Different types of Run Pass Options, or “RPO’s

Hey everyone! It’s been a long summer, but I’m back again, and excited for football season. I haven’t done one of these threads all summer, because I’ve been busy working for Boise State University on an internship. God damn, standing on that Smurf Turf was beautiful!

For those who haven’t seen these threads before, these are threads to ask questions about the more in-depth aspects of the game. Play breakdowns, schemes, how systems work, coaching, techniques, evolution of the game, how a play works, etc.

I am a mod at /r/footballstrategy, a sub designed specifically for these sorts of topics. We also have an extensive wiki page that answers a lot of more novice-type questions. Be sure to give it a look.

Wiki page

Still have questions? Ask away. If you are asking about a particular term or terminology, just keep in mind there is no universal terminology in the game, so answers from me or others may vary a lot. If you would like a play broken down, a video or gif of the play is always helpful.

Different Types of Run-Pass Options “RPO’s”

This was inspired by a fantastic article I read by /u/Downinthebend. A lot of what I learned about RPO’s came from this article, and it’s a great beginner article to understanding them. A lot of the terms I use will be used from this article too.

Article Link

Long story short, a run-pass option is exactly that, a play that can be a run or a pass based on reads the QB makes after the snap (you could also argue they include a read before the snap as well). Basically, the O-line and the runningbacks will execute a running play, and the receivers will execute a passing play; usually a quick pass or quick screen concept. RPO’s dominate the college football landscape today, and there are teams like Auburn, Baylor, Ohio State, and Oregon, where pretty much every play is a RPO.

Triple Option RPO

This is what many think of when they hear of an RPO. There are three choices for the QB: Hand off, keep and run, or keep and pass. The keep/pass phase is like the keep/pitch phase of the inside veer used at Georgia Tech and the military academies. The give/keep read is often a D-lineman, while the keep/pass read is a LB or rolled up safety.

LB read/2nd level read

On these types of RPO’s, the QB will read a linebacker and either hand off or throw the ball based on the LB’s actions. These are used a lot against defenses that use a six man box (with only five O-linemen blocking), or against a seven man box with only six O-linemen + TE/FB blocking). The pass option will usually involve a route or concept that puts the designated LB in a strain, forcing him to either commit to the run or to the pass. If the LB bites on the run, the QB keeps and throws the pass. If the LB stays wide or is held in his place by the pass, the QB hands off. A common pass concept for this is a slant by a slot receiver. A slant by a slot receiver will attack the position of a LB, so if the LB vacates that area to defend the run, the slant should be open.

DB read/3rd level read

These types of RPO’s might be used more against an aggressive secondary (like Michigan State), or when the offense wants to strike big if they can’t rely on the run. The QB will key a DB, typically a run-support defender, and will give or pass based on his movements. A good example of an aggressive DB is a safety in a cover-4 scheme. Safeties are the run-force defenders, and because of the deep help from the CB’s, cover 4 allows safeties to be much more aggressive against the run. If the QB sees the safety fly upfield to stop the run, he will pull and throw the pass. Seam and go routes are quite common here.

Another way to do it is to read the CB. These ones are more common with triple option variations, where there’s a run, keep and run, and keep and pass option. The QB will make his give or keep read, and after he pulls the ball on a keep read, he will run to the alley. If the CB comes off the receiver to get the QB, the QB pops the ball over the CB to the receiver. Throwing to a receiver on a bubble screen/route is also common with this look.

Another way to read off the CB is to run an actual two-route pass concept off a run/pass read only. For example, a QB could make a second level/LB read for run/pass. If the LB bites on the pass, the QB pulls the ball, then reads the CB, and will throw one of the two routes based on his movements, just like a QB would do on any other designed quick pass.

There are video examples of all of these types of RPO’s in the article I linked here. The credit here goes to /u/Downinthebend. I found the article fascinating, and really simplified the concept of RPO’s for me. The lesson here is that RPO’s are not universal, or fixed in terms of how you execute them. You can run any run with almost any quick pass or quick screen concept, and choose to read any combination of one or two defenders you want. You do not need a mobile QB to execute RPO’s either.


The obvious rule issue here is linemen blocking downfield on the run. Why is this never called? Because offenses are using quick pass and quick screen concepts, the ball is usually thrown quick enough to where the linemen haven’t gotten downfield enough for it to be a penalty, or a lot of times, referees simply don’t catch it or piece what is happening together. They know RPO’s exist, but these plays develop so quickly they’re near impossible to catch until after the ball has already been thrown. The linemen are also far enough away from the pass concept that one cannot see both developing within the same field of vision, especially if they’re on the field, and not up in a press box.

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