Why The Pistol is not a fad

Why The Pistol is not a fad | Chris Schisler | July 2, 2013



The pistol, the zone read and its variations are all here to stay in the NFL. These offensive philosophies have long been part of the college game. Now with more mobile quarterbacks than ever before it’s caught fire in the NFL. The idea is quite simple: to maximize all the talents of multidimensional quarterbacks. This “new” style of football is here to stay and is not a fad. Sure teams will get better at defending it. This argument is weak. Defenses have been exposed to conventional pro-style offenses for years and the pro-style offenses are still effective. And for the love of all things good do not compare the pistol offense with the wildcat. In the wildcat a runningback takes the snap and has 10 blockers. The wildcat is a one trick pony. The pistol may have more players in the backfield but it has no similarity to the wildcat offense. The pistol, the zone read and everything that comes with young mobile quarterbacks is here to stay.

It is important to note what the pistol and the zone read are. In the pistol the quarterback is half the distance from the center that he would be in the shotgun. A running back is typically directly behind him, with another back (often a tight end) to either side of the quarterback. The zone read is a simple way to avoid bad plays. The result of the play is determined by what the outside defender does. If the defensive end crashes inside the quarterback keeps the ball and runs outside. If the defensive end stays out the runningback will receive the handoff and will run under (inside) the defensive end. It is a simple play that works. The defense tells the quarterback what to do and the quarterback does it essentially.

I am not against quarterbacks who can run. I am against quarterbacks who can’t throw and defend on their legs. It works in the SEC, but the SEC is not the NFL. Before I get SEC fans (who are typically crazy biased) upset, may I ask why Timothy Tebow was not successful in the NFL. The moral of the story is that running quarterbacks who cannot throw do not work on football Sundays. Pass-first quarterbacks with the ability to run; now that’s a different story. If you have a quarterback who can beat the defense two ways why limit him to one? The key to the pistol/ zone read offenses in the NFL is that the quarterbacks are good passers. If the quarterback cannot pass you can compare it to the wildcat- an offensive strategy that I loathe.

Speed kills on both sides of the ball. Anything the offense can do to slow down or make the defenders job more complex is good for the offense. The zone read drives defensive ends crazy, especially in 4-3 defenses. The defensive end is taught to choose the running back against this offense. They are also taught to keep outside contain. These are two conflicting assignments and it creates confusion for the defender. The mere act of making a decision feeds into the offenses hands. This play is an incredible equalizer to the outside pass rusher. Also there is more going on in the backfield. With the use of motions from backs in the backfield the pistol is a way to confuse the defense. The runningback is behind the quarterback and is harder to see. This allows for very efficient hand offs and behooves attempts at trickery. These offensive elements set up big plays on the ground which sets up big plays through the air.

Critics of the system say defensive ends will be taught to hit the quarterback and that will end the fad. I don’t see this as a problem to the offense. The more aggressive you are in a zone-read play towards the quarterback the more success you set up for the runningback. Injuries are always a concern for running quarterbacks. This does not mean that we should limit that part of the QB’s game. It means we need to coach the quarterback how to reduce the frequency of being hit while running the football.

This is not a fad. It is here to stay.


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