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villanovaBy Mike Kuchar, Lead Research Manager, X&O Labs

Since we released our special report on run/pass option concepts last January, defenses have done their due diligence in preparing to defend them. We’ve found that most of these defensive answers relied upon tactics such as the following: playing more man coverage structures on the back end, inside leveraging the number three receiver to defend the stick draw concept, overloading coverage to trips formations and using halves coverage players as run/pass defenders. So we went back through our research to present a menu of viable solutions to these defensive adjustments. These tweaks can be implemented today and used this weekend against any of the aforementioned defensive counterpoints. See these RPO tweaks to combat defensive adjustments: go here.


By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikekKuchar


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Now that your RPO concepts have been installed and implemented, it's time to fine tune your RPO package to attack the certain coverages and adjustments presented throughout the course of the season. We’re not referring to changing your base RPO concepts, just tailoring them to attack what defenses are doing to defend them. In this research report, we present the most efficient RPO’s concepts being used for the backside X receiver, how best to get a dominant tight end involved and what answers can be provided against man coverage.

RPOs vs. Defenses That Leverage the Stick Route

Since the stick/draw RPO may be the most popular of its kind, defenses are finding ways to get the Mike backer (or hook defender) to play with inside leverage on number three. Below are some options that help alleviate that issues.

Zone Out RPO Concept: Nick Coleman, Itawamba Community College (MS)

“Another RPO variation that Itawamba will run with zone action is an out concept by number two (Diagram 37). The quarterback will still read the box linebacker, but will throw a five-yard rollover out to the Y if he commits to the zone (or power) run action. In the video below, you’ll see the quarterback take some shots on the vertical by Z if he can get in the hole against cover two.”


To see cutups of Itawamba Community College’s Out Concept, click on the video below:

Rub Concept RPOs: Scott Criner, Rocky Mountain High School (ID)

Scott Criner, the Head Coach at Rocky Mountain High School (ID), will use the Stick concept out of 3x1 sets, but will create a rub situation by bringing the number two receiver inside number three. It’s effective because it places a horizontal stretch on the movement key (the play side inside linebacker) who will often not see the under route by number two. If the read key steps up on the draw, the quarterback pulls and throws the under. If the read key gets depth, the quarterback gives the ball (Diagrams 40-41). If the perimeter defender shows pressure, the quarterback knows pre-snap he is going to the slant (Diagram 42).


To see cutups of Rocky Mountain High School’s Iso Read Concept, click on the video below:

RPO Concepts That Attack Man Coverage

We’ve found man coverage to be defenses’ number one answer to defend the RPO game. They will have one defender account for one receiver and hope for the best. Problem is, there is no way to outnumber an offense, particularly one that has a running quarterback. So while most offensive coordinators’ answer to man coverage is to run the quarterback, below are some pass concepts to package with the QB run game.

Choice RPO Concepts: Luke Mertens, Lakes Community High School (IL)

“We have been seeing more man coverage lately, which has forced us to give some concrete rules for our QB to follow in cover 0 and cover 10 situations. If Choice (Inside Zone/Bubble combo) is called against man coverage, our QB is alerted to automatically give due to the fact the defense has 3 to our 3 on the perimeter. However, if the QB notices their three defenders are truly playing man and running with our #3 receiver, then he also has the green light to pull the ball and run it on the perimeter. Although this type of freedom may scare coaches at first, our QBs surprisingly don’t take advantage of this opportunity as much as I would like.

Here’s an example of an automatic give read for the QB against man coverage:

“It is important to note that this check does not impact our play when we have Option called. Instead, the QB will just execute his standard post snap option reads.

When we have Quick Game coupled with Inside Zone on the front side, our QB will make his pre-snap decision based on what he believes to be our best matchup. For example, if he feels that one of our WRs can win the 1-on-1 matchup on the backside, and then he has the ‘green light’ to take that route.

“Our Choice package tells our backside, perimeter players to execute Bubble while all box players and WRs to the play side to execute Inside Zone. It is then the QB’s job to put us in the best play based on both what he is seeing before and during the play.

“The first thing he looks at is the pre-snap alignment of the defense. If he sees cushion and/or outside leverage by our WRs to the backside of the Inside Zone play call, then he knows he has the green light to throw the Bubble. Even if he makes this decision, he still must mesh with the RB to force the defense to honor the possibility of run. If the QB has any doubt on whether or not to throw the Bubble, we instruct him to give the ball. We feel that giving the ball to the RB is never a wrong decision and is a much safer alternative to possibly guessing wrong on Bubble.

