The first RPO offensive schemes were stretched out versions of the triple option in the shotgun. When Urban Meyer was at the University of Utah from 2003 to 2004, I remember watching his offense with amazement. How could a coach in the 21st century run an option offense out of the shotgun? Fourteen years later, that offense seems antiquated.
Coaches have pushed the curve with RPO more in the past five years than spread coaches had from the era of run and shoot offenses of the mid 1980s to the Air Raid offenses that dominated the late 1990s to the early 2000s. While Mouse Davis disciples to tweaked their run and shoot offenses over thirty years and the Hal Mumme protégés moved from the two back gun to one back and empty sets over twenty-something years, the RPO coaching community has pushed the boundaries further and innovated more in the past five years than any offensive scheme has seen in the history of the sport.
The first major development that moved past the give/keep/bubble screen was the adaptation of quick game concepts to RPO run game. The major advantage of moving from screens alone to the addition of quick game concepts was simple: coaches could stretch the field from sideline to sideline AND vertically down the field. As long as the offensive line was engaged inside the expanded neutral zone. The neutral zone may be expanded following the snap up to a maximum of 2 yards behind the defensive line of scrimmage, in the field of play, during any scrimmage down. In simple terms, this means an offensive lineman can be within 2 1/2 yards of the offensive line of scrimmage before the ball crosses the line of scrimmage. Exploiting this rule has given coaches the freedom to combine run plays with pass plays like never before.
Single Receiver Routes
A single receiver to the boundary is a dangerous weapon in the RPO game. Most defensive coordinators set their defenses either to the run/pass strength or the field. This means that quite often the solo receiver to the boundary is single covered. This creates an easy pre-snap read for a QB.
Is the cornerback pressed or off?
Is he inside or outside the solo receiver?
Does he have inside flat help from a linebacker?
One of the simplest reads and throws is the hitch. This is a route that every QB can throw, from youth football to the pros. Against a soft cornerback, this is a free five yards on every snap even if the cornerback has flat linebacker help:
Another route that is very simple to install to the single receiver side is the slant. The is another route that takes advantage of a soft cornerback with no flat help from a linebacker.
Against a soft cornerback with linebacker flat help, the quarterback can ride the mesh and read the flat defender. If the flat defender comes up to play the run, the QB pulls the ball out of the mesh and hits the slant.
As you can see from the GIF above, Chip Kelly used this offense with the Eagles. Nick Foles rides the mesh then hits the slant in the open hole to the backside of the play. It is extremely hard to defend.
Another route that is great against soft single coverage to the single receiver side is the out. The out is effective against both a cornerback in solo coverage or a cornerback with inside flat help. It is dangerous because not only does it take advantage of a cornerback in off coverage, it is a route that is hard to defend once the receiver has the ball in his hands. One missed tackle and the receiver can easily be up the sideline for either a big gain or a touchdown. This is a snap and throw route. If it’s there, throw it now.
Many defenses will press a cornerback on the single receiver to the boundary. The idea is that a pressed cornerback can take away the short throws and a high safety on the hash mark can help over the top. Against pressed cornerbacks playing inside leverage, the receiver takes on outside release and restacks his route to shield off the cornerback.
Against Cover 2 the receiver takes an inside release before restacking over the cornerback and working for width away from the safety.
These four simple routes add a level of complexity to your RPO offense that makes it much harder to defend.