Game Planning an RPO Offense Part 2: Game Planning the Run Game

In our last article, we started the process of an RPO game plan by introducing the concept of breaking down the field into quadrants.


This article, we are going to breakdown the box. Which run schemes are going to work for this week’s opponent?

To figure out which run schemes are going to work, we draw up the box for each formation. Some weeks zone schemes are the pieces of the puzzle. Some weeks it’s gap schemes. We have to draw each scheme up to figure out if we’re going to have a numbers and angles advantage for each particular scheme.

Once we have our board set we get into drawing up each base run play in our offense against the box each formation will see based on our film breakdown.

Whiteboard Prep

We aren’t going to draw up the entire formation, just the box. (Excuse my sloppy coach’s handwriting.)

Whiteboard Deuce 1

If I draw up inside zone against this front, I’m not going to run it against this defense:

Whiteboard IZ

The reason why is blocking angles, numbers, and reads. I have the numbers: five defenders for five blockers, plus a sixth defender for my QB to read. But, based on alignment, inside zone isn’t the best choice for attacking this front. A head up tackle/defensive end can slant or stunt and throw off the QB’s run read, as well as throw off the double team rules for inside zone.  We have no true double team on the zero tech.  I just don’t like it. This one is out for this week.

Whiteboard IZ 2

Next I’ll draw up outside zone to the boundary, away from the free overhang:

Whiteboard Outside Zone

I like this to the boundary.  We’ll put this in the game plan based on advantageous numbers and blocking angles

Then we’ll draw it up to the field, toward the overhang:


We have an unblockable player to the side of this play. This one is out for this week.

I usually start with inside zone for each personnel grouping, then move on to outside zone, power, counter, and counter trey.  Then I tinker with some of the fringe concepts that are not staples of our offense like iso and trap, but might be worth giving a look based on what the defense is showing us.

This is the process we will work through to see which plays we like for the week’s game or which plays won’t work and won’t be on the game plan.  This is a pretty massive effort.  But, the results are in the details.

This seems like a pretty “duh” moment, but I’ve always been surprised that many coaches DON’T draw up their run game to include and eliminate certain schemes throughout the game planning process.

Up next, we will work the edges, getting into the short RPO tags that will start to bring our game plan more into focus.



Game Planning an RPO Offense Part 1: Personnel Breakdown and Game Plan Prep

Lots of coaches talk about counting defenders to decide where to go with the ball. RPO offense is all about getting numbers to an area, putting defenders in conflict, and taking advantage of where the defense is weak against a given formation.  But, how does a coach game plan to gain these advantages? How do you analyze a defense to decide which RPO schemes are in and which are out for that week’s opponent?

Breaking Down the Opponent’s Film

This is your Saturday work. Most coaches kill the lights, belly up to their desk with some coffee and notepad, and get on HUDL to see what the next opponent is going to run. So, how do you break this film down to know which schemes are going to expose weaknesses in that defense?

Step One is sorting the defense by personnel group. Some coaches are 10 personnel or 20 personnel all the time. Some mix it up. For the sake of this series of articles, let’s assume our offense has multiple personnel groupings to choose from. What I do, because I’ve found it to be most effective, is list the personnel groupings for each formation our next opponent has seen.

Personnel Breakdown 1

I then sort these personnel groupings into playlists for each type of personnel (10, 11, 12, 20, 21, etc.).

HUDL Personnel Breakdown

Next, it’s time for the messy work. On the whiteboard, I’m going to draw up every defense I’ve seen against every formation I’ve seen our opponent line up against.

Whiteboard Prep

This is time consuming, but it’s the foundation of the game plan.

Breaking Down the Defense By Quadrant

Now we get to the fun part. What pieces of our offense fit into the puzzle we’re about to put together? Really, looking at an offense lined up against a defense is like putting a puzzle together. You know what pieces you have (your schemes), but where do you put the pieces?

So what do I mean by “quadrants?” Quadrants are an area. And with an RPO scheme, you need to know how to break down each quadrant of the defense. There are six quadrants to break down: the box, the flats to both sides, the deep middle, and the deep outsides.


