The Shotgun is Working: Time to Send the Pistol Packing?

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials

The Oregon offense used to be a source of great enjoyment for Duck fans, while currently it has created a bit of angst among the faithful. My friends, there is too much to unwrap from that Fresno State game, but I must say that there have been astute comments below this article and this one that relay the feelings of most. I am displeased on so many levels on tons of items that I’ve decided to gradually cover things over the course of the season. Let’s start with Pistol formation and how it did against Fresno State versus the Shotgun.

I understand that most would look at the title and immediately react with a “yes,” but as a harsh critic in the past I am now wondering, should Coach Mario Cristobal send the Pistol Packing?”

My primary criticism of the Pistol is how Oregon telegraphed in advance that a “Pistol-Plunge” in the A-Gap was impending, since the formation is used for little else. It was predictable as Oregon only ran a few plays from it. Opposing linebackers could simply watch where the heads of the offensive linemen move at the beginning of the play to know what was coming, and since the running back was so deep, the linebackers had time to plug the gap.

If the Pistol play is to be an Inside Zone play, then the helmets of the Oregon offensive linemen are moving forward; if an Outside Zone or Stretch play, the linemen take a quick jab step in the direction the play is, and thus the head is jerking to that side. On a pass play, the O-Linemen would have their head come up as they shift backward for pass protection.

See how easy that is? The opposing defense can tell in milliseconds what the play is the majority of the time out of the Pistol. Now if a hack like Mr. FishDuck can figure that out…

(Note to all; the videos this week are herky-jerky, but you can still see it all. It is a tech issue I am figuring out this week.)

Let’s look at the short video above demonstrating how the Pistol formation Inside Zone play got stuffed, but when Oregon moved to the Shotgun formation Inside Zone–it scored both times almost easily. I just love the Zone Blocking where two offensive linemen will root out one defender, with one O-Lineman peeling off to nail a linebacker. Sweet blocking that I give great credit to Coach Cristobal for as it makes my Ol’ offensive lineman’s heart sing to see that.

In the fourth quarter when Oregon had to score, I got pretty excited to see the Inside Zone play being run for so many yards out of the Shotgun. You can see that in the video above. Yet later the Ducks ran the Inside Zone play out of the Pistol and also did well in the video above. That surprised me, and the only explanation I have is that the defense was wearing down from the blocking–even when they know what the play is in advance.

Why Keep or Discard the Pistol?

The final touchdown by Anthony Brown was a triple option out of the Pistol, and not only can that be done out of the Shotgun, the Ducks did it superbly ten years ago. (And teams are running this Shotgun play currently) The three options are an Inside Zone play, with a Speed-Double Option to the outside and again–this does not have to be done out of the Pistol, but perhaps this was a surprise the Bulldog defense wasn’t ready for late in the game?

My point is–every play can be run out of the Shotgun extremely well, even the muscle plays such as the Inside Zone Read that Cristobal loves out of the Pistol. When you run everything out of one formation–it is impossible to guess the plays, whereas now the defenses have clues to the upcoming play. Since the most basic and powerful play such as the Inside Zone can be run so well out of the Shotgun as we learned recently from last year’s Pac-12 Championship game, and the Fresno State game–why not just go with the Shotgun formation for everything?

Scott Kelley

Travis Dye and Anthony Brown vs. Fresno State.

Yet a competing opinion would offer how lots of coaches use multiple formations and looks, as even Chip Kelly had the Bruins in the Shotgun, the Pistol and even snapping from under center at times. Is this due to a game plan or simply a function of the style of each coach?

Because….it is about CULTURE

For many fans, the Pistol is a symbol of the low-scoring plodding offense and the loss of what was enjoyed in the past. It is quite possible that for Cristobal, the Pistol formation is a symbol of his mentality of being physical, tough and winning the line of scrimmage. Perhaps it is symbolic of the culture he is trying to instill?

I will state up front that I believe everything can be done in the Shotgun, and even more successfully than the Pistol. But I do like the occasional short Pistol formation used in 2014 at Oregon, and I do like taking snaps behind the center for QB sneaks or short yardage plays inside the five yard line as Nick Saban does. Share your Pistol and Shotgun thoughts because…

“Oh, how we love to ponder about Our Beloved Ducks!”

Charles Fischer   (Mr. FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon
Top Photo by Scott Kelley

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