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

At Downey High School (CA), anytime Coach Plaa doesn't tag a pass, the wide receivers know to automatically run what head football coach Jeremy Plaa calls his “screen rules. Learn about them here...


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



Editor's Note: The following research was conducted as part of X&O Labs’ special report on “Scaffolding a Pre-Snap RPO System.” Continue reading to discover more about this in-depth study.


At Downey High School (CA), anytime Coach Plaa doesn't tag a pass, the wide receivers know to automatically run what head football coach Jeremy Plaa calls his “screen rules.” These are known as “True/False” concepts. “Our screen rules change weekly based on getting the ball to our fastest wide receiver moving away from the box,” said Coach Plaa. These routes could be bubble, could be outside wide receiver screen, could be a slot screen. The single-side wide receiver runs a win route for screen rules, which could be a hitch, out, go, or inside 9 Breaker route. “If the quarterback sees six in the box or inside blitz against True/False he throws screen rules. Because of the trapping guard, the quarterback knows he must throw the ball quickly (Diagram 34).”


The screen rules in Coach Plaa’s system is below:

  • If there is twins or trips, the ball is going to the outside wide receiver and the inside receivers are blocking.
  • If you are a solo wide receiver, you are running a Stop route.  

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

One of Coach Plaa’s most successful concepts has been utilizing the now screens to the hash as well, which he calls “Penny.” The offensive line blocks outside zone to the short side of the field while the wide receivers run screen rules. “The quarterback will handoff unless the defense overloads short side, said Coach Plaa. “If they do, it’s usually because the short outside linebacker comes up and CB loosens. If that is the case, we will hit the backside stop route. If there is 3-on-2 to the trips side, we should throw the screen (Diagram 35). We also run this on first sound since the read is so simple.”


To study game film of this concept, clip on the video below:



X&O Labs' Brand-New Special Report...

Scaffolding a Pre-Snap RPO System

Building constraints, controls and relief throws for your top run concepts

By Mike Kuchar 
Senior Research Manager 
X&O Labs

We love those post-snap RPO concepts just as much as the next coach.

After all, we devoted two entire special reports on this subject alone. Like other coaches, we got caught in the “lab” designing all these cute concepts and how they can manipulate defenders. But when we were compiling our research for those two studies, one common caveat kept coming up from our sources and that was… you need to have the right quarterback to run them.

We all know the efficiency of that system lies in the post-snap decision making of the quarterback. So that got us thinking. What if you don’t have a quarterback that can legitimately handle those duties? What if you had better receivers than running backs? Do they not get the ball as much? Then our time at Sam Houston State last spring working with Phil Longo (who now serves as Ole Miss offensive coordinator) cemented these philosophies as he introduced us to the concept of having receivers run pass tags off every run concept in his system.

From that time, what we learned is that if you’re teaching your quarterback about coverage, you’re wasting time. Space is much easier to teach than coverage and when you teach your receivers to run routes that attack space, its glorified offensive stealing. And when you teach your receivers all quick game routes, and get them the ball in space, good things happen.

Let’s face it… receivers don’t want to block anyone anyway.

Which is why we wanted to devote an entire study on pre-snap, not post-snap, RPO concepts. In fact, we’ve just released this entire study in our exclusive memberships website, Insiders. We call this massive study…

Scaffolding a Pre-Snap RPO System

I’ll show you how you can get instant access to this study in just a moment, but first let’s look more at the research.

By definition a pre-snap RPO (run/pass option) is a decision made by the quarterback (or offensive coordinator) to either run or throw the ball depending on the pre-snap leverage of a particular defender. It’s an exploitation of leverage and space vacated by the structure of the defense. And it’s all done before the ball is snapped.

The goal of pass tags is to stretch the defense horizontally and control the numbers game in the box by making those overhang players declare for run or pass by their pre-snap alignment. These tags are designed to take advantage of the extra defender in the box that cannot be blocked in the run scheme. It’s a series of high percentage throws and considered an extension of the run game. While this may not be an entirely new concept, we found more coaches are coming on board with this system. We found that 33 percent of coaches have at least 75 percent of their offense with pass tags built in.

