Gunther Cunningham not too worried about defending the read-option

Posted Jun 29, 2013

With added size at both defensive end and cornerback, Cunningham isn't concerned with defending the NFL's most recently-trending offensive style

Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has been a defensive football coach since Richard Nixon first came to office and Joe Namath was guaranteeing victory.

The point is, Cunningham has seen just about everything an offense can throw at a defense.

The new rage in the NFL these days is the read-option run by mobile quarterbacks like Washington's Robert Griffin III and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick.

Both of those players have tremendous speed and running ability, but the offense is becoming a staple in the league -- not just a fad -- because Griffin, Kaepernick and even Carolina's Cam Newton can throw the football very well, too.

Robert Griffin IIIQB Robert Griffin III (Photo: AP Images)

"It's a big thing in the league now, and that's why we've got bigger corners, because they're going to have to tackle," Cunningham said. "The ball is going outside, they're spreading you, and quarterbacks are running the ball.

"I think we all understand what the issues are and how to play it. I reflect back on my college days and it wasn't that hard to remember all that stuff because it put a lot of pressure on me in those days and it does in this league too."

The read-option puts pressure on the defensive end to make the right play and then the cornerbacks to come up and make a play out wide.

The Lions have gotten longer and considerably more athletic and at defensive end and their cornerbacks are now bigger and more physical. Perhaps that's why Cunningham feels so confident.

"The problem is for those quarterbacks, one of these days one of them is not going to walk off," he said. "It's a lot of pressure on him to physically do that."

Both Kaepernick and Griffin led their teams to the playoffs last season running the read-option.

Griffin was the NFL offensive rookie of the year after rushing for 815 yards. It did take a toll on him though. He is rehabbing a torn ACL, suffered in a playoff loss to Seattle. The Lions play in Washington Week 3.

Cunningham has had success in the past against new offensive schemes to hit the league. He had success vs. Newton and Denver's Tim Tebow in 2011 when the read-option was first being run. He also had success vs. Miami's Wildcat a number of years ago.

"The key is you need extra people to stop the run because they spread you out," Cunningham said. "So, you end up playing some man-to-man or shorten your safeties down and if the quarterback can really throw the ball, that's where we get into trouble.

"Miami couldn't do that with Rickey (Williams) and the other kid that was running the option (Ronnie Brown). But their design was as good as I've ever seen in my life and then it got away from them for whatever reason.

"Bill Belichick can tell you they killed them in the first game, came back in the second and beat them worse. So, it's an issue and we have to be on top of it."