As RPOs come more and more into the mainstream of football, it is important that we evaluate how we organize them.
Our offense has successfully been running RPOs since 2008 and I found that we kept adding more and more RPOs to the offense without a clear system to organize them.
Some may ask the questions, “why do you need to organize them?” The proper organization can help the players understand what you are trying to accomplish along with an understanding of how to read each one differently.
I recently had a new QB in our system and he began asking me a lot of questions about our RPO game that were simple questions, but things I took for granted.
- How do I know when I can run in an RPO?
- How do I know if I am reading a player or a match-up?
- How do I know if it is pre-snap or post-snap?
As he began to ask these questions, I realized that our QBs of the past have all just memorized these things without me giving them an easy classification or organizing them properly. As I was going through the process of organizing these, I heard some great presentations about how some colleges were doing this for their QBs.
One that stuck in my head was a presentation by the Offensive Coordinator at Wisconsin-Whitewater, Peter Jennings. I would highly recommend searching him out if you have questions about the RPO game.
We organize our RPOs into 3 categories: RPOs, Triple RPOs, and KYPs.
These are designed for the QB to stay in the pocket and give or throw.
We typically build these by combining -1 second-level defender run plays and quick passing game or screens. -1 run plays means that we are down a blocker compared to the defense. Here are 2 examples of us being 10 personnel attacking a 6-man front with an Inside Zone Lock concept. In both situations, we are -1 and the S is unblocked.
When building these RPOs it is important to understand your rule book.
I am in a state that gives a 2-yard downfield allowance at the point of release. We have also been given an additional official in our games with the intention of enforcing the rule. So you must evaluate your passing concept timing along with the tracks of the OL.
In the first example above our RG climbs very fast to the second level because he is uncovered and doesn’t have a threat. You have to make a decision about how you are going to teach your OL. Some believe in teaching the OL to only attack LBs if they move downhill. I believe in calling the play that matches the front to slow the lineman down. If we see the 4-man front we will likely be calling Inside Zone Lock while against a 3-man front we will be calling our form of one back power which we call ISO G.
We then pick a quick game passing concept that attacks the S. This makes the read for the QB very easy. The QB’s eyes are on the Sam and if he attacks the run, he pulls the ball and throws. But when in doubt, hand the ball off.
While there is nothing revolutionary about this basic RPO concept, it is all about organizing it in a way that your players know the read.
What if your QB reads the play wrong? In a standard double read RPO like this, the QB is not on the run so what does he do if he pulls the ball and the S doesn’t create the space you want? The H is told if he does not get the ball he becomes a lead blocker. The QB is told if you read it wrong then follow the H. Our RPOs oftentimes will look like a hot draw play because they end up looking like this:
These RPOs are designed for a more mobile QB and allow us to stretch the field horizontally.
We are going to pair a -1 run play with a first-level defender unblocked along with a screen game concept. In the past, we have used some downfield throws on our triples, especially in the red zone. As more and more officials are added and trained the downfield throw has become less and less effective.
and less effective.
-1 run play (First-level defender RPO)
In this IZ Read situation, we will then attach a screen to it (Bubble, Smoke, Quick, etc).
We have entire seasons where we look at our personnel and do not run a single Triple RPO and other years we make a living on them.
It comes down to the athleticism of your QB and how much practice time you want to devote to it. The running throw to a screen is not easy. We are looking for a gunslinger or a shortstop. It may not be pretty, it may not be mechanically sound, but you get the ball there as fast as possible on the run by contorting your body and throwing it at any time you have the run taken away from you.
These are plays that are blocked completely and you may even be +1, but you have a called route to one of your best players and a match-up that you really like.
Here is an example of us matching 7 blockers for 7 box defenders, and we are great to hand the ball off with a numbers advantage.
KYP = Know Your Personnel
Can your guy win?
If so, then get him the ball. When I first became an offensive coordinator, I built everything to win based on scheme. I was a snob in thinking I could create the needed numbers and space to find success on any play. Then, very quickly it became apparent that there are just times when players make a difference.
I still remember the first time I was exposed to this idea it was called a “HIM” route. As in, get HIM the ball. We have all seen the play or the game where it doesn’t matter what scheme is being used, the better players prevailed.
We are typically going to call a play like this on a 2nd and short or a 1st and 5 after a penalty. We are going to tag a route that will get us at least 10 yards or something from a drop-back concept.
In this situation, if we are going to throw the ball if the defender is playing man and we can win or the defender is giving space we can take advantage of.
Here is a look we saw this past season where the additional back brought the $ tighter, so we had a great man match-up on the perimeter.
Can our X beat the C because of alignment or ability? The QB is in a great position, he has full ability to just hand the ball off and be fine. We have also just tagged this play X GIFT. In this situation the QB and the X have the ability to call the route they like best.
Things to Consider When Organizing Your RPOs
As you grow your RPO game, I would recommend a few things.
- Find an organizational method that works for you and your team.
- Create streamlined verbiage so communication to players is universal.
- Figure out if your QB will be a runner. This may be determined by ability or depth at the position. If the QB is a runner, then he can give you a numbers advantage in the blocking schemes and now even your doubles RPOs can become more effective.
- Find out what throws your QB can make. For instance, there are a lot of 2 high teams that bring their safeties down in run support. Can your QB read a 3rd level defender and throw a post?
- Understand your state’s rules and enforcement associated with players being downfield. Because it may restrict some of your abilities to throw 2nd and 3rd level RPOs
- Think about where the ball is spotted horizontally. Being on Hashes or the middle of the field can greatly increase or diminish your abilities to call RPOs
- What are you going to do on the backside of the RPO? We add a pre-snap read route, typically a hitch. Very similar to the KYP/HIM route discussed earlier.
- Are you getting the same look pre and post-snap? Are defenses rolling and disguising coverages? Defenders that roll back are much easier on a qb than defenders that roll down. Build it into practice.
- Finally, have conversations with your QB about why they did certain things in the RPO game. It helps to understand how they are thinking and their logic might be better than yours. One time a QB handed off and we had our best WR with a great match-up and press coverage. The QB justified it by saying we were running ISO and I saw their LB was breathing really heavy so I knew he would get crushed by the lead blocker. That wasn’t how I saw it from the sideline, but he had a much better view than I did.
We have recently transitioned to a wristband system and the type of RPO is indicated on the wristband so we can have complete clarity of the RPO structure.
As we organized our RPOs into these categories, we found that our QBs had a greater understanding of what we were trying to accomplish with the play. It helped them with their reads and it also allowed us to be way more multiple with formations, motions, and play selection.
This article was originally published in Headsets: Volume 1, Issue 4.
Brent Morrison is a proud husband and father of two that has been the Head Football Coach at Westerville Central High School since 2018. The school was coming off two losing seasons when he took the position and in each of his first three seasons his team qualified for the Division 1(Largest) Playoffs in Ohio. During the course of each season the teams ranked in the top 10 according to the associated press and in 2020 made it to the Elite 8. In addition to being the head coach, he also serves as the offensive coordinator and a social studies teacher at the high school. Prior to taking the position he had been an assistant at Westerville Central since 2005. In his time as an assistant he served as the Offensive Coordinator and was recognized as Assistant Coach of the Year by the Central District.