more of those types of quarterbacks. I don't think that trend is going to stop."
While different aspects of the read-option and mobile quarterbacks gave the Falcons troubles this season, they were 3-2 against the quarterbacks listed above and against San Francisco and Kaepernick in the NFC Championship game, they limited the second-year QB to two rushes for 21 yards. The running back aspect of that offense gave the Falcons more trouble and they'll work in the offseason to correct some of those issues. The complexity of the offense stemming from the dual running threat of the quarterback or the running back on any given play is what makes it such a challenging game plan to defend.
"It's very multifaceted," Smith said. "It's not the traditional run type of offense. They still have the ability to throw the football. When you're spending resources to account for the quarterback, it changes the math across the board on defense. It's much different. If you're trying to stop one thing, you're going to have less resources for another. It's very much a dilemma for a defensive coach right now."
The time spent learning some of those complexities in 2012 will aid the Falcons in the offseason and the 2013 season. Just like this past season, the Falcons are set to face virtually all of the offenses currently running the system. They'll once again face Carolina twice and Seattle, Washington and San Francisco are slated to face off against the Falcons in 2013.
Smith shared on Monday that he felt the Falcons coaching staff has a good framework from which to work in terms of defending the read-option quarterback as well as the running back.
"I think it's important for the defensive coaches to spend a whole lot of time this offseason on trying to get a very good understanding of that offense," Smith said. "I think that we do. We know the strengths and weaknesses of it."