What's In A Name? A Look at the Pistol

In Spanish, they call it "pistola." - Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There's been a lot of talk about the pistol this week, and while I won't claim to be an expert, I have been a fan of the pistol since the first time a saw a team run it back in 2006 or so. In fact, I have actually wanted the Texans to try it since at least 2011. After having a member of the local sports media tell me that "Pistol eliminates play action," I realized that the level of ignorance on the Pistol is high. So, what exactly is the Pistol? Well, let,s see what the guy who invented it, Chris Ault, says:

"Everybody thinks the pistol is just a read, but the pistol is a formation," he said. "And from that formation, if you're a power offense, you can run the power. If you're a counter offense, you can run the counter. It's not just a read offense. I think the read offers another dimension to it, but it's really a versatile formation."

Pistol is just lining up your QB in a "half shotgun" with the RB directly behind him, as opposed to having the RB next to the QB like in a traditional shotgun. From there you can do whatever you want. 3TEs, 4 WRs, use a FB to give you an offset I-formation look, H-back, etc. Just move the rest of the pieces around depending on available personnel.

It's not hard to see why so many people associate read option plays with the pistol. Ault and his Nevada team had their most success with a guy, whose name rhymes with Bigfoot's d***, at QB using the read option to shred defenses. The real impetus behind it though was to combine the wide open passing attack of the spread shotgun look with a power running game. More from Ault:

"There are no gimmicks in our offense," Nevada head coach Chris Ault recently explained. "When the shotgun offenses came out, I enjoyed watching those teams move the football. The thing I did not like was the idea of a running back getting the ball running east and west," he said. "We have always been a north and south running game offense."

*I highly recommend that article from Chris Brown and really all of his writing, website, books, etc. Also ,ask Shake how much I used to b**** about Jamaal Charles going East/West from the shotgun when he was at Texas.

That gives you the biggest hint why the Texans might be able to use it. In fact, if you read the rest of Brown's article, you see that the first play Ault would install every year is inside zone. Sound familiar, Texans fans? In fact, a lot of Nevada's run game uses the same zone concepts we do. Sometimes they would even use a TE or FB to seal the backside on zone runs, similar to the way Gary uses a TE (or the greatest blocking WR in history, Kevin Walter) to cut the backside DE. Inside Zone was Nevada's bread and butter play. Nevada's run game obviously had an element that the Texans doesn't--the read option.

The read option works for one simple reason.


Yep, math. Since I'm too lazy to find illustrations, the basic read option is predicated on putting a defender in a 1-on-2 situation. How do you do that? You don't block him. The easiest example is to leave a DE unblocked and force him to make a decision between the RB, who's doing the exact same thing he does on a regular inside zone call, and the QB. Crash down the line on the zone run, and the QB keeps it. Stay wide enough to stop the QB, and the RB is ripping off yards through the heart of your defense. If it works, you've effectively taken one of the defense's front seven completely out of the play.

From that, there's plenty of wrinkles you can add. A FB coming from the backside "arc blocking" around the DE to take out the LB if the LB starts scraping down to take the QB. A mid-line option reading an interior lineman as opposed to the edge defender. Inverted veer, where the RB goes outside and the QB runs inside. Of course, there's always good old fashioned play action, and plenty of other little variations you can use. All of that is designed to keep the defense honest and keep them from cheating.

That's the big secret of the read option: The QB keeping the ball is there to keep the defense from cheating too much on the play you actually want to run over and over, inside zone. Remember, a good offensive system isn't just a collection of plays, but the way those plays fit together and how they play off of each other.

Ault and other read option college coaches didn't suddenly decide that they wanted their QB running the ball 30 times a game. They did decide that with their athletic QBs they needed to find a way to use that athleticism to their advantage.

How would a team like the Texans without a mobile QB keep teams honest? Well, there's more than one way to skin a cat. A team like the Texans would simply do what they have always done--play action. The threat of a bootleg, even with slow for a white boy Matt Schaub, is enough to freeze the defense and accomplish what you want. Crash down on the zone run too hard and you're going to get burned for a big play.

A couple of other random points:

-The Wildcat is not the same as read option. The Wildcat used an unbalanced line and RB instead of a QB. Most of the guys taking the snap were only slightly more of threat passing than Schaub is running. If they could pass, they would be QBs.

-Tim Tebow was actually a not so good read option QB. He screwed up the read part fairly often. His success as a runner came on straight QB runs and scrambles

-Many read option teams use Shotgun.

-Chip Kelly DOES NOT use the pistol. Spread to run? Yes. Read option? Yes. Pistol? Nope. At least not at Oregon.

-Read option teams don't necessarily have the QB run all that often. Russell Wilson averaged less than 6 carries per game (and some of those were good old fashioned scrambles). Even in college, the number of times the QB carries the ball is less than people tend to think.

-I'm actually indifferent on the Texans using the pistol now. I do think Schaub is more comfortable out of a shotgun look, but that could be a result of the all those bad defenses early in his tenure forcing us to abandon the run to play catch up. The pistol does let you get the ball out a hair quicker, though. I'm glad they're looking at it, but if they were going to do it, I'd rather them commit to it 100% and give the D the same look on every down. At a minimum, they would need to replace all of their shotgun stuff with pistol. If it's just a package of plays, it's not really going to be much benefit in the long run.

-Never give BFD your phone number. Junk pics. All day, every day.

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