The RPO (Run-Pass Option) offense has become a popular and effective strategy in football at all levels.
This offensive scheme allows the quarterback to make a split-second decision to either hand the ball off to a running back or throw a pass based on the defensive alignment.
The RPO offense has revolutionized the game, providing teams with a versatile and unpredictable attack that keeps defenses on their toes.
Below we look into the details of the RPO offense, its history, key components, benefits, and successful case studies.
History of RPO Offense
The concept of the RPO offense can be traced back to the early days of football, but it gained significant attention and popularity in the 2010s.
Coaches and offensive coordinators started experimenting with combining the run and pass options to exploit defensive weaknesses.
The RPO offense gained prominence in college football, particularly with teams like the University of Oregon and Baylor University, before making its way to the professional level.
Key Components of RPO Offense
The RPO offense involves several key components that work together to create a successful play.
Understanding these components is crucial for both quarterbacks and offensive linemen:
- Pre-Snap Read: The quarterback identifies the defensive alignment and potential weaknesses before the snap. This allows them to make an informed decision during the play.
- Run Option: The quarterback has the option to hand the ball off to a running back based on the defensive alignment. If the defense is vulnerable against the run, the quarterback can choose to execute a running play.
- Pass Option: If the defense is focused on stopping the run, the quarterback can choose to throw a pass to exploit the open areas in the defense. This option requires the quarterback to quickly read the defense and make an accurate throw.
- Blocking Assignments: Offensive linemen have specific blocking assignments based on the play call. They must be aware of the potential run or pass option and adjust their blocking accordingly.
Benefits of RPO Offense
The RPO offense offers several benefits that make it an attractive strategy for teams:
- Defensive Confusion: The RPO offense puts immense pressure on the defense, as they must account for both the run and pass options simultaneously. This often leads to defensive confusion and creates opportunities for big plays.
- Exploiting Mismatches: By reading the defense pre-snap and making split-second decisions, the quarterback can exploit mismatches in the defense. If a linebacker commits to stopping the run, the quarterback can quickly throw a pass to a receiver in the vacated area.
- Increased Offensive Versatility: The RPO offense allows teams to be versatile and adapt to different defensive strategies. If the defense focuses on stopping the run, the offense can exploit them with quick passes. Conversely, if the defense drops back to defend against the pass, the offense can capitalize with a strong running game.
- Keeping Defenses Honest: The threat of the RPO offense forces defenses to play honestly, preventing them from overcommitting to either the run or pass. This opens up opportunities for both aspects of the offense and keeps defenses guessing.
Steve Sarkisian’s simple but effective RPO game with Alabama
Successful Case Studies
Several teams have found great success by implementing the RPO offense into their game plan.
Let’s take a look at two notable case studies:
Philadelphia Eagles (2017 NFL Season)
The Philadelphia Eagles, under the guidance of head coach Doug Pederson and quarterback Carson Wentz, utilized the RPO offense to great effect during the 2017 NFL season.
The Eagles’ offense ranked third in total yards and fourth in points scored, largely due to their ability to keep defenses off balance with the RPO.
Carson Wentz’s ability to read the defense and make quick decisions allowed the Eagles to exploit mismatches and create big plays.
The RPO offense played a significant role in the Eagles’ journey to winning Super Bowl LII.
A video of Pederson going through the RPO can be viewed on YouTube below (unfortunately, can’t watch here due to copyright issues):
LSU Tigers (2019 College Football Season)
The LSU Tigers, led by quarterback Joe Burrow and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, showcased the effectiveness of the RPO offense during the 2019 college football season.
LSU’s offense was unstoppable, averaging a staggering 568.5 yards per game and scoring 48.4 points per game.
Joe Burrow’s exceptional decision-making and accuracy in executing the RPO offense earned him the Heisman Trophy and led LSU to a national championship.
The Tigers’ success demonstrated how the RPO offense can dominate at the highest level of college football.
How The Eagles Have MASTERED The RPO! (Film Breakdown)
How to Stop RPOs
Run-Pass Options (RPOs) are a popular tactic in modern football, combining elements of both run and pass plays.
They provide the quarterback with multiple options on each play, making it difficult for defenses to anticipate what is coming.
Here are some strategies that can be used to stop RPOs in football:
With man coverage, each defender is assigned to cover a specific player from the offense.
This can help in stopping RPOs as the defenders are not reading the quarterback but are focusing on their assigned player.
If executed well, it can limit the effectiveness of RPOs, as defenders won’t be caught out of position as much by the deception inherent in these plays.
Keep Outside Linebackers Home
Linebackers should be trained not to bite on the initial run action.
By staying at home, they can react to the pass option if it is chosen.
They can also help limit the run if the QB hands off the ball.
Teach Safeties to Read Keys
Safeties should be instructed to read the offensive line.
If the offensive line fires out low, indicating a run play, the safety should fill the alley to stop the run.
If the offensive line sets back as in pass protection, the safety can drop into pass coverage.
Defensive Line Discipline
Encourage defensive linemen to maintain their lanes and not to over-pursue the play.
This can help contain the quarterback and stop him from breaking off a big run or finding a wide-open receiver.
