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Has Gruden Changed Opinion on RPOs?

Has Gruden Changed Opinion on RPOs?

One of the criticisms of Jon Gruden’s return to the Oakland Raiders sideline has been the fact he hasn’t coached in over a decade. But does that mean he’ll change some things about his offensive philosophy and embrace RPOs?

His 10 years away from the sideline was a hot topic when the Raiders hired head coach Jon Gruden this offseason. Gruden would go on to dowse that fire with gasoline when he made his, now infamous “I’m trying to throw the game back to 1998″ comment. Anyone who had any doubts about the hiring latched on to the quote as proof that Gruden was out of touch with modern football. Naturally the level of attention the quote generated lead to the coach feeling the need to explain himself and his first opportunity came at the annual NFL Spring Meeting.

“We got more analytics than probably any team in the league.” Gruden said at the time. “We have all the gimmicks and gadgets, and we’re going to have a DJ on the practice field. We’re going to throw bubble screens and RPOs. We’re going to have all the statistical data that everybody else has.”

The statement on running RPOs (run-pass option) was a divergence from his long-held opinion of the play. This clip from his show Gruden’s QB Camp featuring former University of Miami quarterback Brad Kayaa really illustrates his feelings for the plays.

Referring to RPO’s as “Ridiculous Protection Offense” isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement of the concept. In order to get an idea of how well the Raiders performed when they used RPOs last season, I once again reached out to Austin Gayle of Pro Football Focus.

“Under Downing, Oakland produced at an above average rate when running RPOs and did so while calling more RPOs than 44-percent of the league,” Gayle said. “New head coach Jon Gruden said once this offseason that he’ll be running ‘bubble screens and RPOs,’ but it’s still hard to determine how often he’ll lean on RPOs given the concept’s novelty and Gruden’s affection for old-school football.”

As a whole, teams in the NFL combined to run 1,452 RPOs last season. Those plays gained 6,602 yards with an average of 4.5 yards gained while scoring 37 touchdowns. The Raiders accounted for 30 of those attempts while gaining 145 yards and scoring two touchdowns. They averaged 4.8 yards on those plays which was slightly above the league average.

With the widespread use of RPOs in the NFL, Gruden’s aversion could be chalked up to once again not grasping modern offenses. That would be overlooking the fact that the reason for his objections is sound. Defensive coaches will be studying these plays and one adjustment they will certainly look to make is getting hits on the quarterback.

As Gruden points out “unblocked players are dangerous.” This season it seemed like defenders did not just “stay at home.” As soon as they felt the play flowing away from them, they got upfield. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was under pressure on 31.2% of the play action and RPO plays the offense ran in 2017. Many of them came on the outside zone concepts like the one in this video.

The EDGE doesn’t just passively sit in his gap, he eats grass and gets pressure on Carr. Counter style plays like this one take advantage of this aggressive tendency but Gruden is going to look to limit open shots on his quarterback. Carr has missed games in both of the last two seasons due to injury. Nothing would derail his first season back with the Raiders like losing his starting quarterback.

Only Gruden knows at this point what concepts he plans to feature this season. The success rate and effectiveness of RPOs make it highly likely that they will make an appearance. It is certain though that the exact play design and usage rate are going to be determined by Gruden’s ability to protect Carr. Keeping him healthy will be his first priority.

Chris Reed is the former Senior NFL analyst for Silver and Black Today.

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