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Lunchbreak: NFL Teams Evaluating RPO Bandwagon

Call it a possible RPO Bandwagon.

Success can breed a certain degree of imitation, followed by evaluation.

The success that the Eagles had with run-pass option (RPO) plays in 2017 en route to winning Philadelphia's first Super Bowl has enticed other teams to examine if those types of plays have a role in their offenses.

Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo coached Eagles quarterbacks last season and has brought some RPOs to Minnesota with him. Thus, they've been a talking point this offseason and at Verizon Vikings Training Camp.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was asked about defending the plays during a session with beat reporters.

"Yeah, typically, an RPO is no different than when they'd line up under the center and the receiver would run a dart, so it's going to be a quick, short throw most of the time," Zimmer said. "Just because they line up like that doesn't mean it's going to be an RPO, so you have to be able to cover all of the same things.

Asked if he believes there will be an uptick, Zimmer said, "Yeah, that will be the rage of the NFL."

Robert Mays of The Ringer did a deep dive on RPOs this week, featuring insights from DeFilippo as well as college coaches who have had considerable success with the plays.

Mays partly focused on a play that Philadelphia used for a third-and-1 conversion in the red zone when the Vikings and Eagles were knotted at 7 in the NFC Championship Game. Philadelphia used a pair of legally executed picks to disrupt Minnesota's man-to-man coverage.

[Head Coach Doug] Pederson's team lined up in a two-by-two set with a pair of receivers stacked wide to the left and tight end Zach Ertz and receiver Mack Hollins positioned to the right. At the snap, Hollins darted inside to put a de facto screen on safety Harrison Smith, while Ertz released outside. Quarterback Nick Foles floated a throw to Ertz for a 6-yard gain; on the next play, LeGarrette Blount barrelled into the end zone for a touchdown.

"[That was] a special play specifically designed for third-and-short situations," DeFilippo told Mays. "It works particularly well against teams that rotate their safeties hard [like the Vikings]."

Ertz's crucial conversion included a run action by Jay Ajayi, but Foles knew where the ball was going before it was even snapped. Conventional wisdom surrounding RPOs is that the quarterback makes a read after the snap and reaches a decision based on a defender's movements. But DeFilippo says the ratio is tipped the other way.

"Based on box numbers [or whether the] corner is playing off, those are pre-snap decisions before you get the ball in your hands," he says.

DeFilippo estimates about 70 percent of the quarterback's choices on an RPO are made before a play begins.

Zimmer didn't bring up a specific example when talking about how to defend the play, but he did say he doesn't believe a defense can "just play man coverage because they'll get into stacks and run pick routes off it."

"It's 2-on-2, really, basically at the end of the day," Zimmer added. "You're going to have to have a few different things. There's some tips on when they're doing it and things like that, typically not on third downs. It's on first and second downs, and there are some other things, so you have to be able to have a plan when you get those tips."

Defenses 'steal the show' during joint practices

The top two defenses from the 2017 season met on the practice field this week.

The Vikings hosted joint practices with the Jaguars on Wednesday and Thursday before the two teams face off for their second preseason game on Saturday. Kickoff is set for noon at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Dave Campbell of the Associated Press said that both defenses generally "stole the show" over the two days of work. He wrote:

As the second day of sessions at the sparkling, sprawling Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in suburban Minneapolis wrapped up after a thunderstorm interruption on Thursday afternoon, the takeaway was clear from both sides.

That other team is good.

The time was well spent.

Campbell quoted Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who said that two days against Jacksonville served as a reminder for why daily practice during the season "is so important."

"Each defense has those nuances that, if you're not on top of it, will make for a long day on Sundays," Cousins said.

Jacksonville's defense, including defensive end Calais Campbell, gave Minnesota's offense some trouble here and there. The same can be said for vice versa. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles had a few passes batted down – or intercepted – during practice.

"When you see the matchups and you look at the talent on the other side of the ball, you're looking at that and you're saying, 'Listen, these are the types of players that you have to go against to be a heck of a football team in the NFL," Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said.

Grant to be a grand marshal

In a column about Tom Compton returning home to Minnesota, the Star Tribune's Sid Hartman reported that his longtime best friend, former Vikings head coach Bud Grant, will be the grand marshal at a parade for the Minnesota American Legion's 100th national convention Aug. 26 in Minneapolis. Grant also will be a featured speaker at the Legion's banquet on Aug. 28.

Hartman wrote:

Grant, who turned 91 in May, enlisted in the Navy during World War II and played football at the Great Lakes naval training center along with Billy Bye and Dean Widseth before they all joined the University of Minnesota in 1946.

There's no question Grant's athletic history was a big part of the decision but even more so was his service in the Navy. He said he was very glad to get the opportunity.

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