Pressure the Quarterback
RPOs require the quarterback to make quick, correct decisions.
If the defense can generate pressure, it can force the quarterback to rush his decision-making process, increasing the chances of a mistake.
Defensive coordinators can create confusion for the quarterback by showing one look pre-snap, then switching to a different coverage or blitz package post-snap.
Film Study and Preparation
It’s critical for a defense to study the tendencies and tells of the opposing offense.
If the defense can identify tendencies in the quarterback’s play or the offense’s setup, they can potentially anticipate the play before it happens.
It may seem obvious, but it’s important.
Tackling well can limit the gains on RPO plays.
Even if the offensive player catches the ball, quick, secure tackling can limit the yardage they gain.
When Are RPOs Used?
Run-Pass Options (RPOs) are versatile plays that can be used in a variety of game situations in football.
However, they are particularly popular in specific scenarios:
- Early Downs: RPOs are often used on early downs (1st and 2nd downs), when the offense has the full range of play options available. This makes it harder for the defense to anticipate what the offense is planning.
- Short-Yardage Situations: RPOs can be very effective in short-yardage situations (3rd and short, 4th and short) where the offense needs just a few yards for a first down. The defense must respect both the run and pass options, which can spread them out and create openings.
- Red Zone Opportunities: When the offense is close to scoring, RPOs can create dilemmas for the defense. The defense must be prepared for both a quick run up the middle or a short pass to the endzone, making it more difficult to defend.
- Matchup Exploitations: RPOs are great tools to exploit favorable matchups. If an offense identifies a weak link in the defensive secondary or a linebacker who struggles in coverage, an RPO can target that specific player and take advantage of their weakness.
- Keeping Defense Honest: RPOs can also be used to keep the defense from keying in on a team’s preferred type of play. If an offense runs the ball frequently, for example, incorporating RPOs can force the defense to respect the pass, making it easier to continue running the ball.
- Against Aggressive Defenses: RPOs work well against defenses that are aggressive in pursuing the run or pass, as they can exploit the defenders who are out of position.
Keep in mind that the effectiveness of RPOs largely depends on the quarterback’s ability to make quick, correct decisions after the snap.
Quarterbacks must read the defense and decide whether to hand off the ball (run), keep it themselves (run), or throw a pass.
RPOs can be high-risk, high-reward plays: when executed properly, they can lead to big gains; if the quarterback makes the wrong decision, they can result in turnovers or lost yardage.
FAQs – RPOs in Football
1. What is an RPO offense?
An RPO offense, or Run-Pass Option offense, is a football strategy that allows the quarterback to make a split-second decision to either hand the ball off to a running back or throw a pass based on the defensive alignment.
2. How does the RPO offense work?
The RPO offense works by giving the quarterback the option to either run the ball or pass it based on the defensive alignment.
The quarterback reads the defense before the snap and makes a quick decision during the play.
3. What are the benefits of using the RPO offense?
The RPO offense offers several benefits, including creating defensive confusion, exploiting mismatches, increasing offensive versatility, and keeping defenses honest.
4. How do quarterbacks make decisions in the RPO offense?
Quarterbacks in the RPO offense make decisions based on the defensive alignment.
If the defense is vulnerable against the run, the quarterback hands the ball off to a running back.
If the defense focuses on stopping the run, the quarterback throws a pass to exploit open areas in the defense.
5. What role do offensive linemen play in the RPO offense?
Offensive linemen in the RPO offense have specific blocking assignments based on the play call.
They must be aware of the potential run or pass option and adjust their blocking accordingly.
6. Which teams have found success with the RPO offense?
Teams like the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2017 NFL season and the LSU Tigers in the 2019 college football season have found great success by implementing the RPO offense into their game plan.
7. Can any quarterback run the RPO offense?
While any quarterback can theoretically run the RPO offense, it requires a quarterback with strong decision-making skills, the ability to read defenses quickly, and accuracy in both running and passing.
8. Are there any risks associated with the RPO offense?
Like any offensive strategy, the RPO offense carries some risks.
If the quarterback makes a poor decision or the offensive line fails to execute their blocking assignments, it can result in negative plays or turnovers.
9. Can the RPO offense be used at all levels of football?
Yes, the RPO offense can be used at all levels of football, from youth leagues to professional leagues.
However, the complexity and effectiveness of the RPO offense may vary depending on the skill level of the players and the coaching staff.
10. How can defenses counter the RPO offense?
Defenses can counter the RPO offense by disguising their intentions, mixing up coverages, and maintaining disciplined gap assignments.
By keeping the offense guessing and preventing them from exploiting mismatches, defenses can limit the effectiveness of the RPO offense.
The RPO offense has revolutionized football, providing teams with a versatile and unpredictable attack.
By combining the run and pass options, quarterbacks can exploit defensive weaknesses and create big plays.
The RPO offense keeps defenses on their toes, forcing them to play honestly and preventing them from overcommitting to either the run or pass.
Successful implementation of the RPO offense requires strong decision-making skills from the quarterback, disciplined blocking from the offensive line, and effective play-calling from the coaching staff.
As the game continues to evolve, the RPO offense will likely remain a prominent strategy in football.