Former NFL Head Coach: RPOs "Difficult To Officiate"

More NFL teams are running RPOs. The only problem? They often do so illegally.

Reiter Than You
January 16, 2019 - 8:23 am

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RPOs have become the name of the game in football – certainly in college and, to a certain degree, the pros. Former NFL head coach Mike Smith is fine with the former, but has mixed feelings about the latter.

“We are different than college football in terms of linemen downfield, but it’s very difficult to officiate in my opinion,” Smith said on Reiter Than You. “There are often times where there are players that are two-, three-plus yards down the field, and by the rules of the game, that is an illegal receiver downfield. So it’s definitely an advantage.”

Patrick Mahomes, Nick Foles, and Lamar Jackson, among others, have made RPOs a staple of their offense – and they’ve had a lot of success with it.

“The RPO is something that’s very difficult to defend,” Smith said. “It’s tough because the quarterback in most RPOs, you have to account for them as a runner, and that brings the option play into the game. The quarterbacks may not run it seven or eight times, but they do have the ability if the read is right that they’re going to keep the ball. So it’s not just the run-pass option; it’s the option where the quarterback can be a runner if the read tells him to. Defenses are going to have to continue to try to adjust. It’s a difficult thing, and the rules are helping the offense. These offensive coordinators have done a really good job with coming up with schemes to attack defenses.”

Smith, 59, has coached for the last 35+ years. He was Falcons head coach from 2008-14 and Buccaneers defensive coordinator from 2016-18.

He has seen the game evolve over the years, particularly with rule changes over the last decade.

“We needed to have them for player safety, there’s no doubt about that in terms of defenseless players – and most of the defenseless players are offensive players,” Smith said. “I think the players have done a great job of making the game safer, but it’s changed the game in terms of quarterbacks throwing the ball down the middle of the field against certain coverages. They know that the defenders are not going to take those shots that are very dangerous. The quarterback play has, in my opinion, erupted. There’s probably 12 to 15 top-level quarterbacks in this league that, on any given day, can cut up any defense.”

There are also players like Tyreek Hill and Alvin Kamara who can line up anywhere and are threats as both a runner and receiver.

“That creates issues for defenses in matchups,” Smith said. “Then you’re limited with the no-huddle to call your defenses sometimes, so you can’t be as complicated when people are going fast and moving fast. There’s more athletes paying on the offensive side of the ball. I think those are all factors.”