Developing an RPO Offense Part 2: Single Receiver Quick Passing Game Concepts 

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?

Pressed Cornerback

Soft Cornerback

Is he inside or outside the solo receiver?

Inside Technique

Outside Technique

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.

Slant 2

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.


Developing an PRO Offense Part 1: Dressing Up Base Run Schemes With Perimeter Screens

One of the first developments in the RPO revolution was combining screen passes with shotgun run plays to spread the field from sideline to sideline.  The idea was old school, yet new at the same time. If triple option football could combine a dive read off a first level defender and a pitch read off a second level defender, why couldn’t a spread offense combine on inside run read with a perimeter screen read?  The reads were the same, but the scheme was different.  The end man on the line of scrimmage would dictate run or keep by the quarterback and the second level read would dictate run or pass to the quarterback.  It’s simplicity was the beauty of the play.  The idea was nothing new, but the execution was entirely different.

The question is, what screens work best with which run plays?  How do you match a screen effectively with an inside or outside run play?

The questions to keep in mind when game planning for a certain defense are:

  1. How do I make the defense account for every player on the offense?
  2. Which defenders do we want to isolate to create a pass read?
  3. Can we replace a blocker in the run game with a receiver in the pass game?

The first question is one that many coaches don’t consider when game planning for an opponent.  This is an important question because creating an advantage for an RPO offense is dictated by working the numbers for an advantage: either in the box or on the perimeter.  In the days when 21 personnel reigned supreme in high school and college football, the fullback usually accounted for the defender that the offensive line didn’t have the numbers to block.

To start, let’s examine a play that every coach who’s used the I formation has run: the weak side Iso.


This is one of the most basic offensive run plays.  The offensive line blocks hat on hat, working  first level double teams to the linebackers.  The fullback attacks the linebacker in the weak side bubble.  There are seven blockers for the seven man box.  The extra player is the running back, who follows the fullback through the hole and attempts to make the third level defenders miss if/when he breaks through the second level.  How do we translate a play as simple as the iso to spead RPO offense?

IZR 11 Personnel

We still isolate the Will linebacker by moving our R out to the slot.  Instead of isolating a LB with a blocking fullback, we move him into a position that forces him to make a decision on the snap: am I going to play the pass or am I going to play the run?  The blocking for inside zone is virtually identical to the I back Iso play.  Now on the mesh the quarterback reads the Will linebacker and if he plays run the quarterback throws the bubble.  If he plays pass the quarterback continues his mesh and gives the ball to the running back.

Now, if we move from an 11 personnel set (one running back, one tight end) to a 10 personnel set (one running back, zero tight ends), we get the same pass option from two different defenders:

2x2 Bubble

Instead of having a give/pass option, now we have pass/pass/give/keep options.  Their are four possible plays available just by spreading the defense out with additional receivers.

First of all, coming up with six to eight screens that work to isolate a run/pass defender is the best way to start.  Do we have a trips bubble screen? A trips flanker screen? A 2×2 bubble screen? A 2×2 flanker screen? A fast motion screen? How do we use these screens in the game plan to pick a defender to place in conflict?

Here we use the exact same blocking scheme, isolating the same linebacker, giving our QB the exact same read, but give the defense something new to adjust to:

Fast Motion

If the Will LB slides out of the box, we run the ball.  If the Will LB stays in the box, we throw the ball. The concept is identical to the above inside zone concept, yet we give a new wrinkle to the defense using fast motion.  Noel Mazzone used this type of motion throughout his stints as offensive coordinator at Arizona State and UCLA to great success.

In trips, we can run the exact same scheme with the exact same read:


This type of perimeter screen isn’t limited to inside zone.

Outside zone:


11 Personnel Trips Power:

Double Slot Power


These are just a few basics.  How you control the perimeter with your screen game really depends on how creative you want to get, identifying the box defender you want to isolate, and complimenting your base run game by removing a lead blocker and replacing him with a receiver running a screen.

Next up:

Developing an RPO Offense Part 2: Single Receiver Quick Passing Game Concepts 

Twenty Personnel Power RPO Game

So you’re an old school, smashmouth coach who wants to run the football, but all of these new, young coaches are slinging the ball all over the field.  You like to run power, counter, and toss out of the two back sets. How do you incorporate your preferred style of offense with the new run-pass-option concepts that have become popular in the past few years?  Here are some ideas that can keep you old school, with a splash of what the new generation of coaches are doing.

