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How scheme helped each starting rookie QB in Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season

Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) comes off the field in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

PFF’s Eric Eager frequently talks about trying to hit the easy buttons for NFL offenses. There are certain sets of edges in football that, generally speaking, make offenses more efficient. The most famous of these in the public sphere is fourth-down decisions. Similarly, it has been well established that play-action passes are some of the most efficient plays in football, that passing on early downs (first and second downs) is generally a more efficient decision, and it’s recently been found by PFF's Tej Seth that using heavier personnel packages (12, 13, and 21 personnel) to draw heavier boxes can be a boon to passing games.

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It logically follows that if these decisions and play calls are more efficient and thus better for offenses generally, then it could be particularly good for rookies. Specifically, they could help rookie quarterbacks find more success early on in a series, giving them a chance to avoid the more exotic pressure packages and coverages that defensive coordinators can unleash in passing situations. We might expect run-pass options (RPOs) to be similarly useful since they generally simplify the reads required of rookie signal-callers.

We see that RPO passes are actually just as efficient as standard (non-screen, non-play action, non-RPO) passes on early downs in neutral game scripts. This is exciting since RPO passes generally have simpler reads, but when they result in runs, they are roughly as efficient as non-RPO runs (-0.11 expected points added per run on RPOs vs. -0.12 EPA per run on non-RPO runs).

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