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On The Chalkboard: The Pistol Formation Isn't Just For Cowboys Opponents

What is it? Why is it successful? & Why we will see the Cowboys line up in it in 2013....

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

In 2012 a new formation took the NFL by storm. The Pistol, invented in 2005 by then University of Nevada Head Coach Chris Ault, was a way to combine the benefits of the shotgun with the downhill running game that he had coached for years.

It is extremely important for us as Cowboys fans to understand this look for a few reasons.

  • The Redskins ran this look a ton, to run both their base offense and the read option series.
  • Chip Kelly's arrival in Philadelphia. He is, and will be, the ultimate football innovator.
  • I believe we will see the Cowboys implement this look and use it in multiple situations in 2013.

The pistol is not an "offense", it's not a scheme or a play, it is an alignment which is only a small adjustment to bridge the gap between the two most commonly accepted QB/RB alignments and gives a lot of flexibility for the offense.

The pistol, which aligns the Quarterback in a shortened shot gun position with his running back directly behind him, provides a ton of options for offensive coordinators and creates a series of innate advantages for the offense over alternative formations.

  • Allows QB to stand upright, giving him the ability to see the defense more thoroughly.
  • Allows the RB to take a "North-South" path to receive the hand off.
  • Gets the ball into the hands of the RB quicker, allowing him to attack the defense more quickly.
  • Creates better angles for RB's in pass protection & blitz pick-up.
  • Prevents QB from having to turn his back to the defense to make play-action fakes.
  • Play-action becomes quicker & more effective because of the proximity of the RB to the QB. This becomes especially useful for creating space in tight areas like the red zone.

Notice that none of the benefits mentioned above have anything to do with the read option or any type of QB running plays. This is a formation that provides possible benefits for ANY offensive system.

Let's take a quick trip to the chalkboard to look at a few variations on the formation.


Here, of course we are looking only at the core of the formation, but we see 8 variations of the formation. Most of which are very similar to basic under-center looks that every NFL team runs every week. If a formation gives you the ability to improve your offense with the above advantages, without largely over-hauling the structure of your offense, of course you're going to implement it. Which is exactly why I think, the Cowboys, under the influence of "Coach Romo" will be lining up in the pistol several times a game this year.

This post is somewhat of a prequel to a series I'm planning on the read option. We'll look at the nuance underneath it, the tough spot that it puts the defense in, and my plan for how to stop it based on the approaches of different defenses in 2012.


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