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The Patriots’ defense will have its hands full again this week when the Buffalo Bills come to town.
The Bills are loaded with talent on the offensive end with franchise quarterback Josh Allen, receivers Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis, and running back James Cook. Not only that, their offensive scheme frequently features RPOs, which have proven to be a handful for teams around the league to defend against.
The RPO, or run-pass option, has become popular in NFL offenses in recent years. New England already has plenty of experience handling RPO-heavy offenses this season. Through six weeks, the Philadelphia Eagles have run the most RPO plays (63). The Miami Dolphins are eighth in that category, though Tua Tagovailoa has the most passing yards on RPO plays with 482. All stats are according to Pro Football Reference.
The Patriots played those offenses back-to-back weeks.
Heading into Sunday’s matchup, New England coach Bill Belichick discussed what makes RPOs so effective, including the advantage some receivers have from that style of offense.
“It spreads the field laterally, horizontally, and kind of keeps the receivers from having to block,” Belichick noted at his Friday press conference. “Somebody has to cover those guys in case the quarterback throws it to them. Depending on who the receiver is, that might be a higher percentage play than actually trying to have them block the player who covers them.”
Belichick also noted the troubles of stopping both the run and pass option. Stacking the box against the run leaves weaknesses if the quarterback decides to pass, but keeping too many bodies on the outside takes away run support.
Ultimately, the success of RPOs comes down to quarterback play, and with Allen at the helm, it’s no surprise the Bills have found success while running the option.
“Like every play, it comes down to execution and certainly quarterback decision making on the RPO, unlike a handoff where you are just giving the ball,” Belichick said.
The Patriots’ own offense has seemingly grown to incorporate more RPOs under new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. In 2022, New England only ran 35 RPO plays through 17 games. Six games into this season, the Patriots have already called 25 RPOs.
In Week 2, New England held the Dolphins to 24 points, their second lowest total in a game this season. The Patriots are surely hoping for a similar result against the Bills on Sunday.
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