Choice RPO Key Coaching Points:

  1. QB pre-snap read – look for numbers and leverage on the backside to throw Bubble.
  2. Even with a “green light” the QB does not have to take the Bubble.
  3. Inside Zone is NEVER the wrong choice.
  4. QB is to ALWAYS mesh with the RB.

“If the defense disguises well and spins post snap into a look that is not conducive to running Bubble, then the QB should give the ball to the RB. This is another reason why we always have the QB/RB mesh regardless of the pre-snap read. Below is an example of a ‘green light’ for the QB out of a 3x1 set:

“In this situation, the QB has a ‘green light’ for Bubble because we simply have the numbers on the perimeter. Again, he doesn’t have to throw the Bubble; it’s just an option. We can also run Choice to a single WR side as well. Below is an example of a ‘green light’ to single WR side:

“The QB has a ‘green light’ to the single WR side due to the large cushion. With that said, the WR doesn’t have a blocker, so the QB has to believe our WR can beat the DB in space for him to take the pass option over the run option.”

To see film of this concept, click on the video below:

RPO Concepts Tailored for Backside X Receivers

If you’re like many offensive coordinators, you’ll position one of your better receiving threats to the backside of trips formations. Conversely, many opposing defensive coordinators will position their coverage to account for that player. We researched the various ways in which offensive coordinators are meshing their RPO concepts to get the ball to the backside X, one of their better receivers.

RPO Concepts That Attack Flat Defenders

We’ve found other RPO concepts suitable to attack flat defenders (or overhang defenders) in cover three or invert coverage structures. Because these defenders are mainly concerned with playing force/cutback in the run game, many of these concepts are correlated with perimeter run action, either at the flat defender or away from the defender, such as outside zone or pull concepts.

RPO Concepts That Attack Halves Coverage

Once defenses start to sit in two-high safety coverages, it’s time to run the ball downhill. But, in order to produce big-hit plays, it may be sensible to attack near safeties that are also run defenders with vertical RPO packages.

RPO Concepts for Closed Tight Ends

Offensive coordinators are finding innovative ways to get pass catching tight ends the ball with RPO concepts. They are doing so by either isolating them in nub sets (to the back side of trips formations) or by influencing the flat defender with run action and sneaking him out into the voided area. Below are just a couple of examples of each.

Backside TE Vertical RPO: Lee Sadler, Marshall High School (AR)

The route progression for the backside of the horn-pop play starts with the inside receiver or tight end. “The inside receiver or tight end will execute the pop route,” said Sadler. “We teach the pop route as the receiver or tight end releases, he will run at the heels of the back side linebacker in the box. Once he gets to that point, he will get vertical up the field, never crossing the football. We will teach to run to grass if there is a safety hanging over the route. From a tight end position, this route is a lot easier. As a receiver, he must get an inside release to get to his aiming point. Sometimes a pop pass to an inside receiver might look like a slant. If we have two receivers on the backside, the inside receiver/TE will execute the pop route, while the outside receiver will execute a clear route (mandatory outside release, go route). If we have three receivers to the back side of the horn-pop play, the outside receiver will execute the clear route, the number two receiver will run a key screen path, and the inside receiver/TE will execute the pop route.”


To see film of this concept, click on the video below:

Get More RPO…

Join X&O Labs’ exclusive membership website, Insiders, and get instant access to the full-length version of this report. Here’s a short list of what you’ll get with the full-length version.

  • How Western Connecticut State University changes its verbiage on the line of scrimmage to trigger which defender is the read in its stick draw RPO.
  • How coaches are tailoring their empty package with RPO concepts to attack pure man coverage structures.
  • What St. Anselm College (NH) and Villanova University is packaging for its backside X receiver against over-shifted coverage to trips formations.
  • Why coaches are implementing third level RPO concepts to attack half-field safeties that are triggering the run game.
  • How using a backside tight end in trips formations can provide for matchup issues in vertical RPO concepts.

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Since defenses will find various ways to takeaway your most effective RPO concepts, using this menu of choices will give you answers against whatever coverage structures defensive coaches will employ. This research was excerpted from XandOLabs.com past clinic and research reports, which can be accessed in full by clicking on the following links:

Contributing Reports

RPO Special Report Case 1- System Development

RPO Special Report Case 2- Manipulating Box Defenders

RPO Special Report Case 3- Manipulating Perimeter Defenders

Modifying your RPO Package vs. Defensive Alignments

Tight End Flat Combinations to Complement Zone RPO’s

Zone Read Choice RPO

Packaging the Trey Read to Attack Benders

Pairing Four Verts with the QB Draw

Counter Gut RPO Concept



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