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By Mike Kuchar, Senior Research Manager, X&O Labs


Find out the approach to attacking Man Coverage concepts from successful RPO coaches. Find the details here...

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


The following is an excerpt from X&O Labs’ bestselling special report, The RPO Study. Continue reading for details on the #1 resource for run/pass option.

Answers to Man Coverage:

In the subsequent cases we devote a great of time on several run/pass option concept that can be integrated into your program immediately. We explain the concept, detail the route progressions, describe the quarterback post-snap read methodology and explain how formations can manipulate the reads. But before we do that, we wanted to address what can be the kryptonite of RPOs, man free coverage. Because chances are, if you are going to implement these RPO concepts in your offense, you will see some form of man coverage for two simple reasons:

  1. There are no apexed (run/pass) defenders; instead there are cover down defenders. There are players who are playing the perimeter and players who are box defenders. No in-betweens that can be influenced by a post-snap read.
  2. There are no eyes on the quarterback, for him to manipulate. Responsibilities are already pre-determined pre-snap. 

 So, what answers do RPO coaches have when seeing some form of man-free coverage? We went right to the source and asked them the question.

Question: What is your answer to man free coverage and cover down alignments?  Will you still use all phases of the Dual Read or will you most likely have a built-in answer?

Reader Responses:

Lee Sadler, Marshall High School (AR): “If we are seeing man free or any type of man coverage (which is usually the first answer teams will try to use to combat our RPO), we will start to use motion and shifts to try and move the eyes of the defender. In the past, we have also had success with switching our pop receiver. For example, out of a 3x1 set, using the #2 receiver as the pop runner instead of the #3 receiver. Small changes like that, or using motion and shifts, causes issues with the defense.”

Jeff Russell, Wethersfield High School (CT): “We usually will read the single side in man-to-man, if the slant window is open back side either by alignment, blitz, or run support by a free player, then we can still win the one-on-one slant back side away from trips. We’ll also go empty, and call a man run play for the QB and a quick screen for one of the receivers with the other receivers blocking the screen. The QB will read the extra defender (most likely an overhang LB). If the LB stays to stop his run, he’ll throw the screen on the move. If the LB sits, then he’ll keep the ball and run. This concept is harder to teach and takes a lot of reps, because the throwing motion is sort of like throwing on the run, it just happens so much quicker. If we don’t block the screen well, we’ll call a man run play for the QB and a ‘shoot’ passing concept (an arrow or shoot route to the flats by the inside most receiver with the other receivers running a vertical and a ‘void’ route behind the underneath defenders.”

Mike Martin, Madison High School (OH): “We widen the WR alignments to vacate the box further and know that if they are definitively +1 to the receivers in coverage, that we are handing off or pull running. Since I am probably not calling this in third and eight vs. a man coverage team, I don’t sweat it too much more than that.”

Pat Murphy, Head Coach, St. Anselm College: “If we get a three-strong rotation, we treat it like man. It turns into a Dual Read by a backer read in the box. The passes out of it is we want to run the ball. We don’t tell the receivers anything. The QB will change it on the fly and now either a hand-off or we read the backer in the box. If he overplays the back, it turns into a Double Option.”  

Dan Ellis, Great Valley High School (PA): “Typically, if we are in trouble with a play, we check out of it from the sideline (no huddle). This way we can get into a better play/protection against a play that would result in a possible negative play.”

Doug Taracuk, Dublin Scioto High School (OH): “Walking up a safety for man coverage is an answer we see. We will call a double move, like "Stick + Go" or we will call some type of twisting vertical combination if this is their consistent answer. We do not have a built-in reaction for man, it is a called play. Most teams will adjust the location of the nickel/bumped linebackers first. We do have built-in progressions if they do this and play zone.”

Steve Rampy, Offensive Coordinator, Pittsburg State University: “If they roll down to guarding all three of our receivers, it takes the throw out and becomes a quarterback run play. We make a ‘regular’ call and block the back side linebacker with regular zone scheme and the quarterback will read the defensive end. It becomes a straight zone play, because we have numbers. We’ve also run some simple combination routes with quick throws and man beaters such as sending number three straight flat and then sending number two in as a diagonal and then flip him behind number three. Where we get number two in a hole and have something to the flat or have the hole route.”

Rich Bouch, Waterford Mott High School (MI): “You need to have deep route combos and play-action passes to attack down field, some rub/switch routes with possible seven-man protections. Be able to attack them deep and force them to back off or keep beating them deep. Definitely built-in answers.”

James Stubkjaer, SF Roosevelt High School (SD): “If we see any ‘radical’ defenses, or man/man free, we always have two pass plays built-in, and three run plays built into it. Our run plays are usually Speed O either way. Or, we will motion to empty and run QB wedge. Our pass plays are two: We will run all hitches, with our RB running a swing/bubble route. Or, we will run both #1 receivers on a slant route, and our #2 receivers will run a wheel route off of it (rub), and our back will run a swing bubble route.”

