Understanding the RPO: Run Pass Option

In Defense, Offense, Premium Contentby SteveLeave a Comment

The RPO – the big buzz word in the NFL (most notably in the Eagles 2017 Super Bowl run). We also hear it consistently in the NFL broadcast. Why is it so popular?

What is the RPO? RPO stands for Run Pass Option, it’s a play call which allows the quarterback to hand off to the running back or throw the football to a receiver. The offensive line blocks run, so it always looks like a run play.

Let’s learn more about the fundamentals of the RPO before we dig into the different schemes…

What is the RPO?

R.P.O. stands for Run, Pass Option.

It essentially looks like a run play. The line blocks run, the running back anticipates the handoff and the quarterback has the option to give it.

The Pass option is built in, typically on the front side.

The Quarterback will put the ball in the stomach of the running back. As he’s doing so, he’ll either read a linebacker or a safety to determine if he should pull the ball and throw it. If the linebacker/safety move toward the running back’s direction, the Quarterback will throw the football.

On the flip side, if the back side linebacker/safety doesn’t move, it is assumed the offense has numbers in the box and have a better matchup to run the football.

There are 2 types of RPO’s :

Post-snap RPO’s are what we mentioned above. RPO’s that are run after the ball is snapped.

Pre-snap RPO’s are read by the Quarterback before the ball is snapped.

For example, if the offense is in a trips set (3 receivers) to the left. Before the snap, if the defense is only covering the 3 receivers with 2 defenders, the quarterback will throw it out quick to the trips.

If the defense puts 4 defenders to cover the trips (3 cover guys and a safety over the top), the Quarterback will hand the ball off to the running back. It’s a simple numbers game.

The RPO started making it’s way into the NFL, right around the time Chip Kelly made his way in the the NFL.

Understanding the RPO

 Installing the RPO into your playbook will require confidence in your quarterback as he will have to make a split second decision to either hand the ball off to his running back or pull the ball back to fire a quick pass.

Let’s look at a few variation of how this play has been installed…

Inside Zone, Backside Stick


via COInTexas on YouTube

In the clip above we can see UCLA’s spread offense with trips to the right and an off set halfback also to the QB’s right, which also happens to be the wide side of the field.

At the snap we can see the offensive line execute a zone blocking scheme while the halfback begins to move across the quarterback as if to take the handoff and run through the A gap on left side of the line. Meanwhile, the receivers on the backside of the play have also run short routes. 

Note that the innermost slot receiver run a stick route (a 5 yard route up field and then turns back to face the QB), the outer slot receiver has run screen route and the outer receiver is strictly looking to block.

On this play, the QB was able to quickly identify his receiver running the stick route was open and thus decided to throw the ball. Below is the same play from a different angle:


via COInTexas on YouTube

Outside Zone, Backside Screen 

In our next clip, we see the Green Bay Packers set up in trips to the left with the halfback offset to the left which also happens to be the wide side of the field.


via Inside the Pylon on YouTube

The full video from Inside the Pylon (available here) details two different ways to make the call if you are the Quarterback:

  1. The Box Count Read: Assess the defensive players in the box and compare that to the number of run blockers available to create a path (this play shows the defense had +1)
  2. The Ratio Read: Imagine a box from the innermost slot receiver, down to the near sideline and 7 yards downfield. This box identifies the players who will be able to stop the pass option from being effective (the video illustrates there are 2 defenders to the 3 offensive players)

Inside Zone, 4 Verticals

The Packers run this variation of the RPO in the same formation as UCLA did in the first video; trips right, halfback offset right with the wide side of the field also being to the right. Instead of a hitch, all receivers on the field are running a streak, or a go route, with the only real option being the innermost slot receiver since the QB will not have enough time to go through all of his progressions.


via Inside the Pylon on YouTube

  • After the ball is snapped, the QB will read the linebacker closest to the slot receiver
    • If the QB bites on the run fake, he throws
  • The key is the fast throw of the QB 
    • Needs to hit the opening in the defense
    • Throw has to be before the Offensive Linemen get too far down field or it will be a penalty

One more closing thought. Play action and RPO’s are COMPLETELY different. The easiest way to tell the difference between the two – look at the line of scrimmage (on the offensive side).

If the offensive line is run blocking, it’s more than likely an RPO. If they’re pass blocking, we can only assume that it’s a play action pass. This is a classic mixup, as the buzz word RPO seemingly has been implemented in every broadcast.

Is there a specific team or coach that runs a RPO you want us to breakdown? Do you run a different style RPO? Let us know all of your thoughts in the comments below. We love learning how different coaches are innovating the game.

Read more football content on our football blog

Like learning football? Download our mobile app vIQtory, available in the iOS and Google Play store to learn more football!

References (full links to youtube videos)

UCLA Bruins Clip

Green Bay Packers Clip

Leave a Comment