So, for this project, we wanted to speak with coaches who were mainly using pre-snap pass tags in the run game, rather than a post-snap RPO system, and ask them the advantages of doing so. The most common responses were heard included:

  • It eliminates pressure.
  • Helps necessitate and assist a non-mobile quarterback that may not be able to use post-snap RPO concepts.
  • It accentuates potential “gifts” by defenses that will yield leverage on the perimeter.
  • Puts overhang defenders, most synonymous with two high, three down structures, in a pre-snap bind.
  • It’s another solution to teaching wide receivers how to block.

So, rather than us telling you the benefits of using a pre-snap RPO system, we will showcase the specific responses of the contributors to this report:

Jeremy Plaa, head coach, Thomas Downey High School (CA): “The post-snap RPO system is more difficult to run. It’s like if you’re running triple option you’re asking a kid to do too much. You may have a kid that is fast and strong to operate in an option system but if he’s not strong enough to make those reads. In a pre-snap environment, I think it’s easier because he can identify whether or not the box is heavy or the leverage of the linebacker and make the play call right. If we give him a run/pass option he can decide right away that it’s the better of the two options.”

Scott Chisholm, offensive coordinator, Berryhill High School (OK): “We don’t post-snap read anymore. Having a 16 year-old kid read a defender in the middle of a play just doesn’t work for us. These pre-snap options work better. We ran this offense with a different quarterback each of of the last three years. This year we finished with 3,000 yards and 30 plus TDs. Four years ago when we started this, we were starting to see a lot of the even front, 3-4 defenses, with the OLBs being those in between force players. So we wanted to come up with a concept that put those player in a lose-lose situation. During the past season running this concept we only had 5 negative/loss plays out of 114 times we ran them. This past season we ran our pre-snap gifts 110 times for 918 yards and 14 TDs including 31 explosive plays.”

Jason Eckert, offensive coordinator, New Richmond High School (WI): “We don’t have much time with our quarterbacks any more because they are three sport athletes. There is no spring practice here and we only have five contact days in the summer. We don’t have the time to teach coverages and most high school coverages rarely look like what they are supposed to anyway. There are often so many different coverage combinations, it’s hard to understand and easy to get confused. The pre-snap system takes advantage of leverage and space, which is easier to teach.

Chad Stadem, head coach, Washington High School (SD): “We had a sophomore quarterback and running back so we had to keep it simple by using pre-snap RPOs and by the end of year he was making 90 percent of the calls. We based at least 45 percent of our plays this year on RPOs and we averaged 433 yards a game on offense. We had two receivers close to 1,000 yards.”

Rich Hargitt, offensive coordinator, Eastside High School (SC): “Over half our snaps were pre-snap RPOs this season and we scored the most points in 4A football and most of them off perimeter bubble concepts. Our quarterback has a big arm so it makes sense for us. You’re able to showcase those abilities.”

Pat Murphy, slot receivers coach, Tufts University: “The pre-snap RPO system is much easier for a young quarterback to master because you simplify it for him. Nothing is happening at a rapid rate post snap. There is plenty of time to make a decision, particularly if you’re a no-huddle offense but you don’t have to be in the gun. If you are going to allow your QBs to do this, the benefits will outweigh any negatives by far. He will make some bad throws, but you have to give him the freedom to make those throws. You can’t overthink this or over talk the quarterback. Give him the rules and let him throw. It’s backyard football.”

Lucas Lueders, offensive coordinator, Morningside College (IA): “To me, the post-snap RPO system is like triple option. The third phase may be too much on a quarterback. If you keep it to two options pre-snap (run or pass), I’ve found it’s simple and he can execute it efficiently. Plus, if we get four to five yards on a pass it’s one less carry for our back. If we play 14 games a year and if your back is carrying 30 times per game most likely he’s not finishing the year.”

We've released this brand-new special report, Scaffolding a Pre-Snap RPO System, in our exclusive membership website, Insiders. Our research is presented in three case studies. Here's a detailed look at each case...

Case 1: Pre-Snap RPO Design and Installation

It’s important to note that much of the design component of these pre-snap RPO tags lies in understanding offensive formation structure and defensive coverage structure. We all know that the beauty of the RPO system is taking all the top route concepts in your offense and marrying them with the most productive run concepts you have. While it may be difficult not to get carried away with all the possibilities, we’ve found that at the crux of this design is getting the quarterback to understand what leverage is and how to attack it. While we’ve found that many offensive coordinators will use both of these models to get into the most advantageous situation, this particular study is devoted to how coaches are teaching their quarterbacks to make the right adjustments post-snap to take advantage of either numbers, leverage or grass of the defense.

