Three RPOs, Three Stop Calls

Defending the spread’s three top RPOs.

Football is upon us. For some states, high school football starts today, for others next week. Regardless, it is never too late to look for innovative ideas to stop RPOs. The game is changing on a weekly basis, offensive coaches are finding interesting ways to combine plays, all while simplifying the playbook. It is amazing to think that one simple read-arc play can have four different outcomes. Defensive coordinators now have to prepare for all four when deciding how to attack a formation. Add tempo into the mix, and to the untrained eye, it looks like the offense is running multiple plays. As I tell my players – D.F.O. (Don’t Freak Out), MatchQuarters has you covered. Three RPOs and three stop calls.

Two-back read-arc RPO. The QB can read 1 of 3 defenders with 4 different results.

1. Spot Draw

The Spot Draw stresses teams that run an Over Front and asks the Mike to hold the “A” gap while being responsible for the #3 WR in a 3×1 set. Add wide splits into the mix and a defensive coordinator might as well spin to Cover 3 when attempting to keep a six-man box, which has its own set of issues. In an Under Front, the pass distribution is better protected and a defense doesn’t have to spin to single-high, but the Mike is still in a run/pass conflict. RPO teams love the Spot Draw because either way you set the front, the Mike is conflicted, or you have to spin/kick the safeties and expose the boundary corner.

Spread teams want to find the open “B” gap, and are looking for ways to get people in run/pass conflicts, so change the “B” gap and eliminate the conflicted player altogether. A simple interior line stunt, Under to an Over Front, allows the Mike to cover down to the “spot” route. The boundary safety drops into the newly formed “B” gap, and cuts under the single WR if pass. Take a look:

.01 SPOT
Two-back read-arc RPO. The QB can read 1 of 3 defenders with 4 different results.

2. 2×2 Zone Read Bubble

The zone read in itself is a tough play to defend, add in an RPO, in this case, a “bubble” route, and it can be unstoppable against the right defense. Running an Over Front versus a 2×2 spread set allows the Sam to cover down for the bubble, and the Mike and field end work the QB/Dive exchange. For a changeup, and to get the Will’s run/pass conflict eliminated to the boundary a defense can use a simple edge pressure, keep the split field look, and create hesitation in the QB’s decision making.

In this particular edge pressure the Sam takes the dive, Mike has the QB, and safety takes the pitch. If the QB pulls the ball, the Mike takes the inside shoulder of the QB and the safety takes the outside. If the QB decides to throw the “bubble“, the safety takes the WR in the open field with Mike careening right behind him on ball thrown. This pressure gives the illusion of a pull/throw scenario for the QB. If the “bubble” is the chosen play, the safety has to attack and make an open field tackle, but with help from the Mike. The Mike shoots to the inside hip for the cut back in case the safety misses or overruns the WR. This pressure also eliminates the opposite side RPO. That’s an RPO that reads the LB away from the RB, against an Over Front the Will is in a run/pass conflict. This particular pressure allows the Will to cover down and eliminate the “bubble”. Take a peek:

Two-back read-arc RPO. The QB can read 1 of 3 defenders with 4 different results.

3. Two Back Read-Arc

The two back read-arc is the play that is shown most when talking about RPOs. This is the play made famous by Ole Miss versus Pitt in the 2013 BBVA Compass Bowl. In a little over one minute, Ole Miss drove the field, ran the same play five times, hit all four of the run/pass options, and scored a touchdown off a simple hitch pass. Tempo is what allowed Ole Miss’ offense to be so deadly. Tempo freezes the defense and makes them predictable. In the case of Pitt, they never adjusted or had time too, and Ole Miss continued to take what they were given. Alignment alone, pre-snap, can tell the QB what RPO to choose. The question now is, how does a defense attack such a multiple play?

Two-back read-arc RPO. The QB can read 1 of 3 defenders with 4 different results.

Alignment is key to start. A defense must eliminate as many RPOs as it can pre-snap. Initially, a defense running a split match quarters scheme can eliminate the hitch RPO by pressing the CB on the single WR side, and the “bubble” route to the field by covering down the Sam LB over the slot. Those two adjustments allow the defense to eliminate the passing RPOs. Now the defensive coordinator has to decide who he wants carrying the ball, the RB on the zone, or the QB on the arc.

In the diagram below, the defense is shown pressing the WR to the boundary and using an interior line stunt to make the QB pull the ball. Since Mike’s gap is moving to the “B” gap, and the field end can now close for the dive because he now has the Nose to his side, he continues to travel to the outside. His attack point will initially be the inside shoulder of the arc, but if the QB heads outside on a sweep path, he can climb. The field safety plays off the leverage of the Sam. Since the Sam is taking the “bubble”, the field safety can now attack the QB once he has pulled the ball. The field safety’s initial attack point is the outside shoulder of the QB. The arcing H-back now has to choose, seal the Mike, or head out to the dropping safety. Either way, he is wrong. The defense just RPO’ed the offense and gained a plus-one.

(**Note – The reason the Sam takes the “bubble” is to muddy the waters of the RPO even more. If the Sam triggers on run, the QB has time to flip the ball out to the slot. By switching the responsibilities of the Sam and safety you create even more hesitation.**)

Here is a diagram of the play:

.03 ARC
Two-back read-arc RPO. The QB can read 1 of 3 defenders with 4 different results.

In the end, remember these tips:

  1. Eliminate as many RPOs you can pre-snap, just on alignment.
  2. Choose who you want to carry the ball, the RB or QB.
  3. Once you’ve figured out the WHO, create line movement to cause hesitation and create different cover downs and reads. Never allow the QB to get comfortable.

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