Zone Read and “RPO” are Two Different Things – A Minor Gripe

It’s always a pleasure joining Harry Mayes and Barrett Brooks on The Middle. Eytan Shander was not around for today’s episode, so it was the three of us having a nice long talk about the Eagles, the Sixers, and even some Philly MMA.

We also spent some time on the concept of the run/pass option, and if we’re being honest, I don’t think a lot of Eagles fans (and some media members) have a full grasp of what’s actually taking place on the field. My take is that zone read and RPO are kind of being lumped together, which contributes to a lack of understanding and a lowering of the discourse surrounding the “Eagles need to run the ball more” topic.

My explanation:

Does that make sense?

Just because you see the QB read the defensive player and pull the ball doesn’t mean there’s a passing component to the play. You can have two-option plays, where option 1 is a quarterback run and option 2 is a tailback run.

You saw this in the Week 2 San Francisco game, where the play-by-play commentator used the term “RPO plays” to talk about something that was not a RPO at all:

If you’re ever not sure whether something is an RPO or a zone read, look for the two clues I wrote on that graphic above. If you see the receivers running these decoy/fake/dummy routes, then obviously there’s no passing threat. And if you see the linemen blocking beyond the one-yard threshold, that’s your second tell. You cannot block further than one yard down the field on a passing play, or else you get flagged. That’s why RPO is tricky for NFL linemen, because you need straddle that line literally and figuratively.

And one final thought –

Sometimes there isn’t even a second option at all! Sometimes the quarterback isn’t reading anybody and he’s just handing the ball off. It’s a tailback run the entire way. In that case, only the offense knows whether the QB is actually making a read or not.

Anyway, thanks for listening.

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