Why do we break it down like this? Because that’s how defensive coordinators design their defenses. They figure out how they are going to defend the run with their box defenders and how they are going to defend the flats and deep thirds or quarters with their LBs and DBs. By breaking each quadrant down we are able to figure which run schemes work against their front and which pass defenders we can put in conflict. Which defender is a run and pass defender? Which quadrant of the field gives us a numbers advantage? By breaking this down, our game plan starts to come into focus.

Our next article will get into game planning run schemes to attack the box.









Developing an RPO Offense Part 4: Using Same Side Running Back Formations

Do you want to run a run pass option offense, but your quarterback isn’t exactly the dual threat type?  One of the best ways to get your RPO going is to use two backs.  And one of the most effective ways to run an RPO offense with two backs is with a same side alignment.  I’m going to detail three concepts that can take your RPO game to the next level, even if you don’t have that running QB that most coaches think you need to be run pass option.

The same side back alignment does two things for your offense that I really like.  For one, it always puts the QB’s eyes towards the two receiver side during the mesh, which is how he is able to pull and throw while making his post-snap read.  The second, and probably most important, is that this alignment allows you to run the ball to both sides of the formation while looking overloaded to one side.

Inside Zone

I’ve covered inside zone concepts in some of my previous posts (here and here).  But, the same side, two back inside zone is one of my favorite inside zone concepts.


The defense will have to declare its strength to the left side of our offensive formation.  This is perfect for running the inside zone because we want to run to the right side A gap.  The QB’s key coaching points are: pre-snap he will check the solo receiver side for the tagged route or he can hand signal the route he likes to the solo receiver.  If the pass is there pre-snap, he can go ahead and throw that.  Post-snap he will get his shoulders turned parallel to the sideline to mesh with the back.  His eyes should flip immediately to the overhang player, like so:

QB Mesh.gif

This is a key coaching point that many coaches ignore.  The mesh angle of the QB allows him to get his eyes flipped to his snap and pull out quickly if he decides to pull and throw.

If the overhang comes up to play run, the QB will pull out of the mesh and throw the ball to the #2 receiver.  The bubble screen is just an example of a concept you can run (and I’ve included that just for the sake of examples).  You can pick and choose your own quick game concept that best fits your offense or weekly game plan.

IZ H Slide.JPG

A variation of the same play is the H arrow.  Instead of kicking out the end, the H back will chip the outside shoulder of the end and get immediately into the flat.


Power is a base play in most offenses.  It’s a versatile scheme that can be used in multiple personnel groupings and in just about every formation.


The running back on this play will take a slide step towards the QB, making sure to keep his shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage.  He then follows the pulling guard who is wrapping for the play side linebacker.  As we discussed in our inverted power article, the guard should be wrapping with the intention of kicking the linebacker out, not wrapping.  Power should hit downhill and when the linebacker is wrapped it causes the back to have to bounce outside.

The QB’s coaching points are the same as on inside zone. Pre-snap he will check the solo receiver side for the tagged route or he can hand signal the route he likes to the solo receiver.  If the pass is there pre-snap, he can go ahead and throw that.  Post-snap he will get his shoulders turned parallel to the LOS and check the overhang player for pass/give.

Counter Trey

Counter Trey out of a same back formation is what makes it all work.  Without a counter to all of the strong side run game, defenses would load up to the heavy side of the formation.  But, this old school Joe Gibbs play that revolutionized football in the 1980s is one of the schemes that schools like Auburn and Ohio State use to make their run game deadly. Gibbs ran his Counter Trey from under center with a tight end and an H Back:


These days you see high schools, college teams, and even the pros (see my article on the Chiefs’ offense here) are using the shotgun counter trey to gash defenses.  The same side counter trey works with basically the same receiver action as the plays diagrammed above:

Counter Trey

The QB has the same pre-snap read to the solo receiver side.  He can read the cornerback for press, off, outside, or inside alignment to determine what route he likes for the solo receiver. If he decides to progress to the run portion of the play, he’s going to go through the same progression discussed above.  The running back is going to delay one quick count and then follow the H Back through the hole.  The H Back is looking to kick the play side linebacker, the same as the pulling guard would on power.  The play side defensive end is trapped by the backside guard.

