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45 Seconds: Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s brilliant RPO

“Do I rent Devil Wears Prada, again, or do I finally get around to seeing Sophie's Choice? It's what you'd call a classic difficult decision.” - Michael Scott

Sometimes you can’t be right. That’s what good play designs do, put defensive players in compromised situations where they have to make an impossible choice. Some plays are near indefensible if run correctly.

Last week in my offensive trends article, I mentioned I’ll write about RPOs one of these editions of 45 seconds. Sure enough, Andy Reid decided to give me all kinds of quality content the very next week.

RPO is short for Run-Pass Option. Basically, it is a play structured such that a quarterback can read a play at the snap of the ball to determine whether or not he wants to hand the ball off or throw a pass to a receiver out on a route. Typically the play is blocked like a run play, and the quick-hitter nature of the pass makes it difficult to get charged with an illegal man down field. The reads can be simple for quarterbacks and difficult for defenders to properly defend all option on the play.

There are a lot of ways an RPO can manifest itself and also a lot of different ways to read the defense when running them. You can design them based on a number of things:

  • The number of defenders in the box (if there’s six hand it off)
  • The leverage of one single defender (is the linebacker lined up wide to help with the three receivers or too tight?)
  • The discipline of an edge defender (where they move at the snap of the ball) and;
  • The aggressiveness of a player (if he pursues the run, throw the seam behind it)

Among many other things. As you can see, there’s a lot of different things to play off, and very difficult for a defense to cover everything.

This week we focus on the R in RPO. I will fully admit that this is the most boring part of the RPO, the usual suspect. However, the way Andy Reid designed this particular play was brilliant and the unused element of the play had a lot to do with it. Leave it to Andy Reid to take RPO’s and spin them on their head. There are so many layers to this play call I can’t even begin to fathom how impressive this play call was. In it, Reid was able to make his three best offensive weapons viable options in one play.

Here is Kareem Hunt’s 20 yard run in the second quarter of the Chiefs 24-10 victory over the Chargers:

See the P? What a weird sentence to write. Travis Kelce runs a flat route and Tyreek Hill runs a slant. Alex Smith somehow has the ability to get the ball to one of his best players easily. There is so, so much about this play beyond what these three do.

Let’s start with the receivers at the bottom of the screen. Both Chris Conley and Albert Wilson working against off coverage. Neither runs a route, both are there to run block. If Hunt gets the ball, they’re blocking. Which is also the first sign that this is an RPO. No route concepts there, just the run half of the play.

Now let’s look at the offensive line:

See anything interesting in this image?? All five linemen are behind the line of scrimmage. LT Eric Fisher and RT Mitchell Schwartz quick set, LG Bryan Witzmann engages (poorly) with the 3 technique, RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif down blocks the nose, Zach Fulton pulls to lead block for Kareem Hunt.

Why is this important? Because you can’t get an ineligible man downfield penalty if you’re behind the line of scrimmage. If the slant-flat option is available, they’re legal and Conley and Wilson have yet to make contact with their blocking assignment. At the least, it’s way too bang-bang of a play for either of them to get hit with a penalty. The Chiefs used a half-and-half type blocking scheme to keep their linemen legal, while effectively blocking the play. Excellent design.

Let’s talk about Hill now. He’s looking for the ball coming out of his break. As soon as he says where the ball is, he turns to block his defender. The only reason Hill should be running a slant is if he is part of a live route concept either as a legitimate receiver or part of a natural pick for Kelce. Those are the only two reasons I can think you would want Hill running into the direction of a run play, bringing a defender with you.

Before I get to what I think is my favorite part of this play is simply a note about the hash mark the play is on. This sounds meaningless, but the Chiefs have their three best offensive weapons lined up into the boundary (the short side of the field). The Chargers were using a single high look defensively with a safety lined up in the middle of the field deep. Look where Tre Boston is lined up at the hand off.

He’s cheating to the field (wide side) of the formation. Should the Chiefs had chosen to throw the slant to Hill, they would have had a wide lane to throw into. Sometimes you need a little chaos to spring your best players open. Teams are keyed on Hill, Kelce and Hunt. Options like this can help find an opportunity to generate a big play.

The final and particularly well designed part of this play is Kelce’s assignment. He’s lined off the line of scrimmage. A usual flat route has a normal depth of one yard. You round to the flat and get a yard of depth in the process. Not Kelce. He’s straight out right away. Why? Look at what it did to Joey Bosa and Jahleel Addae. The combination of Fisher’s pass set and Kelce’s immediate release to the flat froze Bosa and widened Addae. Kelce off the line of scrimmage puts him in the eye of Bosa a split second extra. Bosa was effectively blocked before even being touched.

Also, let’s suppose the slant was the first thing Alex looks at, and it’s covered. Kelce is still behind the line of scrimmage. If Wilson, Conley or any offensive linemen our down field, guess who can still legally catch the football without getting an illegal man downfield penalty?

The Chargers had a six-man box with both linebackers playing six yards off the ball. With Bosa slowed down, this was an obvious run choice. This also can’t go without saying: this is a great run by Hunt. His balance after contact is rare, one of my favorite things about him coming out of college.

The Chiefs came back to execute the P in RPO later in the game, with one minor tweak.

Kelce lined up on the line of scrimmage, and now Hill is off. That alignment changed the route angles slightly, as the one Hill catches is at a tighter angle. All three of the Chiefs’ best weapons are in the boundary. The defensive front is different than the look they got earlier. The linebackers are also playing a little tighter to the line of scrimmage. There’s nowhere for Fulton to pull so the blocking scheme changed altogether. All five linemen still stay behind or at the line of scrimmage the receivers at the bottom of the screen stay blocking, and Smith chooses the slant for a 17 yard gain. Boston is late to arrive to the play from his field alignment.

This play could’ve spelled even more trouble with one missed tackle. As you can see, there were plenty of options to choose from. However LA chose to play it, they couldn’t be right. This well designed play put the Chargers into one of those classic difficult decisions.

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