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.










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.