One key coaching point for both a pulling guard or H Back wrapping on counter or power: make sure that they are slightly deeper in the backfield than the trap blocker.  The wrap blocker needs to eye the trapper to get up the field.  Often times the wrap blocker gets hung up because they are closer to the line of scrimmage than the trapper and are unable to get a tight wrap off the down blocks.  Being a little deeper than the trapper allows him to get his eyes on the play side linebacker and hug the down block to ensure the linebacker cannot run through the hole underneath him and force the bounce. Here’s an example of what the wrap should look like:

Counter Trey

The running back could have hit this a little more vertical if he waited on his H Back to kick the play side linebacker, but I’m sure their coaches weren’t complaining about the results of this play.

Ohio State his used this play from a variety of looks.  Oregon fans will remember Ezekiel Elliott gashing the Ducks’ defense during the national championship game with this play:

Counter Trey Fly Motion

There you have it.  A series of three plays that can hit the defense up the middle, off tackle to either side of the formation, attack the perimeter with quick passes to the solo receiver side, or through post snap quick passes to the two receiver side of the formation.  Obviously, there are many more plays that you can run from this formation.  For youth coaches, this series should be enough to keep your opponents on their toes.  For high school and college coaches, there are going to be a multitude of schemes that you can employ from this set.  I’ll be breaking down some more plays from this formation in the future.

Jalen Hurts has Transformed the Identity of the Alabama Offense

When Jalen Hurts signed with Alabama in 2016, it signaled a shift in philosophies for the Crimson Tide’s offensive staff.  Ever since Nick Saban took over the Alabama program in 2007, his starting quarterbacks, in order, have been: John Parker Wilson, Greg McElroy, A.J. McCarron, Blake Sims, and Jake Coker.  All of these quarterbacks have been the traditional drop back, pro-style game manager types.  There was a reason for that.  Bama has had NFL caliber tailbacks on their roster since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa.  Glen Coffee, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson (I know “NFL caliber” is debatable on that one), Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, and Derrick Henry all transitioned their success pounding the rock into NFL careers.  Saban’s teams thrived on lining up in pro sets and stuffing the ball up the gut.

You can see their pro-style offense at work here:

Even when the Tide was in the gun, the primary focus was getting the ball downhill to one of their talented running backs.  The receivers were going out to block.  Run pass option wasn’t in the game plan. Saban’s teams thrived on being bigger and stronger up front and they pounded the ball in traditional 11, 12, and 21 personnel sets.

Fast forward to 2016.  The Tide signed one of the top dual threat quarterbacks in the country in Hurts.  Hurts beat out Blake Barnett early in the 2016 season and the spread run pass option era of Crimson Tide offensive football began.  If you go back to the couple of seasons before Hurts arrived in Tuscaloosa, you’ll see elements of spread RPO in the offense, but Hurts’ arrival really put the Tide offense on the RPO fast track.

One of the schemes the Tide offense has employed is the spread midline.  What was once a staple of old school triple option teams has seen a resurgence as offensive coordinators find new (old) ways to put defenders in conflict.


Empty Midline.JPG

Hurts is reading the defender that follows the receiver in jet motion.  Bama obviously game planned for man free when they got into an empty set.  It the Texas A&M defender sat and passed off the motion in zone coverage, Hurts would give the ball on the jet sweep. The result is huge hole for Hurts to run through.

Here is a look at the give to the running back using the exact same scheme where the back replaces the jet sweep motion:

Midline Give


Another play that I really like (I broke this down in my article on the Kansas City Chiefs RPO schemes) is the inverted power combined with the shovel option. Last year, with a dangerous weapon in O.J. Howard lining up all over the field for the Tide, Bama used him as the shovel option in this scheme.

Shovel Option.GIF

Shovel Option

Hurts shows speed option to the two receiver side.  He’s reading the play side defensive end for the speed option pitch.  If the end sits he pitches the ball to the tailback. But, the Aggie defenders dialed up a stunt. When the defensive line slants away from the option, it gives him a shovel pitch read.  The back picks up the blitz from the blitzing nickel DB and the backside guard wraps for the strong side linebacker.  The slanting defensive line is enveloped by the down blocks of the play side offensive lineman.  Howard runs the shovel option path, makes a couple defenders miss, and gets the Tide a first down.



