As the Patriots catered their offense to their quarterback’s collegiate strengths entering 2022, that meant the inclusion of more run-pass option (RPO) plays. Mac Jones himself had a large say in that decision.
“I like RPOs. They’re cool,” Jones told reporters earlier this season. “I think it puts stress on the defense. I definitely learned in college just watching Coach [Nick] Saban sometimes explode at practice. Just knowing he’s trying to tell somebody to do something but his guy’s running a route but then it’s also a run. Is it a pass? So there’s a lot of cool grey area there from an offensive perspective.”
Against the New York Jets on Sunday, the Patriots dialed up RPOs 13 times, according to Pro Football Focus. It was the most they've called in Mac Jones’ short career by more than double the next-highest game.
The Patriots did not strike any big plays off these RPOs on Sunday as they opted for mostly RPO bubble-screens near the line of scrimmage. But, their uptick in usage was a major difference after halftime, in which they put together two scoring drives.
In the play below, the Patriots stress Jets’ linebacker C.J. Mosley with the run-pass option. As Ferentz and Strange pull to the left, Mosley stays put which creates a numbers advantage on the outside. Jones quickly hits Meyers on the screen, who has two blockers ahead of him for a first down.
On the following drive, New England breaks out a similar play, again attacking Mosley with three receivers on one side. With the screen in mind, Mosley stays shaded towards Kendrick Bourne. As a result, Jones hands it off to Damien Harris who picks up an easy five yards and a first-down on a power run.
RPOs have become much more prominent across the league in recent years as college teams have made them staples in their own offenses. They work by mentally stressing defenders and creating numbers advantages, like what the Patriots did with Mosley above.
With Jones under center, the Patriots hope they can replicate some of the success he — and several other members of the team — had at the collegiate level with these run-pass looks.
“As you look at different offensive trends, and things that are in the league or are in college football, or obviously a lot of things our guys are familiar with being young and right out of college and that situation that they’ve had a lot of successful and they’ve been positive plays for them,” Senior Football Advisor Matt Patricia said on Tuesday.
“But there’s a lot of plays — whether its the RPO catch phrase, run-pass option, or different plays that have different run-pass looks based on what you’re seeing across the ball — so those kind of combination plays are pretty common. It’s just a little bit more of the college feel as far as what you saw [on Sunday].”
The next step for New England could be to start hitting some RPO plays downfield with slants and strikes up the seams, something Jones often did with the Crimson Tide.
“You certainly want to see what maybe applies and what doesn’t apply and build those things over time,” Patricia added. “I think those type of plays, you don’t throw those in last minute. There’s things you’re working on in the background from that standpoint and they came up.”
Either way, it was an encouraging sign that the Patriots drastically up-ticked their usage in the RPO department, something that should only help the offensive unit moving forward.