For 28 years (approximately speaking), opposing teams knew what they were getting when they faced the Utah Jazz. It was John Stockton, it was Karl Malone, and it was the pick and roll. Of course, just because the opposition knew what was coming didn't mean they were going to stop it.
The pick and roll was never just about the pick and roll. It was the fact that Stockton and Malone were incredibly skilled players, guys who poured in tens of thousands of reps at the pick and roll -- which was tens of thousands more times than you spent practicing defending it. It was that the Jazz surrounded those two players with three guys perfectly suited to compliment their stars' skill sets. It was that the pick and roll was just a gateway to the rest of the Jazz's offense; that they were prepared for every one of your actions with an infinite number of reactions.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was asked about the zone read today, and his response reminded me of Stockton and Malone. "There isn't anything to figure out," Shanahan said. "It's how do you want to attack it, what do you want to do off of it?"
"Defenses have been playing 11 against 10 for so long that, and now all of a sudden you have to play 11-on-11 and it changes everything you do. It's not that (defenses) have caught up, you just need the right people, the right commitment, you have to stay healthy, and you've got to have a whole package together. It's not just, 'Well, we're running zone read.' They'll stop that. What are you doing off of it?"
Just like the pick-and-roll, the zone read is not a magic bullet that will fix every ailing offense with the snap of a finger. But, as Shanahan said, with the right people in place and the right organizational commitment to it, there is by definition no answer key that renders the zone read obsolete.