The Tide have also shown an interesting take on the split inside zone / bubble screen RPO scheme.

IZ Now

Split Zone Bubble

Bama lines up in a 12 personnel compressed 2×2 formation.  They run inside zone to the left and Calvin Ridley shows split zone action by running to the right.  The two tight ends base block the two EMOL defenders.  Hurts takes his eyes to the overhang to the right of the formation.  The slot on the right takes a step inside to check the overhang, and when he comes up into the C gap to play run, he takes his path outside to block the cornerback.  Ridley turns towards the QB, and Hurts gets him the ball with space and a blocker in front of him for a four yard touchdown.

It will be interesting to see if Alabama continues to delve deeper into the run pass option offensive world, or if this is just a product of having a special dual threat quarterback like Jalen Hurts in the program.  One thing is for certain, Saban and his staff continue to use the players on their roster to find ways to stay a step ahead of the competition.



The Kansas City Chiefs RPO Offense

If you follow my Facebook page, you’ll notice I include several Kansas City Chiefs highlights.  Andy Reid is turning the NFL upside down running a college-style RPO offense.  With the weapons Alex Smith has at his disposal, this offensive attack is putting points on the board at a crazy rate.

Here we see Alex Smith running the true inside zone read with Travis Kelce arc releasing for the overhang defender in case Smith keeps the ball.

On this play Smith has the option to give to Kareem Hunt on the tackle zone or throw the quick out to Kelce if he’s in one on one coverage.  You’ll also notice the slot receiver up top running the bubble screen. This is straight out of a college offensive playbook.

Arizona Even X Snap


And then there’s the inverted veer shovel pass of fly sweep action.  This is just filthy stuff.

The Eagles are in man coverage.  The nickel DB flies across the formation with Tyreek Hill in jet motion, opening up the outside to the left.  Alex Smith flat meshes with Kareem Hunt, reading the wide nine technique on his left.  Kelce runs the shovel pass path and Smith decides if he’s going to give the ball to Hunt on the sweep or pitch it to Kelce on the shovel. When the end attacks up field, Smith shovels the ball to Kelce who gets into the end zone behind the pull of the right guard.  The double team from the left tackle and guard on the 4i technique really opens this up for the inside shovel pass.

Duece H-mo Baylor Shovel Odd



The Eagles aren’t the only team the Chiefs have victimized with their RPO schemes.  In this clip, the Chiefs line up in an empty set, with Kelce set as a wing and Hill in the slot.  The Steelers line up in a 4-4 defense with a single high safety.  James Harrison is the read here.  When Hill runs his jet motion Harrison widens to keep contain.  Kelce runs the shovel pass path behind the pulling guard.  When Harrison widens Smith pitches the ball to Kelce for a big gain.

6 Glock Rt R-mo Baylor Shovel Odd


Reid uses the Power G scheme in a multitude of ways.  Empty Jet Sweep with the Shovel Pass, Inverted Power with the Shovel Pass, and the traditional Power G out of 11 personnel.


The Chiefs line up in a traditional 11 personnel 2×2 set.  They run the Power G with Kelce as the kick out blocker with Hill running the bubble screen to the back side.

Double Left Buffalo Odd Key 2.JPG


It’s the exact same blocking scheme the Chiefs used for the Kelce shovel passes, but they block the end instead of reading him.  This shows the versatility of the Power G scheme when it’s used by a creative offensive mind.

The Chiefs has also utilized the speed option.  Most people won’t remember this, but Alex Smith was a read option QB for Urban Meyer at Utah.  He’s very skilled at this sort of scheme but hasn’t gotten to show it off often in the pros.


Skip to thirteen seconds in and you’ll see Smith running another classic RPO scheme against the Broncos.  The Broncos are in dime personnel to defend the speed of the Chiefs offensive players. This time the Chiefs run the speed option to the right with the “now” screen to the backside receiver.  Smith options the play side end and gets Hunt out in space right now.

