When the Green Bay Packers moved on from Mike McCarthy to Matt LaFleur as head coach, the idea was to take the offense into the modern era. Overall, the transition has been a plus. Even after an eight-point performance against the San Francisco 49ers, the Packers are seventh in offensive DVOA through Week 12, sixth in passing DVOA and fourth on the ground.
In one specific way, the Packers have gotten modern. Aaron Rodgers has the most pass attempts on run-pass options (RPOs) in the league this season. He already has more RPO pass attempts through 11 games (34) than he did through 16 games in 2018 (24). But there’s a slight problem; Green Bay’s RPOs haven’t been particularly effective.
Per Sports Info Solutions, the Packers have minus-1.9 Expected Points Added on Rodgers’s 34 attempts with a positive play rate (percentage of plays with positive EPA) of just 38.2%. Those figures are well below where Rodgers and the Packers were on RPOs last season.
Aaron Rodgers RPO Attempts, 2018-2019
|Year||RPO Attempts||EPA||Positive Play%|
The general idea behind the RPO is with a run and pass option built into the same play, the quarterback can use either a pre- or post-snap read to hand the ball off or throw. With the play based on what the defense is giving, the offense generally gets the advantage of choosing the correct option. A 38.2% positive play rate suggests either the correct option isn’t being chosen or there’s something wrong with the options overall.
One thing stands out this season with Rodgers’s RPO attempts — the number of throws that come behind the line of scrimmage. So far, 19 of Rodgers’s 24 attempts have been behind the line, a 55.9% rate. 12 quarterbacks have thrown at least 10 passes off RPOs this season and only Kyler Murray has a higher rate of attempts behind the line (59.1%). Only one other quarterback (Carson Wentz, 36.4%) is above 30%.
|Player||RPO Attempts||% Behind Line||RPO EPA||Positive Play%|
Part of this comes down to how often the pass option for Green Bay’s RPO has been a screen. 16 of Rodgers’s 34 attempts (47%) have been screens this season and while a screen can be its own form of deception, putting it on the back of an RPO kind of takes away what makes both screens and RPOs effective.
On the play below from Green Bay’s Week 12 game against San Francisco, the Packers had a 1st and 10 in plus territory. The Packers motioned Geronimo Allison (81) from the right slot to a trips bunch on the left side of the formation. At the snap, Allison went out for a screen while the two receivers in front blocked their two defenders. But K’Waun Williams (24) traveled with Allison and was able to cut through and chase Allison down for a gain of only two yards. Green Bay couldn’t take advantage of numbers either in the box for the run or outside for the pass.
A big disadvantage of screens off RPOs is they typically need wide receivers to set up the downfield blocking instead of offensive linemen and if you were to choose a position group to block, you’d probably choose the one that has it in the job description.
The Packers are, in fact, a good screen team when they run the play more traditionally.
Packers Screens, 2019
|Screen Type||Attempts||EPA/Play||Positive Play%|
RPO screens haven’t been massively successful league-wide over the past year and a half. Despite a respectable 52.5% positive play rate, teams have averaged just 0.03 EPA per attempt since the start of 2018. That’s well below the efficiency of the other highly targeted route on the end of an RPO — the slant.
RPO Routes, 2018-2019
|RPO Target Route||EPA/Att||Positive Play%|
Just one of Rodgers’s RPO attempts this season has gone to a slant, an incomplete pass against the Chicago Bears in Week 1. Overall, the Packers are a decent slant team, though it’s not a fixture in the offense. Rodgers has targeted just 22 slants this season (13th most in the league) and has averaged 0.10 EPA per play with a 59.1% positive play rate. Green Bay could benefit by working the middle of the field with slants a little more often off RPOs, especially on first down to ensure a positive play. 20 of Green Bay’s RPO passes this season have come on first down and just 35% of them have produced positive EPA.
Of course, there are also some more fun and effective wrinkles in the Green Bay RPO game. Here is a screen that did work against the 49ers. This time on a 2nd and 5 from under center. Davante Adams was the target from the slot and was able to turn the corner for a gain of 10.
The Packers have been up and down finding out what has and hasn’t worked for the offense throughout the season. They seem to like the options an RPO presents but there is still a potential improvement for design and execution on those concepts that would give the offense an even bigger advantage for the rest of the season and beyond.