Understanding the Philadelphia Eagles run pass option offense

Jalen Hurts #1, Philadelphia Eagles (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Jalen Hurts #1, Philadelphia Eagles (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Whenever we discuss the Philadelphia Eagles and our thoughts on their undefeated season, once that conversation turns to the subject of who deserves credit for their unblemished start, we would almost be disrespectful if we didn’t mention both head coach Nick Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen.

Week in and week out, they find ways to impress us. Strategies may alter. Different players take center stage as the stars of the offense’s show, but there is one obvious consistency with Shane Steichen’s attack. It lies in the Eagles’ mastery of the run-pass option.

What is the run-pass option? Where did it originate? We can actually trace some of the early stages of this Eagles’ offensive staple to Chip Kelly… That’s right… Chip Kelly.

There isn’t much the Philadelphia Eagles should thank Chip Kelly for, but the RPO definitely deserves a mention.

The spread triple option offense has its genesis with Chip Kelly’s Oregon Ducks. He brought it with him to the NFL when hired by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013, and it’s still a hit almost a decade later.

We’ve seen Coach Sirianni utilize much of the same theory. Check out his introduction to the NFL, the regular-season opener versus the Atlanta Falcons in 2021 if you need any evidence. You can also give the first six weeks of the 2022 Eagles season a watch if you’d like to see more of the RPO in action.

Football is about angles, numbers, spacing, and leverage. The spread triple option is designed to use all of which in an attempt to make opposing defenses guess (and do so wrongly). There’s always the hope of the big play, and when utilized efficiently, RPOs can create explosive plays for the offense.

Here’s a brief explanation of RPOs and how the Philadelphia Eagles have implemented them.

In addition to numbers and angles, the spread offense has added spacing and leverage as a focus for football coaches.

While no one can seem to agree on a precise definition for the spread offense, most people agree that the purpose of the offense is to stretch defenses horizontally using large receiver splits and using 10 and 00 personnel (the use of four and five wide receiver sets respectively. It’s all about forcing opposing defenses to put smaller defenders on the field.

Coach Chip Kelly is and was very much a spread-to-run coach. Doug Pederson and Coach Sirianni have followed his model. Both have enjoyed success. Doug won a Super Bowl, and Nick has also climbed to new heights, once tallying over 175 yards rushing during a seven-game stretch in 2021.

In the age where defenses rely on defenders who are smaller and faster, NFL offenses are often countering with spread option offenses and read option and triple option plays that are run out of shotgun and pistol formations.

Instead of reading the unblocked frontside end man on the line of scrimmage (EMLOS), the spread option offense leaves the backside EMLOS unblocked. If he crashes the line and chases the running back to the front side of the formation, the quarterback has the option to run the ball to the backside of the formation to replace the defender.

Similarly, defenses use scrape exchange techniques to replace the EMLOS with the inside linebacker – this time the weakside inside linebacker (WSILB).

While a traditional triple option is possible out of the shotgun or pistol sets, offenses have turned the third option into a passing play, usually a screen pass to a receiver.

Examples of this were seen in the Philadelphia Eagles’ recent clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Coach Steichen used those concepts, and as a result, Jalen Hurts had his best game as a passer while A.J. Brown enjoyed career numbers as a receiver.

So again, Nick Sirianni and Shane Steichen deserve credit for designing an offense perfectly suited to Jalen Hurts’ strengths, but while Jalen deserves credit for executing it almost flawlessly, even though we hate giving Chip Kelly credit for anything, we may need to consider sending him a bottle of champagne for his assistance in constructing an Eagles offensive theory that the Birds are still benefiting from today.