Football certainly has evolved over the last few years. It seems as if coaches and teams can go through fads. In the 40s, the Notre Dame Box offense seemed to be all people would want to run. In the 70s, option football began to emerge at the college level and everyone was hooked on the veer attack. It was even tried at the professional level (unsuccessfully) by the New York Jets. In the late 80s and early 90s the west coast offense emerged from the great Bill Walsh, and was successfully implemented in Green Bay by Mike Holmgren. In the early-mid 2000s, we saw wide open passing attacks, spread offenses, throwing the ball as much as possible. Around 2010, we saw pro teams start to implement the zone read option into their game plans, and even saw the triple option ran against the Packers in Super Bowl XLV.

Now, the latest trend is the RPO, or run, pass, option.

I’ve attended several football clinics in my life, and watch dozens of them online any time I run across something that peaks my interest. As a defensive coach, I often would find myself, pen and paper in hand, hoping a coach would come on stage and dive straight in to defensive schemes, blitzes, coverage schemes, or personnel ideas. Most of the time, however, it was an offensive coach talking yet again about his new found love for the RPO.

The RPO seems to be more prevalent in the college level. However, as I mentioned earlier, time and time again we see how college offensive schemes can creep their way in to the NFL and all of football. It is interesting that only a few years ago we saw the Packers utilize a lot of 2 back sets, 1 tight end, and 2 receivers. This was their go-to. A few years later, coaches were continuing to use the same personnel, only they would move the quarterback into the pistol, still using 2 backs and a tight end. The pistol gave the quarterback all the advantages of being in the gun, only a little shallower, while still having the threat of a downhill running attack. We even see this at times in McCarthy’s offense. The pistol revolutionized football after it was used at the University of Nevada, and, again, made its way into Super Bowl winning teams playbooks.

What Is An RPO?

An RPO, or run pass option, is an offensive concept which incorporates all the elements of a run play with built in routes for receivers to run. So basically, the quarterback will read the EMOL, or End Man On Line, for the give/pull read. If the EMOL plays run, the quarterback will pull and get his eyes on receivers which are running their routes. The quarterback will also read the Will linebacker at times to see if he will play run or defend pass.

The offensive line are usually running zone blocking concepts, working their way to the outside shoulder of the defender, sometimes with guards working their way to the second level. This frustrates me as a defensive guy. Offensive coaches basically are stretching the rules far enough to see if they can get away with it. I had a coach tell me once that “The officials will only call it so many times”, which is an interesting thought. It makes life difficult on inside linebackers, who read run and flow downhill, only to see the quarterback pull and throw.

If you’re Jon Gruden, RPO stands for “Ridiculous Protection Offense”.

As you can see, Green Bay comes out in a 3X1 set, or trips. Montgomery, set to Rodgers right, will cross face and run a zone concept. As you can see presnap though, Rodgers is facing a 7 man front, so he knows he will pull it and throw to Nelson, running the bubble. Cobb is locked up on the corner with Adams aiming inside. The read is right as he finds Nelson for a short gain. Its something the offense will take.

Here is an end zone clip of that same play. As you can see, the offensive line is taking a hard lateral step, working their way up field. This could help in regards to the “illegal man downfield” calls. Seattle lines up in a flex front, bringing the Sam off the edge. If you see the Will backer, since his eyes are locked on his key (guard/tackle) he starts to flow downhill. The Mike backer hesitates a little with his read, as he reads his initial step is zone. This is what is tricky in defending RPOs. The Sam, if he wasn’t on a stunt, would be the one player who could potentially disrupt the timing of the RPO. One of the best ways, in my opinion, in defending the RPO is to play man defense or split field coverage.

As much as I try to write about offensive football, I still find ways to try and scheme against it.

Here is the exact same play, only this time in the red zone. Nelson again running the bubble with both Adams and Cobb locking on to the corner and nickel defenders. The only difference is this time Rodgers will give it. Again, one of the hardest things about defending the RPO is the threat of either the run or pass. Seattle comes out in their standard 7 man box. Green Bay has numbers, and Rodgers recognizes it. If you notice also, the defensive end plays run. Usually a rule of thumb is if EMOL shows numbers, then its an automatic give.

Here is the same play from the end zone camera. Notice how the offense gets a solid pull from Lane Taylor getting a hand on the EMOL. The center, Corey Linsley, gets a solid pull as well, leading up in the gap. Green Bay also does a great job at reaching the second level, and getting blocks on the nickel and Mike. Evans, the backside guard, makes a smart decision as well when he cuts the strong 1 tech in Seattle’s under front.

Here is an example from a tight 2X2 set. I like this motion from Cobb, giving him a little momentum. Notice here how the strong safety spins down which adds an extra defender in the box. The strong safety is playing run, which makes Rodgers pull and throw. One of the vital parts of this play is making sure that your boundary receivers lock on corners and stay on blocks. This can often be an overlooked aspect of offensive football. Receivers should put as much emphasis on their blocking abilities as they do route running or catches. Notice also at the bottom of the play how Adams runs a 5 and out. If the primary receiver is covered, Rodgers could get the ball backside to Adams. Again, the offensive line does a great job getting a lateral step, working their way upfield.

I don’t tend to talk much offensive football. Usually, I like to talk about ways to defend offensive schemes such as the RPO. Its always fun to switch gears a little bit though and see things from the perspective of an offensive coach. I hope you found this article insightful and look for more RPO concepts to evolve from the McCarthy offense.