Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel works with his defense during team practice on Sunday, August 6, 2017, in Flowery Branch. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

X’s and O’s: The Falcons’ RPO plan for the Eagles

After playing lip-service to the exhibition season and electing to do most of their work in closed practices, the Atlanta Falcons are set to open the 2018 regular season tonight on the road against defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia

The game opens the NFL’s 99th season on the same Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia where the Falcons’ 2017 season ended with a 15-10 loss as they stalled on the 2-yard line in the final minute of the game. 

The RPO plan

The Eagles won the franchise’s fourth title (1948, 1949 and 1960) by riding the hot-hand of backup quarterback Nick Foles, who flawlessly operated the read-pass option (RPOs) portion of their play book.

The Falcons will be on high RPO alert vs. Eagles. 

Foles threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns to guide the Eagles to victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

RPOs are plays in which the quarterback has the option of handing the ball off to the running back or pulling it away and throwing a pass, based on the defense’s alignment and how the linebackers and defensive ends react. 

“You kind of just have to play what you play,” Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “I equate it to when teams were playing a lot of zone-read option stuff. Everybody has to do their job and if they do their job it takes care of itself.”

The Eagles ran RPOs on 18 percent of their plays last season, second only to Kansas City’s 18.1 percent. The Falcons’ secondary can’t sneak up and try to help against the run because Foles can pull the ball back and threw deep. 

“When you’re back, you’re back,” Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said. “You’ve got to defend the pass. When you’re up, you’re have to defend the run. It’s a combination of our guys doing what they’ve been coached when they are out there.”


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