RPO has been the biggest buzz word in the NFL over the last two years. The Philadelphia Eagles basically won a Super Bowl predicated on it in 2018. But what is it? Where did it come from? Well, it stands for Run-Pass Option (RPO) and Brett Favre may have invented it.
Favre sat down with Jon Gruden in 2018 for a special one-hour show on ESPN where they highlighted key moments and plays from Favre’s 20-year NFL career. In it, Gruden spends some time in the film room with the former Packers quarterback and the two dissect personnel and break down plays. At one point, Favre stops the tape and accurately diagnoses an RPO. Then, he proceeds to tell Gruden how he snuck it into the Packers’ playbook.
“This wasn’t a running play. We never tagged this,” Favre told Gruden. “I started seeing this at practice. I get up there [to the line of scrimmage] and it’s a run play and I got nothing to think about, just hand it off. Not only was I kind of bored with the hand-offs, but I was trying to be creative and spice it up. But I thought to myself, ‘Damn, that guy is wide open.'”
For those unclear on what exactly an RPO means, it’s a called run play with a pass option. The offensive line is set for the quarterback to hand it off to the running back and they are locked down in the trenches, in run-blocking mode. The quarterback, based on what he sees from the defensive alignment, can change the call to a pass at the line of scrimmage.
Favre was a master at it and now it makes sense. He used secret hand signals on the field, wagging two fingers down to switch to a pass, and sometimes didn’t clue his coaching staff in on what he was doing. The Packers worked on the RPO in practice and called it “The Look.” Mike Sherman was the head coach in Green Bay at the time.
“I’m going to show him it works before I ask. If you ask permission, you get all these old coaches, oh we’re going to do it the way it’s supposed to be done,” Favre told Gruden. “In practice, I was like, ‘Hey, if the defender runs away from you, no matter what, just run a one-step slant. We called it a look. I’d walk up and do one of these [wagging two fingers] and say, I got it.’”
The RPO was a big reason why the Eagles won the franchise’s first-ever Super Bowl in 2018 and they used it to perfection in the NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings. Then-quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo used it particularly well on third-and-short situations, according to The Ringer.
With the 49-year-old Favre back in the news for a now-deleted Instagram post announcing his unretirement, it’s another feather to put in the Hall of Famer’s cap. The veteran quarterback was diagnosing and calling for the RPO way before it was the latest trend. Now, the play has quickly become the norm.
Unless, of course, you agree with Pat Fitzgerald. The Northwestern coach called it the “purest form of communism.”