RPO Explained

November 6, 2017

Everyone is talking about Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. Which is totally acceptable because he’s probably the best young quarterback in all of football right now. 

If you follow a lot of #FootballGuy accounts on Twitter, you probably have seen the term RPO pop up periodically. If you didn’t know before, you now know that RPO stands for run-pass option. This little acronym is revolutionizing how modern NFL offenses operate. 

Wentz and the 8-1 Eagles are a glaring example of how useful the run-pass option can be against real NFL defenses. But the Eagles aren’t the only team currently using this concept to beat defenses. Look no further than Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs who boast one of the leagues most potent offenses. 

It’s also no coincidence that both teams’ quarterbacks [Smith and Wentz] are simultaneously having MVP-type seasons through the halfway point. I’m thinking not a lot of folks had either of those guys on their list of preseason MVP candidates with the likes of Tom Brady and Drew Brees, but here we are. 

Through nine games, Wentz has already exceeded his touchdown output from all of 2016 with 23 and has only five interceptions. As for Alex Smith, he’s having the best season of his 13-year NFL career – on pace to have career highs in yards, touchdowns, yards per attempt, yards per completion, yards per game, quarterback rating, and QBR. So yeah, this is real. 

“Another play is about to have its moment: the run-pass option. The play is simple but can be almost defense-proof. The quarterback has multiple run or pass options on a given play and the decision on which play to run isn’t made until after the ball is snapped. Unlike other plays in the post-snap-decision genre—the option or the zone read come to mind—these plays can include any kind of pass that the play-caller wants to include in the playbook. It’s already ubiquitous at the college level and growing at the NFL level, and it’s hard to find a coach who doesn’t think its influence is about to take off.”

That’s from Kevin Clark's piece on The Ringer called “The Play That Will Define The 2017 NFL Season.” He wrote it in August. 

Now he didn't predict the future out of just anywhere. The college game has been using run-pass option to facilitate some of the nations most exciting offenses for a few years now. It’s a gut punch to traditional, old school #FootballGuy but to those who yearn for fun offense, buckle up. 

“The Bengals—the Bengals—had the most yards of any team on RPOs last year, at an average of 6.2 per play, or more than a half yard higher than the league average for yards per play in general. At the end of last season, quarterback guru Trent Dilfer told me that these plays had about a 90 percent completion rate league-wide when the quarterback opted to pass. The RPO, in part, fueled Dak Prescott’s record-breaking rookie season, and most college systems run some variation of the play. Unlike many college schemes, it translates well to the NFL level.”

In Clark's piece, he has quotes from many NFL offensive coordinators and head coaches who all unanimously agree that it’s a concept on the rise. 

Let’s take a closer look courtesy of @NFL on Twitter

This looks like 10 personnel for the Eagles with a 7-man Denver box; a nickel corner, two corners, and a deep safety. Essentially, they’re putting Von Miller and Aquib Talib in a 3-on-2 situation. 

So what you see here is a brilliant set up from Alshon Jeffery. He almost takes himself out of the play, which is precisely what he wants Talib to think. The Eagles don’t block Miller and he becomes the “run” read. In this picture, Miller plays this play perfectly. He squats and because he’s so athletic, he can play both the running back and quarterback at the same time. But in an RPO concept – that’s ok. 

Wentz pulls which is fine. He could have given it to the back because he had blockers, but Wentz understands numbers. He knows he only has to avoid Miller for a second or two because you can now see Jeffery begin to take off downfield. The problem is, Talib’s eyes are stuck in the backfield thinking he’s about to become a run defender if Miller can’t take care of Wentz alone.

This is the giant window Wentz had to hit his very large receiver because Talib was caught flat-footed and had zero chance of recovering. The deep safety is thinking read option, so there’s no way he gets back in time to get over the top of Jeffery. What you see here is a play that just can’t be defended. 

I look at Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, Charles Clay, Benjamin and Zay Jones and I see a group fit to run it perfectly. It seems like a no-brainer if you’re Rick Dennison. 

There’s this narrative that Dennison doesn’t adapt well, and I believe that to be false. But I do have my questions as to whether he’d go as far as to make the sort of play pictured above apart of the playbook. 

I look at what Deshaun Watson was doing before his injury – his coach Bill O’Brien was one of the coaches in Clark's piece – and I see a template to maximize Tyrods athletic ability. Anything that Watson did during his breakout is entirely doable for Tyrod Taylor. He just needs to be put in similar situations. 

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but if Andy Reid can adapt and make it a core principle in his offense, anything is possible. 

Follow me on Twitter @NateGearyWGR.