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RPO: Simplicity and Philosophy

Posted: April 25, 2018 at 9:02 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

There are many great and outstanding resources out there concerning the Run Pass Option available to coaches. I am not expert on this subject, and if you are looking for 1001 ways to run an RPO then I will gladly tell you to back out of this article right now. I want to take a look at the idea of this tool, and how it can be structured without using it as a completely divorced offensive system.

Offense is a numbers game. We all try to get a +1, no matter the offense that we are trying to run. So the RPO (same as the old triple) is an assignment based assault causing the defense to guess which decision is correct at a very fast pace. If you have ever defended a old triple option team, well you better take away the dive very quick, or it is gonna be a long night for your defense. The elimination of the dive needs to be on a very disciplined defensive tackle, because one wrong guess and the option is very happy. Then you have to worry about inside veer, outside veer, midline, counter, load, and speed option. So just when you think you have it shut down, they use your rules and assignments against you. How I see the RPO is exactly the same, with the exception of replacing the pitch with a route attacking a vacated area based on play flow.

I am a drawn to simplicity, because simple is the same, and when something is the same it seems complex to the opponent. I am also continually looking at ways for us to add to this simplicity by using things we already do. I guess that could be defined as magic. I want to combine my default runs, with my default passes, to keep from having to teach something completely new. I do not want to create a tendency for the opponent to tip my hand. Think about the best pitchers in baseball, their release points on a change up and fastball look identical. The fact that they are identical is essential to deter the reaction of the batter. The same goes for football, the “constraint” play of an RPO must be coupled together with the same run blocking used for your runs. If not then you are just running a play action pass in many instances.

Before we get into the main subject of the article, I would like to give you how I will be defining a Run Pass Option. I think this is important to understand what I am actually naming a RPO.

RPO: a play that is designed with post-snap run and pass, that is created to make a defender(s) in conflict with their run/pass responsibilities.

Packaged Play: 2 plays given (1 run, 1 pass) pre-snap, that will be chosen before ball snapped as the best situation for execution.

I believe we have started looking at RPO in a way of play action passing, instead of the ‘”pitch” option off the run game. I truly believe that the RPO should be designed as a run first play that allows for: manipulating a defenders rules in the run/pass. I want the RPO play to be blocked as if we were not attaching a pass to it. The pass is the result of the defense committing to the run, not the reverse of that.

A deeper look at the run game

I want to use a play that everyone has in their run game:

Inside Zone

Inside Zone

This play has been a staple of offenses for some time now. We all know the blocking scheme as I have it drawn up in the picture above. We like to employ 2 sets of double teams and get 4 eyes/hands for the interior 4 defenders.

BSTackle: steps down to double team the 3 technique along with the PSG. Notice we are not “locking” the BSDE. I want to use the PSDE rules against him. A well coached DE will have rules such as: gap-down/step-down, pull replace, high hat/pass rush, etc.

l often get questions about how to do you keep the 5 technique from killing your quarterback. Simple, the RPO was designed to RUN the football with the pass attached to keep them honest. IF that DE comes speed rushing up field we have just created a hand off with a 5 man box. Anyone in football knows that is a win. (side note: it is the same as the old triple option rules)

The PSISLB has same types of visual keys. They read guards, hips, near feet, backfield etc. If he gets 2 double teams, and full flow away he knows he has to scrape and plug. The flow away takes his initial steps completely away from pass assignment.

So the Reads Are:

Quarterbacks Visual Window

So if the DE:

  • Rushes UPfield: Hand it
  • Steps Down: Pull and Throw

The Quarterback can see all of this through his visual window as shown in the picture to the right. With this idea we are collapsing the defense to open the pass, and give a cleaner throwing window.

  • This also using the coaching points for all defensive line coaches against them. The DE maybe doing his job, but that does not mean it is correct for the application. If he rushes up field then we hand it because, the DE just created a big cutback lane, and the PSISLB is already out leveraged.
  • Another question I get is how do we not get called for lineman down field? Well because we are always stepping to double teams first, it allows time for the decision to be made. Allowing the second level defenders to essentially flatten closer to the LOS into a 2 level defense, actually makes it easier to execute.

So this blocking scheme is just as if we had no pass attached. It all looks the same to the defense, and it all is executed the same for our lineman. We are doing what we do the most, and that is what we do the best. Oh and probably what many of you are asking: what of the DE steps down and the LB flies out, like a squeeze scrape? Well gap down told him to pull it,  so now he has the option to run or throw. Honestly I do not know how a team could make a steady diet of that, because of the established run game.

We have also employed pulling schemes like: dart, G, and Counter.  These again really put the defensive lineman in conflict, because of pull rules, and the linebackers have to scrape over even faster. It speeds up their processing time, and the quarterback is essentially holding the bait. Standing still is not an option, because that makes the run game more effective.



Counter Trey RPO

The famous play of the Washington Redskins, during my childhood. Counter Trey, probably my second favorite play in football other than buck sweep. Pulling lineman are a thing of beauty, and it cause the defense to have to react even faster.  The counter trey is a play that requires severe discipline from the defensive box players. In the picture I will start by talking about the pull side. The BS 5 tech, is taught to either get in the OT pocket and follow, or squeeze down replace. The only problem with the “get in pocket and follow,” is that teams will easily just read the backside with their quarterback. So squeeze and settle is a better option. The linebacker (highlighted in orange) is giving a pull call and knows he has to get down and defeat the down block of the PSOT. This is a read drill the good teams do every day. So it should be a second nature fit/reaction. The problem is when he vacates that space, it gives a lot of room to work a pass into. Also with the BS5 sitting and squeezing, then you have to realize the offense is flowing 5 defenders, so the offense is in a plus one, for the run game. Understand that I have a default stick concept drawn up so that you can see the space available, but there are teams employing bubble screens, smoke screens, and all sorts of quick game on the backside of trips. Oklahoma runs an awesome counter screen.

The idea of the passing game:

Run Pass OPtion


So now we are getting to the idea of passing game. It is simple: Find any quick game that attacks the space the linebacker/coverage is responsible for. It is simple as that. In this you could run glance, stick, spot, scat, etc. You do not have to create special routes and concepts to make an RPO. Use what you have and a few tagged routes.

I also like the fact that I can tag one route to make this a second level threat, when they want to commit the safeties into this area. Instead of having to teach the different level RPO’s, I can just adjust one route. It makes it simple to adjust on the fly, and a higher level of execution.

I like the screen game also tagged, because you can cause a true split flow numbers advantage to the offense. Much like running the counter out of the flexbone. It forces flow, and leaves fewer defenders backside to play a completely separate play.

The state of hesitance sets in:

The moment you establish the run, and get the RPO working off the run, it becomes easier to do both. The defender has to decide, stay with my keys or hesitate. Neither works for them at all.

When you are able to execute both, you easily get the linebackers standing still and both fazes becomes even easier.

The next phase is when the Defensive Coordinator, makes a decision to commit to the box at least 7, and you have 5 eligible receivers. Well my friends hang loose, and throw them at the goal post. Force them back to what they started in and enjoy the show. You have to be completely comfortable to be able to execute both aspects well, and take advantage with that is given.

The threat of both allows you to take advantage of secondary players that like to get involved in run support. I have always said that if you call a run play, it is stupid not to have routes ran with it. You are severally restricting yourself inside the running and passing game, by not using the defenders rules against them. In situational football you can default to a strict run or pass play, but inside the game make both aspects have to be defended on every play. Don’t invent a new offense, just add to your run game.






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