RPO: Better known as a run-pass option, this simple abbreviation has been used all season long by just about every media member ever to the point where it may as well see its own featured column every week. Heading into the Super Bowl however, their opponents could not be built any more differently.
The Eagles ran the most RPO’s in the league during the regular season with 181. The Patriots ran the least, with just 39 of their plays being classed as those now-iconic RPO’s. With Nick Foles under center, the RPO has become a staple of the somewhat simple Eagles offense. Designed to give Foles time and a schematic advantage as defenses have to account for that extra element on almost play, Pederson’s first knowledge of the RPO arrived during his days at Kansas City.
“Some of it is very creative and unique and great to our game, obviously.” Pederson said earlier this year on if anything from the Chip Kelly offense has sneaked into the playbook. “It takes into consideration that you don’t have to block everybody, RPOs [run-pass options], for instance. It was all a new world for me. Kansas City was the first time I was exposed to it through [Chiefs QB] Alex Smith when he came from San Francisco where he did it. So I think it’s something that’s innovative, it’s new, it’s fun for the guys, but at the same time, I want to make sure that it fits us and fits our personality on offense.”
The Eagles have found great success with the RPO all season. Production from their running backs has been inspiringly high. Jay Ajayi’s injection of explosiveness into the team has been followed up by versatility from Corey Clement and some bruising runs from LeGarrette Blount. No back has carried the ball more than 16 times in a single game this season, with the Eagles figuring out their optimal number to keep players ready and raring to come in at any moment and make an impact. The threat of having running backs that can not only hurt you through both in and out of the trenches, but a dominant run-blocking offensive line and flurry of receiving weapons is all too much for defenses who have struggled to slow the Eagles home, even with Nick Foles at QB. Philadelphia has outscored opponents 282-124 (+158) at home this season, dropping many bombs along the way including that memorable fifty burger against Denver.
The Patriots meanwhile have a very different mentality. Instead of optionality, their mantra is simple. They want opposing teams to HAVE to beat them. By sticking to their gameplan of attacking the middle of the field and the depth of the sidelines, defenses are either forced to lineup in man-coverage and have their will tested, or sit in zone and let Brady run riot. The Jaguars are a perfect example. Despite storming out to a dominant lead in the AFC Championship game, Jacksonville played in zone coverage for the majority during the second half when Brady was on the field, largely because a pair of ‘rub routes’ burned them in the first. This allowed Brady and the bunch to carve open a previously intimidating secondary and claw their way back into the match and win.
“I think you have to put that challenge to playing the Patriots offense.” Jim Schwartz explained last week. “No player stands on his own. I mentioned Gronkowski, Cooks, Amendola’s been mentioned, [Patriots WR Chris] Hogan, [Patriots RB James] White, [Patriots RB Dion] Lewis. There are a million different guys in there. I’m sure somebody will slight me or say something because I slighted somebody, but you can’t just – the NFL in general, but particularly the Patriots, you can’t scheme for one player. If you do, then they have plenty of other players that can make plays. You have to do a good job against their entire offense, and you can’t really make it about one person.”
And that’s exactly what New England thrive on, fear. If defenses walk into Gillette stadium with a gameplan to shutdown Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks is going to have a field day. If they want to sit in zone and jump routes, James White and Dion Lewis will carve through the middle with haste. The difference in offensive culture is staggering and ‘The Belichick way’ has long been regarded as this mythical ethos that has defied the laws of the NFL (in more ways than one), but it simply comes down to the Patriots trying to force opposing teams out of their shells. To change their plans, to throw away the prep and fall into the traps laid out precisely by their coaching staff.
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