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.