Football Fundamentals - RPO Run Concepts

If you've been following along, we've offered up a lot of pass concepts that can be paired with a run play to make an "RPO". We looked at passes behind the LOS, quick passes, and even downfield reads. We've also looked at pass first RPOs, known here as PRO. And if you've been really paying attention, you'll have noticed that those RPOs were attached to pretty much every kind of run scheme. Here we are going to summarize those run schemes and discuss briefly the types of routes to look for given the type of run.

Inside Zone

Probably the most popular run scheme in college football, this is also the most popular run scheme to attach to RPOs. The idea behind Inside Zone is to get vertical displacement of the defense; so the way the defense defends inside zone is to "build a wall" at the LOS. This means they have to get down hill and they have to fill their run gaps before the doubles can get off to the second level. So depending on the defense, that often means LBs or even safeties are firing down hill upon an inside zone look, and the types of routes that are best paired with inside zone are the ones that force the coverage to move opposite their designed run fit (typically gaining width and depth).

Because of the way RPOs generally work, most schemes fit the bill here. But you're going to want to make sure your alignment allows for enough width that the "inside zone" run fits are blocking the throwing lanes on inside breaking routes. Slants, hitches, and snags should all be toward the numbers to give that clearance.

Note that you can utilize a lot of different zone tags as well, and even utilize RPOs that are designed to look like zone tags, like split zone and "slide" RPO. Similarly, you can basically "bible" the split zone to act as a lead blocker for outside RPOs.

Outside Zone

Outside Zone is similarly popular, and was the scheme of choice for the original bubble RPO option. Outside Zone relies on horizontal displacement, so it forces the backside of the defense to track the ball and beat the blocker trying to get to the second level. Similarly, it often forces safeties to be the ones to set the edge. This means routes that attack safeties in the direction of run "pop pass" or plays that attack the newly created void from LBs chasing the play (slants, snags, hitches) are great concepts.

An additional benefit for NFL teams, this scheme can be run without immediately getting down hill, particularly if the LBs have to respect a pass threat (they will maintain depth). That can help avoid illegal man down field penalties.

Pin and Pull/Buck Sweep/G Lead

Pin and Pull is an Outside Zone adjustment were the front side will down block if there is a defender lined up in an inside gap and pull if there isn't. Buck Sweep can function very similarly to pin and pull, but a Center or backside OG will function as the second puller. In either case, it limits the blockers that work immediately down field, which makes it appealing from an RPO standpoint as it allows for longer developing routes or more complex reads that are often typical of NFL RPO schemes.

Like outside zone, these are going to force defenses to work laterally from the backside and try to set the edge on the front side, so the typical way to attack is consistent with outside zone.

Power O

The combination of doubles at the point of attack and a puller getting playside result in a lot of mass being generated with Power O. This forces backside LBs to have to pursue quickly to even out the defense. Similarly, it forces the front side LBs to get down hill in a hurry to clog up the hole. This results in a very natural "tunnel" within the second level of the defense that can be exploited by hitches, snags, inside slants, and tunnel screens.

Similarly, because the front side edge must be set against Power to avoid a wide gap, it tends to allow outward breaking routes in the direction of the run. Quick Outs, bubbles, etc. can be dangerous in the direction of Power.


Dart or (Tackle) Wrap is often called "Tackle Power". It is also called Tackle Iso or as it is the backside OT that is pulling around and isolating the frontside LB. Compared to Power O, there is more time to get through the mesh point, as it is typical for Dart to be run with counter action. Compared to Power, though, you are more likely to attack the backside than the front side of the formation. This is typically down with swing or bubble screens that put the backside defenders in conflict or tunnel screens that take advantage of the natural tunnel that is formed. Because the backside DE is often unblocked in this scheme, it makes plays like slants and snags a little more dangerous to complete.

Counter OF/OH/OT

Other counter schemes are going to work similar to Dart. However, now you have two pullers basically getting to the front side of the play. This causes the Counter OF/OH to act more like Power O in the types of schemes that can be run with it. With Counter OT, typically the backside DE will go relatively unblocked again, so you have to make sure he isn't in your passing window. This favors swing and bubble screens, but because of the width, can also allow for "pipe" RPOs, which get downfield and into a new window.


A Wham play or trap play is typically going to work because the first level of the defense can immediately release to the second level blockers. The way to defeat that is to get downfield quickly and form a wall at the LOS, thereby restricting the gap (the wham block typically won't get a lot of movement, it only seals the DT). But that immediate reaction down hill often opens up a void behind for a slant or post.

Iso/ G Fold/ Pin and Fold

Two isolation type plays. Isolation plays or pin and fold works by creating creases between the first and second level of the defense by sending lead blockers to isolation certain second level defenders. It also allows for inside doubles to widen the gap and attacks downhill fast. This forces defenses to react just as quickly to get mass to that same point of attack. In doing so, the defense collapses inside and down hill, opening up voids on the edges of the defense. This allows for hitches and outside slants, and tunnels to be effective to either side of the formation.

Lead Draw/ Draw/ Lead Draw

This will often will be paired with a pass first concept. This will utilize similar concept as the Iso type plays, in that you want to attack the edges of the defense with hitches or outside snags.

Half Line

Half line blocking allows the front side of the play to block the run play (typically pin and pull or outside zone) while the backside pass sets. Since the read is the backside of the play, the backside of the OL isn't required to get to the second level because the pass threat is blocking the backside defense. They chase, you throw, they wait, you run. The pass set gives the QB a little extra protection to get the ball out so that you minimize free rushers to the QB and improve backside throwing windows. Similarly, it prevents OL from getting down field too early.