Speed Option

Andy Reid is taking the multi-talented athletes on his roster and using them to attack NFL defenses like no one has seen before.  With jack-of-all-trades burners like Tyreek Hill and De’Anthony Thomas, a mismatch nightmare in Travis Kelce, a banger running back in Kareem Hunt, and a mobile, athletic QB who can run and pass, the spread RPO game is ideally suited for the Chiefs roster.



Utilizing a Running QB with the Inverted Inside Zone

Many coaches these days are blessed with great athletes in their programs, but that coveted pocket passer comes along only once in a great while.  The answer for many coaches is to put their best athlete under center.

Or, maybe you lack a true inside run threat, but you’re loaded at receiver with quick players that excel in space and when running jet sweeps.

An RPO offense is a great way to feature a player that might be a receiver or a running back in another offense (but in your program he’s your signal caller) or to take advantage of players that aren’t inside bangers, but excel when getting the ball on the perimeter.

Inside zone is a scheme that is prevalent in most offenses. It’s a versatile run scheme that is effective against both even and odd fronts, and it’s especially useful when you tailor it to fit the personnel discussed above.

Inverted Inside Zone Out of a 2×2 Set

I love running inside zone out of a balanced 2×2 set, especially against a four man front.



4-4 Front

In an even front where the strong side linebacker is walked out on the slot, we will attack the weak side of the defense with the sweep and the strong side of the defense with our bubble screen.  The bubble screen is a pre-snap “now” pass.  If the slot has leverage on the overhang defender, we will throw this at the snap.

If the bubble is not there, the QB will snap the ball and progress to his run read.  The running back will take an outside zone path, turning his shoulders to the sideline and trying to beat the defensive end around the corner.  It is a key coaching point for the running back to NEVER turn this up early.  He must continue his path past the slot receiver before he turns up field.

The QB will shuffle step to force the defensive end to make a decision. His read is simple: if the back can beat the defensive end outside, give the ball.  If the back cannot beat the end, he will pull the ball and run to the play side A gap, reading the center’s block for the cutback lane.

This is a hit-it-quick run play.  Just like traditional inside zone where the ball is handed to the RB, the QB has the option to run through the A gap, or hit the cutback under the defensive end.

As far as pass tags go, I prefer to keep the bubble screen on for 2×2 inverted inside zone.  Since this is a quick hitter, there is no need for a post-snap pass read.

Inverted Inside Zone from a Trips Set


Most defensive coaches will defend trips with either a two high Cover 2 shell with the outside linebacker walked out to apex the two slot receivers or by rolling to Cover 3 and apexing both receivers.  Fortunately, this scheme can attack both defensive schemes.  The most important thing is to get a six man box.

I prefer to run the sweep to the trips side with the inside zone going towards the weak side of the defense. We get a hat on a hat with our stalk blocking receivers and still have a numbers advantage in the box.

The single receiver will have the pre-snap pass read.  I like a slant on the backside, but it can also be a hitch, stop, or speed out.

Again, our running back will turn towards the sideline and try to outrun the defensive end to the edge, not turning upfield until he is around the slot receivers.  The QB will read the defensive end and give the ball if the back can beat him outside.

Inverted Inside Zone from a TE Set

Against a four man front, ten personnel is very effective.  However, when you run up against the team with the odd front defense, it is often difficult to get the double team blocking angles to run inside zone.  We really like to insert a tight end to give our line the angles we need to run inside zone against a three man front.

Tight End FormationAdding the tight end allows our playside tackle to double team the playside end and not allow him to loop into the C gap.  Putting two defenders in the C gap will kill this play.

The 3-4 scrape exchange is always a problem.  This front gives you a cloudy read from the 4 technique.  He isn’t a true EMOL.

NO - Don't want this front

The end can slant and the inside linebacker can scrape exchange, which kills your quarterback’s read:

Cloudy Read

You want to avoid putting your quarterback in this situation.  This is where the tight end comes in. It keeps the over hang as the read and eliminates a situation where the end can slant and the Sam can scrape exchange, ruining your quarterback’s give/keep read.

