Defending RPOs with Split Coverage Out of the 3-4

Jan 8, 2018 | Front, Defense, Coverage, Odd Front Structures, Split Field Coverage Structures

By Isaac Sturgis
Defensive Coordinator and Linebacker Coach
Guerin Catholic High School (IN)
Twitter: @IsaacSturgis


We play in a very competitive conference with four teams playing for state championships in the past three years (Roncalli High School, Brebeuf Jesuit High School, Lafayette Central Catholic High School, and Indianapolis Chatard). All of these teams use RPOs as a significant part of their offense so we have been forced to come up with answers to compete with these powerhouse programs.

This report is going to explain how we combat RPOs from our slant angle 3-4 using split coverages. I will primarily outline the concept that we use to defend 2x2 formations especially if the back is in the pistol. Later, I will get into a few different concepts to defend 3x1 RPOs that I will briefly touch upon.

Game Planning for RPOs

Before I get into our concepts, I think it is important to understand how we scout these types of teams. The very first thing I do is run the following reports on HUDL. Note that some of these reports are custom, while others are the HUDL templates.

  1. Down and distance
  2. Field zone
  3. Formation
  4. Motion
  5. Offensive play (top plays)
  6. Offensive play by backfield
  7. Offensive play by down and distance
  8. Offensive play by down and distance and personnel
  9. Offensive play by offensive formation
  10. Offensive play by option choice (3 step, 5 step, play action pass, screen, draw, sprint out, play action rollout, give, keep, pitch)
  11. Passing Zone
  12. Summary

With these reports in hand, I then look for the following things in the data (in no particular order):

  1. Are they spreading teams out to run or are they spreading teams out to pass? If the answer is run, then we will play more cover 3 or some variation of it. If they are spreading us out to pass, then we will play more cover 2 or some form of it.
  2. Is their QB a running threat or a passing threat? I like to have two defenders (an inside player and an outside player) for every option in the run game. My inside player on the dive is the chase OLB and my outside player on the dive is the back side LB. My inside player on the QB is the play side ILB and the outside player of the QB is the OLB.
  3. Who is their RPO Guy? Do they target one receiver more in the RPO game then others? Most of the time, it’s the slot or the flanker to the side of the back. Once it is determined, I look to see how I can get him doubled if possible. This could be by using an over the top safety in Cover 2 or an underneath LB and an over the top corner in Cover 3.
  4. Who do I have to stop? The RB, the QB, or the receiver? With that information in hand, the Front/Veer/Coverage are dictated on that answer.
  5. Run Game or Play Action? We like to determine whether their inside/outside run game or their play action pass off of those scheme is most dangerous.
  6. What formations do they use most to run their RPOs? 2x1, 2x2, or 3x1? Against 2x2 looks, I really like split coverage. Against 3x1, I like Cover 2 or 3 cloud. Against 2x1, I like both Cover 2, Cover 3, and or Cloud.
  7. In their 3x1 formations, are they trying to attack the high hole or the deep middle? If so we need to be in more Cover 3 cloud. If not, then play more Cover 2.
  8. In their 3x1 formations is their single WR a stud? If so, we will run less 3 Cloud and more Cover 2.
  9. Is their back offset? If so are we going to veer to the back or away from the back? The answer depends on a lot of variables. Can both of your OLB’s get the job done against the run and the pass? Who do you want defending the WR who is being targeted in the RPO passing game a safety or OLB? If the back is in pistol, you really have to look at field tendencies.
  10. What part of the field are they attacking with their RPOs? If it is the flats or the vertical seams, then Cloud and Cover 2 are good against both. You close the flats with your corner and your OLB and ILB can hang on the seam and you still have over the top help with the safety. 
  11. What other passing concepts do they run out of 2x2 and 3x1 that can hurt your coverage? We chart those concepts and rep them all week in practice. This also helps determine which side is the Cover 2 and which side is the Cover 3 if using split coverage against 2x2.
  12. What do I do if they motion? Our answer is to keep the front the same meaning we never change the veer and which OLB is coming. We only change our coverage and most of the time we just check Cover 3 (3 deep 4 under).
  13. What answers do we have if they start hurting us with the RPO’s or start hurting us in our split coverage? Our answer is to zone blitz with 2 deep 4 under or 3 deep 3 under coverage. We might also sprinkle in some of our 2-ma