Coaches like Urban Meyer and Gus Malzahn have been at the forefront of revolutionizing the ideas of a two back power offense, with enough spread concepts integrated to keep defenses from stacking the box.

Our base personnel set will look like this:

20 Personnel Base

In this set, we have the traditional fullback and tailback, while incorporating three wide receivers to stretch the field from sideline to sideline.  Out of this personnel grouping, we can run inside zone, power, counter trey, and counter GT.  This gives us the ability to be smashmouth and pound the rock, but still prevents the defense from stacking the box.

Power is the first and best play that most coaches run out of a two back set.  This play can be effective from youth football all the way to the pro level.  Since this play is so commonly run by coaches at all levels, we will discuss the RPO game off of power.

20 Personnel Power.JPG

This particular RPO is our base look when we run power.  The playside slot is running the bubble. Our backside receiver is running the “Bang 8.”

Quarterback Progression

When the QB comes to the line, the first thing he checks is the backside solo receiver.  Is the cornerback playing soft?  Is there an overhang linebacker covering the weakside flats?  If he has grass, this is a snap and throw now.

Bang 8 Throw

If he doesn’t have a look he likes to the solo receiver side, he will check his slot receiver. Do we have favorable numbers to the two receiver side?  If the flat defender is apexing the tackle and the slot, our slot has the advantage and we would throw this now.

Bubble Throw Many defensive coordinators will roll to a Cover 3 look against 20 personnel.  We still want to be able to run power vs. eight defenders in the box.  We will attack a Cover 3 cornerback short and out of the range of the flat defender with a speed out to the short side of the field, and attack the wide side of the field with the bubble screen.

4-4 Look

If the play side overhang is apexed between the play side tackle and the slot, we will throw the bubble screen.

Throw the bubble


The idea for this concept is to control the flat defenders to give us a six man box to run against.  If the Will backer is playing the flat and the backside cornerback is playing off, we will cut the splits of our X and throw the quick out in rhythm on the snap.  If the cornerback presses, the quarterback will look to the bubble screen before the snap.  If the overhang to the two receiver side is head up on the slot, we’ll proceed to the run.

Run It

  • DK




One Back Inverted Power RPO

The inverted power has become one of the better ways to use a dual threat quarterback in the RPO age of offensive football.  If you have a dual threat quarterback in your program, this is a play you want to add to your playbook.

Teams like Louisville, Clemson, and Alabama have all used this scheme to take advantage of their fleet footed quarterbacks in recent seasons. Lamar Jackson ran this offensive run scheme to exploit defenses all season long on his way to winning the 2016 Heisman Trophy.

Out of one back, away from trips:

Out of two backs:

Lousiville’s offensive staff did a great job using the inverted power scheme to get Jackson loose on lots of big runs over the course of his historic season. We are going to break down the way we’ve run inverted power, and some of the RPO game concepts you can use to exploit the defense from sideline to sideline with this explosive run concept.

We’ve run the inverted power out of both one back and two back sets (10 and 20 personnel).  One of the more successful ways we’ve schemed inverted power is with trips to the field:

Inverted Power - trips

The QB’s read progression at the line of scrimmage begins with the cornerback or flat defender to the one receiver side.  If the cornerback has inside help, we like to call a quick out into the boundary as our RPO tag.   This is a pre-snap, get it off quick read.

But, if the cornerback is playing without inside help, we’ll call a “Bang 8” short post. The QB will still ride his mesh with the running back, sucking the linebackers in to create more room to stick the Bang 8 in there.  If he is throwing the quick out, it’s a rhythm, snap and throw ball.

If the QB doesn’t like his pre-snap pass read, he is going to progress to his run read.  The object of this running play is to put the play side defensive end in conflict.  The running back must take a flat mesh and sprint for the sideline and cannot, under any circumstances, turn up the field before reaching the hash mark.  He must stretch the defense horizontally.  If he turns up early, the end can play both the QB and the running back.

Real Give Read

The QB’s keep-give read is pretty simple.  If he thinks the RB can beat the defensive end outside, he’s going to give it.

Give Read

If the defensive end chases the RB, he’s going to keep and follow his pulling guard through the hole.

One key coaching point about the pulling guard: we want a kick in the hole, not a wrap block on the linebacker.  If the guard wraps, chances are the QB will have to bounce off his block.  We want a vertical seam for the QB to get north and south, not to bounce it into the overhang that our slot is blocking.

