RPO and How it Might be Misunderstood

An opinion on one of the most used word in American Football.

Daniel Jones perfect debut for the Giants bedazzled everyone in the league. Credit — Al Bello/Getty Images

It’s August and American Football season is just weeks away. There are preseason games every weekend to warm us up and one of the most exciting game from the first week of it was the Big Apple battle where NFC’s New York Giants are up against their AFC’s counterpart, New York Jets.

Giants won the game 31–22 and we saw a glimpse of their very own sixth-overall QB, Daniel Jones. Jones racked 5/5 passing completion, 67 yards, and one touchdown. Football fans were hyped for this performance, since many did not expect him to be that good. Analysts are making video analysis and articles on how Jones translates his skill set in the court and as I watch them, one of the play that intrigues me is his third play in his first drive which analysts describe it as an RPO.

But before we begin to dissect the play, let us grasp more understanding on what RPO really is. RPO stands for Run-Pass Option. If we’re taking its literal definition, it’s a play that gives Quarterback options to either choose run play by handing the ball off to his running back, or pass it to one of his receivers. Take a look at FTW! simple explanation of RPO here:

Pic 1. RPO Explanation from FTW! USA Today.

Here explained that the QB must read the weak-side linebacker to decide whether he should pass or run the ball. If the linebacker move towards the Line of Scrimmage, QB will pass the ball to the WR in slant route because it will leave the zone in the middle open. If the linebacker decides to drop back to cover his zone, QB will hand the ball to the RB since the offense has as many blockers as the defense has run defenders in the box. There will be no overload and they can open up the gap for the runner.

Meanwhile Fadhil have a different opinion on this. According to our discussion, it’s a run play. Offensive linemen learn the play as a run play, and so does the QB instructed to hand the ball off on every snap if they could. Fadhil describes it as a “modern” way of blocking second-level defenders. It all comes down to how the QB reads that second-level defenders. If the QB passed the ball instead based on the decision made after the read, it’s called an RPO play. QB only pass it if the run isn’t viable.

Now, let’s take a deeper look on the aforementioned Giants’ RPO play.

Pic 2. Giants’ RPO play as drawn by Fadhil.

The picture above gives us a clear look on the play. Offensive linemen and the tight end are making aggressive blocking to clear the path for the tailback to run. The flank is also ready to make the screen on the right side. Both the slot and the split end are attacking their right side, making it a bit similar to a double slant. Here’s a screen cap from Samuel Gold’s film room analysis:

Pic 3. A clear look on Giants’ RPO — Credit: Samuel Gold

As the center snap the ball to Jones, you will see that the weak-side linebacker moves two step towards the line of scrimmage. This should leave the slot a room wide enough to penetrate.

Pic. 4 — Two little, but defining steps. — Credit: Samuel Gold

Jones identifies the gap, and instead of handing the ball off to his running back he pull the ball and pass it to the slot. The linebacker realize his fault, but it was all too late as the receiver catch the ball for the first down.

Pic 5. Pass completed. — Credit: Samuel Gold

So, you’re watching football. Your favorite team made a first down, and the commentator said it was an RPO. How can you be sure if it’s really an RPO?

Again, it’s a run play, even modern playbook no one nowadays labeled it as RPO. You may see the offensive line making aggressive blocking to open up the gap for the run, instead of dropping back to create a pocket passing protection. QBs are instructed to hand the ball to their running back in the first place. There will be screens from the receiver on some play, yes. But other receivers may run a route as instructed, to give QB the intended passing options.

RPO is a running play in the first place. It’s a misunderstood concept, perhaps an overused buzzword in the game. But it does serve QBs alternatives to progress down the field, and it all comes down to how they read their second-level counterparts.

Written by Ammarsha Rewindra & Fadhil Abdulkarim.

A sports blog from an amateur’s perspective.