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Harbaugh studying Eagles scheme: Michigan should use RPO with Shea Patterson

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Football is evolving right before our eyes. The future is here.

Michigan v Purdue Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The best coaches are always willing to learn new tricks and adapt their scheme to fit their players skill-set. Jim Harbaugh has always been one to evolve.

With the San Francisco 49ers Harbaugh added the read-option and pistol formation when Colin Kaepernick became his starting quarterback. The decision made the 49ers offense flourish.

Now, Harbaugh could have his most dynamic quarterback in the fold since Kaepernick for the 2018 season if Shea Patterson wins his appeal to have immediate eligibility.

Patterson played at Ole Miss, a team that ran everything out of the shotgun, and the scheme itself was RPO (Run-Pass-Option).

Who else runs RPO? The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. Their scheme froze Patriots defenders, making them hesitate physically and mentally as to whether they should play the run or the pass. This led to big plays time and time again, both through the air and on the ground.

Harbaugh watched the Super Bowl, and he was impressed by what he saw. He told the Dan Patrick Show he will be looking into how the Eagles had success and what the Patriots plan was to stop the RPO onslaught.

“There’s going to be a lot to watch and you’ll see a lot of coaches who watch this game. The RPO factor, how did the Patriots attempt to defend that scheme? I don’t know how many run-pass options there were by Philadelphia in the game, I’ll be interested in knowing that. We’ll study that,” Harbaugh said.

The RPO has been used in college, from Ole Miss to Penn State to Ohio State and others, but now it’s catching on in the NFL with the Eagles. And when a team wins the Super Bowl relying heavily on that scheme, coaches at all levels are taking notice.

To sum up what the RPO is: The quarterback has the option to either hand it to the running back for a run, or he can pull it back in as there’s a built in pass play. How the linebackers react in this split second determines whether the quarterback decides to hand it off or throw the ball.

Ideally in the RPO, the quarterback at the helm can scramble effectively and make good reads as well. This is where Shea Patterson comes in and why Michigan should at the very least implement an RPO package going forward. Patterson is one of the most elusive quarterbacks in college football, and he has a strong arm with a quick release, all of which are check-marks for a quarterback that can excel running the RPO.

The New England Patriots were confused by the RPO, professional athletes playing in the biggest game of their careers. It’s a good guess that college defenses are going to be a lot more confused than NFL players when it comes to the intricacies and split second decisions that must be made to limit RPO damage.

The RPO is hard to stop. Zone coverage isn’t a wise choice in preparation against the RPO, holes in the defense can be found and exploited with a hand-off fake. Man-coverage is only effective against the RPO if the defenders are physical and disrupt the timing of the play. Stopping the run requires the defense to stay disciplined, maintain their gap assignments, while also not overpursuing. Stopping the RPO is rough.

The Michigan offense will always have a power run game, it will always have the tenants of old-school football intertwined with what is cutting edge (i.e. Wildcat with Jabrill Peppers, train formation, jet sweeps). Expect for Michigan and Jim Harbaugh to embrace the RPO if they believe Patterson can do damage in the scheme. There’s a good chance a package of RPO plays will be put in the 2018 playbook in the months to come.

The future of football is here, and the RPO will be part of it. The RPO is here to stay. Adapt or die.