Run-Pass Option-Learn about RPOs: Football 101

I was asked about the emergence of the Run-Pass Option (RPO) with 21st century QB’s. Until very recently, we rarely heard about the RPO in the pros except for when Aaron Rodgers would do it in Green Bay or Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.

I’d say the #1 reason we haven’t seen them much until recently has a lot to do with coaches. Run-Pass OPTION gives the QB a lot of power because he’s deciding where the ball will go, not always the coach. In read-options the QB hands the ball off or keeps it, either way, it’s a run. In play action, the QB fakes a hand-off for a run, but throws because it’s a pass play. Neither has the choice to run or pass.

Typically, in RPO there will be three options: the QB gives the ball to the RB, or he keeps it himself, or he picks one of two throws to make. This means the coach has no clue what’s going to happen until he sees the play unfold. Same for the team. Power given up.

RPO’s are practiced, they’re not like a QB sneak or he runs because it’s a busted play and he’s running for his life. RPO’s are in a team’s playbook, part of their offense. Which is why when teams use them, it’s not a one time occasion.

To make this simple, they work when a defender has both run and pass responsibilities (usually a MLB or safety). The quarterback reads what that guy decides to do; cover the pass or run, and then the QB does the opposite. This is a cat and mouse: see zone, pass, see man, run.

It’s vital the QB and RB give the same look no matter what. No tells. That’s also crucial. If either give a sign before the snap or right after they’re going to run or pass, then that LB/S cuts off the play. This works best when the receivers are spread out three wide, etc. The QB receives the ball, he sees that defender’s movement and makes a split decision. Until he does, that RB has to act like he’s getting the ball.

Can’t say this enough: While you need a good offense to pull run-pass options off, this is about the defense being fooled.

For a while, GB was really the only team that had a modern twist on the WCO because they had Eddie Lacy and Jordie Nelson. One-two punch. Suck up for the run, Rodgers throws a 40 yard bomb. Stay back because you think he’s going to pass and he runs. They were built for the RPO. Able to play WCO and a spread, plus a QB who could do it all with weapons teams feared.

When Rodgers was first doing these, he often kept the ball himself because that is an option in this. However, as time went on, coaches saw that the same principle that allowed a QB to keep the ball worked for his back, too. So, why sacrifice your QB four, five times a game when you can let your back do it?

If he runs, the QB is going up the gooch. The OL blocks for a run no matter what the QB does. That’s crucial. That helps the QB if he throws because the defense is caught off guard thinking it’s a run play. However, this is the NFL, their off-guard lasts a second, so no matter what, the QB needs to dump the ball quickly.

Why are we seeing more of these? I’m no expert, but it’s young guys coming from college systems where they often ran these. They’re used to doing them and…going to say young, again because what happens after you run the ball? In college, the QB often is the one who runs after reading the defense.

Some coaches are smart and use college plays/schemes to help their new signal callers to make the jump. The thing is, often these plays work. If you’re a QB who came from a spread system where you threw a lot and do the same in the NFL, the defense is going to back up. Run-pass options are based on getting defenses to keep an even number on the line, so you can run the ball. If they don’t believe you will or can throw deep, then it makes it a lot tougher to use RPO’s.

Will we see Bortles do them this season? Yes, he did them this pre-season. Teams have to fear the run (and should fear the QB could run, too), plus that RB needs to get out the way the instant he realizes he’s not getting the ball, sounds simple but it requires him to know where he’s out of the way.

As far as the coaching side, Nate Hackett is a fairly open guy, he seems like he’d have no problem allowing Bortles to do this.

Remember, the run-pass option is about the QB deciding where the ball will go and defenses being tricked into thinking it’s one thing and he does another. If the defense doesn’t think they have to worry about your run game or passing game, RPO’s become useless because the defense will force you into your weakness.

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