The purpose of the Read-Option
Contrary to popular belief, the point of the read-option is to open holes for the running back. When teams effectively run the ball, opponents will stack the box and aggressively play the run. The read-option is designed to slow down the backside chaser and give the offensive line a numbers advantage at the point of attack.
The read-option is a wrinkle off the zone run scheme. The zone run scheme attempts to have lineman block defenders one gap over toward the point of attack. This is accomplished by the lineman taking read steps to gain position on the defender next to them closest to the point of attack. Ideally this would result in a double-team leading to a block on a linebacker. If effective, it should open holes for the running backs.
The challenge for a zone scheme is how to block the backside defensive end. If the end begins to chase the running back down the line of scrimmage, the play is easily broken up. Offenses had to figure out how to contain the backside chaser.
There are several ways to neutralize the backside chaser. Play-action roll out passes are designed to put the defensive end in a bind. Zone schemes, like that of the Mike Shanahan, do this effectively. One wrinkle to control the backside chaser is to option him.
The read option is designed to put the backside defensive end in a bind. Where the ball ultimately goes is dependent upon the defensive end’s actions. If he chases, the quarterback keeps. If he stays home, the running back gets the ball.
The point of the read-option is to open up the zone scheme for the running back. By forcing the defensive end to stay home with the threat of the quarterback run, the read-option is opening the zone running game up for the running back. If the lineman can get their blocks, a team can effectively run against an eight-man front.
No respectable coach wants to see their irreplaceable quarterback running down the field with the ball. They want him throwing passes and making handoffs. However, the threat of a quarterback run opens up the zone running game.
It is the threat of the quarterback run in the read-option that makes it effective. However, to ensure that it is a threat, the quarterback will have to actually run the ball two or three times effectively.