Eagles Coaches Say Zone Read and RPO Calls Have Not Dipped - "Just Haven't Had to Pull Many"
Does it seem to you like the Eagles are running fewer run/pass option and zone read plays in 2023? Maybe, but Eagles coaches say that’s not the case, starting with offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, who spoke Thursday afternoon:
Q. Have there been fewer zone read calls for three games compared to what you had with Jalen Hurts? (Jeff McLane)
BRIAN JOHNSON: No, I don’t think so. There have been different reads, probably a different emphasis defensively of how to play some of those reads. But I think when you talk about the zone read game, there is some gray in some of those reads in terms of how defenses try to play it within their structure. For something for us, that’s obviously a huge part of what we do and we have to continue to emphasize it and make sure we are utilizing it at the right times.
We get our advanced data from SportRadar and Pro Football Focus, which notes that the Eagles have a 12.6% RPO number, which is fourth in the NFL. That’s subjective based on how the analysts view it, and for context, that’s run/pass option, so a play where Jalen Hurts can either hand the ball off or pull and then throw it. We don’t have exact data for the zone read, which is where Jalen can hand the ball off or pull it and run.
Two key differences there, because not every play with a defender read contains a passing element.
Nick Sirianni corroborated Friday what Johnson said about the frequency of play calls:
“We’re still running that. …you don’t keep a zone read unless the defense tells you to keep the zone read, right? Same thing with an RPO… still big part of our game, big part of our game plan. Just haven’t had to pull many of them throughout the first couple weeks.”
There’s some word salad removed from that quote, but the last sentence is the key. Hurts hasn’t had “to pull many of them” because the read he’s getting is a defender staying home and keeping an eye on the QB.
“He hasn’t got as many pulls that have turned into explosive plays,” Sirianni added. That doesn’t mean that it’s not being effective. We ran the ball really well. Partly why is because of the effect that Jalen has on the back side. O-line has done a great job, tight ends have done a great job, running backs have done a great job running the football. But when you have a quarterback like Jalen, when you hand it, the whole back side is affected which allows your back side of your line to get the cut offs to have these explosive runs.”
A couple of clips for your consideration here. Note Tampa’s defensive alignment in the first one:
One of Hurts’ better reads on the night was this second quarter pull, which moved the chains on 3rd and 2, allowed for an end zone shot, then allowed Jake Elliott to kick from 38 instead of 46: pic.twitter.com/qjW5YsokgM
— Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead) September 29, 2023
Hurts doesn’t have a ton of running yards this year because most of the reads favor simply handing the ball to the running back instead.
“Are Jalen’s numbers up in the run game? No, but our numbers are up in the run game,” Sirianni added. “He greatly affects what happens in the run game because of who he is and his threat to be able to keep it around the edge. Again, some teams are going to say, ‘hand it off, Jalen.’ Some teams are going to make him pull it. It’s just a matter of every week is going to be a little bit different. Make no mistake about it, when he hands the ball off and bursts off the back side, he affects the defense, and that is as good as a block sometimes. Again, the numbers in a small sample size, I just think it’s too early to tell on some of that with the small sample size of three games.”