Run-Pass Option in Football

Football Offenses: The Evolution & Impact of RPO Strategies

Author: Pratik

Image Source: RPO

The Run/Pass Option (RPO) has become a cornerstone of modern football offenses, significantly impacting the game's dynamics at both collegiate and professional levels. The RPO offers a strategic advantage by providing quarterbacks with the flexibility to decide between a running or passing play based on real-time defensive reads. This adaptability has made RPOs a crucial element in crafting effective and unpredictable offensive schemes.

Understanding the RPO Concept

Defining the RPO and Its Historical Emergence

The RPO, or Run/Pass Option, is an innovative play design that allows the quarterback to choose between handing the ball off to a running back or passing it to a receiver, depending on the defensive alignment and movements. The offensive line blocks as if it is a running play, while the quarterback reads specific defenders to make his decision. This dual threat puts significant pressure on defenses, forcing them to commit to stopping either the run or the pass, but not both.

RPOs gained widespread attention and adoption following notable successes in collegiate football, particularly with teams like Auburn and their dramatic use of RPOs in high-stakes games. The concept's rise can be traced back to the need for more versatile and unpredictable offensive strategies, allowing teams to exploit defensive weaknesses dynamically.

Key Elements and Execution of RPO Plays

At its core, an RPO in football involves several critical elements:

  • Pre-Snap Read: The quarterback assesses the defensive setup before the snap.
  • Post-Snap Decision: The quarterback quickly reads a specific defender (often a linebacker or safety) after the snap to decide whether to run or pass.
  • Blocking Scheme: The offensive line blocks for a run, adding to the deception.

An example of a fundamental RPO play is the tight zone run with a bubble screen and glance route. In this play, the quarterback reads the defense's reaction to the run setup and either hands off the ball or throws a quick pass to exploit defensive gaps.

Advancements in Offensive Options: The PRO

The Pass/Run Option

Image Source: YouTube

Introducing the Pass/Run Option (PRO)

The Pass/Run Option (PRO) represents a further evolution in offensive strategy, building on the principles of the RPO but with a different emphasis. While RPOs start with a run play option that can switch to a pass, PROs typically begin with a pass option that can switch to a run. This subtle shift alters defensive reads and responsibilities, providing offenses with additional flexibility. Proper execution of PRO plays can help minimize the risk of football injuries by reducing the number of high-impact collisions.

Distinguishing RPOs from PROs

The main difference between RPOs and PROs lies in their primary option and subsequent adjustment:

  • RPO: Starts as a run with a pass option.
  • PRO: Begins as a pass with a run option.

This distinction influences how defenses prepare and react, as the initial read and player responsibilities differ between the two.

Practical Examples of PRO Plays

A quintessential example of a PRO play is the drag screen/quarterback draw. In this play, the quarterback reads the defensive alignment and decides whether to execute a drag screen pass or keep the ball for a draw play. The versatility and quick decision-making required make it a challenging but effective play.

Another effective PRO play is the stick/draw play, where the quarterback reads the middle linebacker to decide between a quick pass to a receiver running a stick route or keeping the ball for a draw play. This play capitalizes on defensive hesitation and alignment, creating opportunities for significant gains.

Advanced Offensive Strategies: The Pass/Pass Option (PPO)

Unpacking the Pass/Pass Option (PPO)

The Pass/Pass Option (PPO) is a sophisticated and versatile offensive strategy that has gained traction in modern football. Unlike the Run/Pass Option (RPO) or the Pass/Run Option (PRO), the PPO focuses exclusively on passing plays, giving the quarterback two distinct passing options based on defensive reads. This approach adds another layer of complexity to the offense, challenging defenses to cover multiple potential passing targets simultaneously.

Integration of PPO into Offensive Playbooks

The integration of PPO into offensive playbooks requires a high level of coordination and skill from both the quarterback and the receiving corps. Offensive coordinators design PPO plays to exploit specific defensive alignments and tendencies, providing the quarterback with pre-snap and post-snap reads to determine the most advantageous passing option.

The seamless execution of PPO plays depends on the quarterback's ability to quickly process information and deliver accurate passes under pressure. Proper preparation and practice are essential to avoid football mistakes and ensure the success of these complex plays.

Illustrative Examples of PPO Plays

Two common examples of PPO plays are the bubble screen paired with slant routes and the stick route combined with a running back slip screen.

In the bubble screen paired with slant routes, the quarterback reads the defensive coverage to decide between throwing a quick bubble screen to a wide receiver or targeting a receiver running a slant route. This play forces defenders to choose between committing to the outside or covering the middle of the field, creating potential mismatches.

Another effective PPO play is the stick route combined with a running back slip screen. Here, the quarterback assesses the defensive alignment and either throws to a receiver running a stick route or checks down to a running back slipping out of the backfield for a screen pass. This play takes advantage of defensive overcommitment, providing the quarterback with a reliable short-yardage option.

Real-World Applications and Impact

Advancements in Offensive Options

Success Stories of RPO, PRO, and PPO

Several teams have successfully implemented RPO, PRO, and PPO strategies to enhance their offensive effectiveness. For instance, Baylor University has utilized RPOs to score critical touchdowns, capitalizing on the flexibility to switch between running and passing plays based on defensive reactions.

Oklahoma has been innovative with the drag screen/quarterback draw play, a PRO variation that confounds defenses by blending passing and running threats. This play has proven particularly effective in high-pressure situations, showcasing the tactical advantage of versatile offensive options.

LSU's use of the swing, draw, and glance play against Alabama is another notable example. This play combines elements of RPO, PRO, and PPO, giving the quarterback multiple options to exploit defensive weaknesses. The success of this play underscores the importance of incorporating diverse strategies into the offensive playbook.

Tactical Advantages of Advanced Options

The tactical advantage of incorporating RPO, PRO, and PPO strategies into an offense lies in their ability to keep defenses off balance. By presenting multiple threats in a single play, these options force defenders to make quick decisions, often leading to mistakes and mismatches. This dynamic approach not only enhances the offense's unpredictability but also maximizes the potential for big plays.

You may also likeIconic Moments in College Football's Storied History


The evolution of offensive strategies through the introduction of RPO, PRO, and PPO has significantly impacted football at all levels. These advanced options provide teams with the tools to create more versatile and dynamic offenses, challenging traditional defensive schemes. As the game continues to evolve, the strategic use of these options will likely play a pivotal role in shaping the future of football offenses.

Looking ahead, we can expect further innovations in offensive play-calling as coaches and coordinators continue to explore new ways to exploit defensive weaknesses. The integration of technology and data analytics will also contribute to the development of more sophisticated and effective offensive strategies, ensuring that the game of football remains as exciting and competitive as ever.

Tackling the Comparison: American Football vs. Rugby
Analyze Offensive Line Play: Gap Blocking vs. Zone Blocking
Touchdown: Exploring the Rich Heritage of American Football
NFL Stadiums: The Most Iconic Venues in the League
Iconic Moments in College Football's Storied History
Defensive Line Play: Key Techniques for Field Dominance
Avoid Football Mistakes - Common Mistakes Explained