Some of the research included in this case includes, but is not limited to:

  • How our contributors teach the concept of perimeter and interior numbers and how they affect the decision of the quarterback.
  • How our contributors teach the concept of leverage and how they teach their receivers to attack space vacated by these defenders.
  • What Pat Murphy at Tufts University calls the “50/50 Individual Barrier,” which helps quarterbacks identify box defenders.
  • The hard deck methodology and H.A.L.O. concept developed by National Football Academies which teaches quarterbacks how to identify space on the perimeter.
  • How coaches are training their quarterbacks to identify tendencies of even and odd fronts based on offensive formations.
  • How coaches are scaffolding their pre-snap and post-snap RPO concepts based on offensive formation structure and play concept.
  • The 80/20 rule Coach Hargitt at Eastside High School (SC) will use to clarify whether he’s using pre-snap or post-snap RPO reads for his quarterback.
  • Several examples of installation schedules by coaches who have incorporated their top run/pass concepts into a pre-snap RPO system.

Case 2: Pre-Snap RPO Concepts that Attack Numbers, Leverage and Grass

When a run is not necessarily the best play call for a certain situation, the pre-snap RPO pass tag provides options. Scenarios such as the leverage of a force defender and the depth of corners and safeties all attribute to the quarterback making a decision at the line of scrimmage. According to our research, we’ve found that the majority of coaches, 42 percent, use between 4-6 pass tags in their run game. In this case, we study the most productive RPO concepts used by our sources based on all those situations that unravel pre-snap. We segmented our research into detailing which concepts coaches are using to exploit a perimeter numbers advantage as well as an interior numbers advantage.

Some of the research included in this case includes, but is not limited to:

  • A pre-snap menu of backside “gift” concepts by isolated receivers in trips formations and the protocols coaches are giving quarterbacks to get them the ball.
  • An analysis of various two-man and three-man front side combination route controls on the perimeter including: Now screen controls; Out concept controls; Hitch concept controls; Fade/out concept controls; Spot route concept controls; Bubble concept controls; Stick concept controls; In cut controls; Flood concept controls; Pop pass controls; Whip concept controls; Curl/flat controls; and, Slant concept controls.
  • How coaches are using formation and motion packages in order to “clean the box” for the quarterback and take advantage of pre-snap space.

Case 3: QB Pre-Snap Protocols and Post-Snap Mesh Game

Training the quarterback’s pre-snap eyes seems to be the crux of using this system and since 51 percent of coaches will have their quarterbacks make the decision, rather than themselves from the sideline. It’s imperative to study how he is making the right read. Once the quarterback identifies his advantage, he has to be taught the means in which to attack them. In this study, we are going to examine how each of the following factors tie into the quarterbacks decision to make the best play call at the line of scrimmage, and not after the ball is snapped. After all, the premise of this system is to be in the “best play scenario” every snap. This can only be done through repletion and a constant education of your quarterback. But whatever decision he makes, it’s essential to live with it. As many of the coaches that worked with us told us if you’re going to commit to this type of system, you have to live by your quarterback’s decision.

Some of the research included in this case includes, but is not limited to:

  • The H.A.L.O. methodology used to educate quarterbacks on their pre-snap decision making process.
  • Each contributor’s pre-snap methodology that they are using to train their quarterbacks eyes at the line of scrimmage to make the right calls.
  • How coaches are teaching their quarterbacks and receivers to communicate potential routes pre-snap at the line of scrimmage.
  • Various methodologies on how coaches are training their running backs to not alter the sight line of the quarterback on throw reads, from both offset and pistol alignments.
  • Various pre-snap communication methodologies coaches are using to alert the running back the run concept is off.
  • How coaches are tying their back into protection schemes when the run component is off.
  • Why some coaches choose to have the running back carry out the run concept regardless of the decision of the quarterback.
  • Various methodologies on how coaches are training their offensive lineman not to advance downfield when the quick game is thrown.

Bonus: 2 Hours of Game and Practice Film! This brand-new special report includes two hours of game and practice film. You will read a concept or drill and then immediately watch the corresponding game or practice film.


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