Jordan Neal, Hendrix College (AR): “The very best way to stop teams that use RPOs is to have CBs that can man-cover, a free safety that can sit back at about 20 yards and play center-field, and eight guys committed to the box that can consistently stop the run. Most teams do not have that, so match-up wise, teams that implement RPOs will typically have the advantage. At the same time, that defensive structure is probably the best situation against any offense — not just a team with RPOs. That works great against Triple Option, Spread (if you also have OLB/safety-types that can man cover the slots, too), pro-style, etc. But it is my belief that if you have receivers that can get down the field and force teams to at least respect you, then your built-in RPOs that include a fade or vertical option are sufficient against it. One of the things that we have also done against this is to implement Triple Option concepts where we have a run/pull read for our QB and also a pass option in space off of it. This has been really helpful to have a mobile QB that can do this as well as he does the simple run pass option plays.”

Drew Owens, Western Connecticut State University: “When we see man free coverage, we are plus one in the box, but our contours (routes) are dead. You have to change the play. We came up with plays out of 11 or 12-personnel to mimic those plays. We must have interior runs with a read concept. We have two checks, Bible or Bozo, depending on their defensive personnel. Bible is an Inside Zone Read play where we handle the box and Bozo is an interior read, boundary Outside Zone. It’s difficult to defend because the box player is force player in Outside Zone.”

Tyler Schneider, Bixby High School (TN): Against a man free coverage and cover down alignments we have one RPO pass route that we like to go to. We also have an automatic check to our best run in that week’s game plan. It is typically a week-to-week decision given to our quarterback on whether we want him to stick to the RPO play called and throw the route we like against man free coverage and cover down alignments or check to our best run play in that week’s game plan. This decision is typically based on personnel.”

Scott Girolomo, Liberty High School (VA): “Our RPO was run primarily from 3x1 10-personnel trips. We have a built-in bubble/quick read screen on our RPO, and that is our built-in answer to cover-one, we have a quick game non-verbal option on our solo receiver, which is our option for man-to-man and cover down. As for audibles, man free and cover zero pretty much eliminated the run we called, but it opened some great opportunities for one-on-one routes and rocket screens, so our QB would check to those.”

Kim Nelson, Roosevelt High School (SD): “Versus man free, we go to an Empty formation and use our QB as a runner. That forces the defense to leave the box to cover all five of our receivers and that leaves the box pretty thin for any QB runs such as wedge, trap and counter trey. Our QB must be a runner and also able to throw screens, hitches and verticals. Versus straight man, we are going vertical with our best receiver down the middle of the field. Even if we miss, it usually scares the defense out of straight man. So, I guess we don’t really stay with the true RPO reads, but our QB can still throw screen, or hitch, or vertical as part of our play.”

Nick Coleman, Offensive Coordinator, Itawamba Community College: “I'm a firm believer that man free (cover-one) is going to be the defensive answer to all of these RPOs. I've already seen a trend in teams that play us. My answer to this is the drop-back passing game and to get our best player matched up one-on-one on their weakest defensive player. Also using motions and pick routes to get the defense out of cover-one so we can get back to our RPOs.”

The RPO Study

The #1 Run/Pass Option Resource in Football 

Join X&O Labs’ exclusive membership website, Insiders, and get full access to X&O Labs’ Run/Pass Option Concept Study. This powerful study not only takes you inside football programs that have optimized the Run/Pass Option concept to get maximum offensive production, this in-depth special report also gives you the step-by-step guidance needed to train your quarterbacks, manipulate both box and perimeter defenders and everything else you'll need to effectively implement this system into your program.

BONUS: If you join today, you’ll also receive a FREE copy of the #1 bestselling Run/Pass Option book, The Complete RPO Manual from X&O Labs. This is a $39.99 value FREE to you when you join the Insiders today.

To be clear, The Run/Pass Option Concept Study is one of the largest studies ever conducted by X&O Labs. It is 60,000 words, includes 85 detailed diagrams and, best of all, over 2-hours of game film and instructional video.

Here's exactly what this study includes...

Our research staff studied the most effective implementation strategies for training offensive personnel - especially, the quarterback. Plus, their research also discovered the most effective run/pass option concepts based on attacking box defenders and perimeter defenders.

This study brings you all the latest trends, methods, strategies and concepts that can only come from X&O Labs' in-depth research.

The Run/Pass Option Concept Study is presented in three cases:

  • Case One: Run/Pass Option System Development (Implementation)
  • Case Two: Manipulating Box Defenders
  • Case Three: Manipulating Perimeter Defenders

2-Hours of Video: The Run/Pass Option Concept Study includes over 2-hours of game film and instructional video.

Here's a complete list of all the RPO concepts available on video:

  • Stick Draw
  • Stretch Stick Draw
  • Empty Stick Draw Concept
  • Free Access Throws
  • Vertical Settle
  • Zone Seam
  • Bolt
  • ROW
  • Outside Zone/Seam
  • TFS Trips Pop
  • Zone Cup Pop
  • Horn
  • Double Pop Out
  • Power Double Out
  • ISO Read
  • Power Read
  • Power Hitch
  • Quads Bubble
  • Smoke Screen
  • Flare/Now
  • Zone Bubble
  • Slant/Bubble
  • Read Spacing

Whether you've been running the Run/Pass Option for the last few years or you're looking to implement the concept for the first time, X&O Labs' in-depth special report, The Run/Pass Option Concept Study, is your best resource for maximizing the full power of this new form of option football.

We published The Run/Pass Option Concept Study, including over 2-hours of game film and instructional videos, in our exclusive membership website the Insiders.

Join the Insiders Website. Click Here.




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