Newton Gif

Luke Gif

We have run a few variations of this scheme to maximize how defenses play various formations.  For example, when a defense gives us a Cover 2 look (as shown above), we want to exploit the open area between the cornerback and the Will linebacker by running the Bang 8 to the single receiver side, usually into the boundary.  When we are given a Cover 3 look, our options change:


With a tight Will backer and a soft cornerback, we can call the hitch or out as our backside tag.  If we see one high safety with pressed cornerbacks, we can call a fade that needs to get out of the QB’s hands on the snap.

Two Back Keep Gif

Under Front .jpg

We will also run this out of a two back set.  The under front has become a very popular defense and we see this a lot.  With a soft corner to the backside, we’ll often stick with our standard Bang 8 or the out route.

Over Front

If we see an Over front, it opens up a few more possibilities.  We still like quick fade on the backside.  With the Will more than likely being a flat defender in this defense, the out, hitch, and fade work best.

For football programs that have a dual threat QB, the inverted power is a great addition to your playbook.  Not only does it take advantage of a running quarterback, but it also stretches the defense from sideline to sideline with an outside run threat, an inside run, and a backside pass.

Next week we’re going in-depth on two back power and how to implement the RPO game into your 20 personnel schemes.


Inside Zone RPO: The Basics

In my experience, inside zone is one of the most versatile weapons an offensive coordinator has at his disposal.  Whether you’re a 21 personnel guy or a 10 personnel guy, or anywhere in between, chances are you run the IZ as part of your scheme.  In this article, we are going to examine three of my favorite simple RPO schemes out of a 10 personnel, 2×2 set.


Everyone runs a version of this play these days.  The inside zone with a double bubble screen is a dangerous and versatile concept that most offensive coordinators use, regardless of the front and coverage they are facing on a week-to-week basis.  Personally, I like to run inside zone to the one technique when I am seeing a four man front because we can get two double teams at the point of attack to create vertical push up front:

1 tech

Read Progression:

When your quarterback comes to the line, the first thing he needs to do is check his pass read.  What are his numbers like?  Do we have a numbers advantage anywhere on the perimeter?  In this case, we have two receivers to the field and three defenders.  That bubble is a no.  But, to the backside, we have one cornerback for our two receivers.  Our numbers are greater, so we would throw the bubble on the snap:

Hot throw

If the quarterback comes to the line and sees that the numbers are equal to the perimeter, he progresses to his run read:

Inside Zone - No numbers

Just like most inside zone reads, the quarterback is going to read the backside defensive end while he meshes with the running back and keep it if the end chases the back:

If the end stays home and sits on the QB, you’ve just blocked one defender without having to touch him:

If the QB makes a keep read on the defensive end, the options don’t stop there. You still have your bubble screen in case you get this:

RPO Pull and throw

These are the most basic versions of RPO off of inside zone.  Here are a couple more that I really like to run and have had success with.

Snap Double OScarSlide2

With this version of our RPO game, we are still running inside zone.  In this particular run scheme, we will add a tag that speaks to the backside tackle or the backside guard and tackle, depending on the whether we have a five technique backside or a five and three technique backside.  When they hear this tag, they base out to isolate the weakside LB.

The presnap read is the backside corner or the playside bubble.  If the $ tries to apex the playside tackle and the Y, we’ll throw that.  But, the presnap throw we really love is the speed out to the X to the boundary.  This is a great play to run from a hash.  If the backside corner is playing 7+ yards off the X, we will throw the quick out all game.  The QB must take the snap and fire this into the boundary NOW.

If the corner is pressed and the QB does not feel safe making the out throw into the boundary, we will move into our run progression.  Since the backside tackle is basing out on the defensive end we would normally read, the QB is going to read the weakside linebacker at the snap.  If he comes up and plays run, we will hit the stick route in the area he vacates:

Stick Read.gif

If he holds on the stick, we get a nice cutback lane for our running back.

Another concept we use consistently is the double slant concept on the backside.  Again, the QB reads the playside bubble to see if our Y has leverage on the overhang LB to the field. Then, if the QB doesn’t like the bubble, he checks to see what the outside slant looks like:


If the corner is off and the weakside LB is playing in the box, we will throw the outside slant on the snap.  If the cornerback is pressed inside, we will progress to the run read.  Once the ball is snapped, if the weakside LB comes up on the RB, we will throw the quick slant to the slot. It’s more of a homerun hitter ball than the stick.  If he can split the safeties after the catch, this can turn into a big play.

Check back next week.  I’m going to discuss power read and some of the better RPO concepts I’ve seen off the power game.

  • DK