Empty Set Jet Sweep Inverted Inside Zone

Another wrinkle that is effective for teams that like to utilize their receivers in the run game with jet sweeps is the inverted inside zone off the jet sweep action.  This is one of those triple option “if-then” plays.  If the defensive end is chasing jet sweep, this is a great constraint play.

Jet Sweep Inverted Inside Zone

The reads are the same as the other inverted inside zone looks, but it puts the defensive end in conflict if he chases jet sweep too fast.  One key coaching point: the shuffle from the QB is probably going to take him a little wider if the sweeper is running at full speed so this play will most often hit right behind the playside tackle and cut back behind the defensive end.  With the blocking angles up front, this still works.



Developing an RPO Offense Part 3: Two Receiver Quick Game


The limit of a coach’s two man route combinations is almost endless. From fade-out, to slant-arrow, or even hitch- seam, almost any two man quick game concept can be attached to the backside of a run play. Because of the vast amount of concepts out there, we are going to spend this article discussing a few of my favorites and diving into the reads and QB mechanics required to effectively execute RPO quick game concepts.


The Hitch-Seam concept is one that is used from Pop Warner to the pros.  Incorporating this simple passing concept into your RPO package can open up ways to get the ball to your most explosive players in space.

If the cornerbacks are playing off on the outside, the hitch is an easy throw for any quarterback to make.  This is the pre-snap read.  I have drawn up inside zone for the example, but hitches can be attached to any inside run scheme as a way to stretch the defense from sideline to sideline.  The read is simple: if the outside receiver has a cushion, catch the snap and fire the ball to the hitch.

For the post-snap read, the quarterback is going to read the defender covering the slot receiver away from the run play.  Note the path of vision for the quarterback.  When he flips his hips on the snap to mesh with the running back, his eyes should be on the slot defender. If the defender stays with the slot, it’s a handoff.  If the slot defender comes up to play the run, the quarterback fires the ball right into the area the defender vacated.

“Snap” Concept

The Snap concept is one that our staff got from Tony Franklin at his System clinic back in 2013.  It’s a concept I love to use on the backside of any run play.  When we first learned this concept, Franklin was using it at Cal as a five yard speed out to the outside receiver. Over the past couple years, we’ve combined the quick out with a stick route by the inside receiver to create a very effective pre/post snap combination.

Snap This can be attached to the backside of any inside our outside run concept.  Against a soft cornerback, the QB is going to catch and throw the quick out on the snap.

Post-snap, his eyes are going to flip to the overhang player to the backside of the play.  If the overhang stays back on the stick, the QB is going to complete his mesh with the running back and give the ball.  If the overhang comes up to play the run, the QB is going to pull out of the mesh and put the ball on the outside shoulder of the receiver who sits in the space the overhang player has vacated.


The fade/out combination is another basic route combination that every coach has used from Pop Warner to the pros.


Personally, I like to attach this concept to the backside of two back run game concepts.  Same side power is a very effective run play to tag with the fade/out concept because it really puts the overhang play in conflict.

Power Out.jpg

If the overhang plays the out, it gives a run lane for your running back.  If he comes up to play the run, it’s an easy pitch and catch for the QB.  This is one of PJ Fleck’s favorite RPO concepts:


On the snap, the QB needs to get his eyes immediately on the overhang defender.  If he moves up to play the run, it’s an easy throw for potentially a big gain.

Quick Game Combos

The more creative the offensive coordinator, the more variations of two receiver quick game concepts he can think up.  For example, here we combine a pre-snap snap concept on the back side of outside zone with a two verticals concept for the post-snap read.

OZ Fade-Snap

This particular combination of concepts pairs a horizontal stretch on the backside with a vertical stretch concept on the frontside of an outside run play.  Pre-snap, again, we are reading the cushion of the backside cornerback or the overhang.  The post-snap read is on the playside overhang defender.  If he comes up to be the outside force player on outside zone, the QB fires the ball to the seam route in the space he vacates.  If he plays man and runs off with the seam, it opens the edge up for our running back.  Note the QB’s lane of vision during the mesh.  He needs to shuffle step and ride the running back with his eyes on the overhang defender.

Be creative with your two receiver quick game.  Use what you already have in your quick game package and find ways to get your best players the ball in space.