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

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials 64 Comments

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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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For Football Season: FishDuck Back to Seven Days a Week!

I had to shut down the daily articles on July 20th because I could no longer work the extra 3 to 12 hours per week of certain managerial/editorial duties. (beyond the usual ones with FishDuck)

I’ve had a blast writing without those duties, and now, due to a new agreement with the writers, I can announce that we will have articles seven days a week again. I wish to thank the writers publicly for their graciousness in coming to a solution, as now I still do not have do those extra duties with our agreement, and meanwhile the writers are back having fun creating articles as I am.

Everybody is happy! So below is the new schedule through football season:

Monday: Mr. FishDuck
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A couple of writers could not join us as they have new projects in their lives, and cannot write for anyone at the moment–but perhaps we will see them back later.

Things rarely work out so well for all parties in agreements, but this time it has and truly….everyone wins!

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Wish I could say I was happy that I won the prediction challenge, but my prediction was just an indicator that I have lost confidence that Mario is going to realize his shortfalls and get this offense turned around and scoring more than 33/game.

As far as the analysis here…..great work. Tape doesn’t lie and I am guessing there is boatloads of this kind of video showing the phone booth being out of order over the past three years.

One thing I noticed right away on the first pistol plunge…..the one that got stuffed….is that the right tackle was way out of position from the jump. He was lined up too far to the right and the DT stepped right into the gap between him and the right guard and was immediately in the backfield. So definitely some poor execution on that side but then there was also the LB coming straight down hill and untouched on the left and he was immediately in the backfield too. So two defenders running downhill into the backfield pretty much right off the snap.

The point with that observation is why no play action, with a dump over the top?


I mean they the coach’s have to see this and adjust to it and when they do it out of the shotgun formation they succeed more than they don’t. So film doesn’t lie and my prediction is Oregon goes to OS and shocks the world or the Football world.

Coach Eric Boles

The longest run of the game was from the Pistol! Lol.


Great point, it isn’t the fault of the pistol, it’s the one pulling the trigger and aiming the weapon. I don’t mean to get political the weapon isn’t killing our offense.


Charles and or other experts, what is the difference between the pistol and the power I formations?

David Marsh

I believe the difference is where the quarterback is… In the pistol the quarterback is where they would be in the shotgun.

The I-formation has the quarterback under center and taking a direct snap.

I would take the power I-formation.over the pistol in truth. The mesh point for the quarterback and the running back is a lot closer to the line of scrimmage and would be more of that power run game MC wants.

The pistol has the mesh point at the same place as it would be in the shotgun. Only the running back has to run to reach the mesh where in the shotgun the mesh can happen as soon as the quarterback gets the ball.

The pistol is supposed to allow the running back to have more downhill power as he gets the ball off a running start and hits the hole created by the offensive line moving faster… Which can be true but the backs at Oregon aren’t quite that fast.

However, instead we often get the opposing defense crashing down on us… The i-formation would be better.

David Marsh

In the end… A better formation than what the pistol is currently giving us.

David Marsh

The suspension was about a month .. granted it only covered one game. They lost all of camp and we’re isolated from the rest of the team.

Not sure if I like it either though. We will have to see what the outcome of their trial is which is on the 8th.


The integrity, strength of character and high moral standard Cristobal looks for in recruits was not on display here. Graduating fine adults seems to be a goal too. I was surprised this happened knowing what is expected. Being isolated from the team can be impactful, however.

Without looking them in the eye to see if they understood the impact on their reputations and that of the team, I am armchair coaching. That is why he gets the big bucks!

Having them available for Ohio State might have put a thumb on the scale.

I am surprised it only included camp and one game

Time will tell.


Once again that team up north is the team that keeps on giving. As uninspiring as the win for the Ducks over Fresno State State was. The Husky Honks are having a tough time digesting their teams putrid performance in their loss to Montana.

7 points on a 1 yard run early in the 1st quarter, ended up with 65 yards rushing for the game, 291 total offense. They actually outgained Montana, 291-232, and lost anyway. Montana picked off Washington 3 times, including the last one to kill a game ending drive with :41 on the clock.

As always, the purple people think every year is 1991, when apparently they won a championship. So this one is rough on them. They saw the Ducks struggle against Fresno State, and were lapping it up, “Overrated!” they barked. But now they’re chasing their tails worrying about going into the Big House next Saturday, on the prime time game on ABC against Michigan, who beat, Western Michigan, 47-14 last week.

Oh how we love to laugh at the Uskies.

David Marsh

I saw some of their fans saying that the grizzlies we’re a better team than Fresno and would beat Fresno handily.

If you follow this logic Montana should be national champions because they beat Washington. Which I guess is about right as they think they should be playing for a national championship every year.


Obviously the Huskies were cleverly Holding Things Back. All the better to unload the full playbook on Michigan.


Great analysis Fishduck. The Dye td from the shotgun was so easier than the pistol plunge td by CJ. It does give us reason to ponder the thinking of MC…

I don’t think we were holding anything back on offense. This is our offense. As mentioned by others, you don’t run a new offense on 1 week practice against a top 5 opponent on the road! And it looked and smelled like the Fiesta bowl offense.

CJ ran only 7x in 1st half? That will change next week. Do we use Dye out of shotgun more and CJ from the pistol?
The option from the pistol was brilliant, but that only works if you use the pistol a lot. Look for tOSU to be ready for that.

If we held anything back,, it was the passing game. Only 3 deep pass attempts, that better increase next week.

Brown was off on many passes, short, wide, low (one glanced off a players helmet!) He has to sharpen up.
It was 700 days since AB last started a football game, he may have been a little tight, wanting to do too much. This week will show us what to expect this year from him and the team.

Win or lose, I want to see improvement in O-line blocking, especially pass protection, I want to see better use of our TE’s and some more accurate throws. And hopefully a run game that’s more effective, whether it’s pistol or shotgun.


No Mathis, but Funa is listed as starting.

And I just noticed, Jamal Hill and D.J. James are both listed. So, I guess we know the outcome of all that.

David Marsh

I took a look and without doing side by side comparrison.. there seemed to be fewer “or”s on this week’s chart.

Could there be some settling in terms of personnel? I hope so… having a lot of ors seems like a good thing, or it is with camp but it feels like they need a more firmly established first and second team.


At this level of football, can a coach “hold things back”? I would love to think that Mario is playing 11-dimensional chess and hiding the brilliant plays we will see against the Buckeyes. But, how could that possibly work to any significant degree?

Putting in a whole new set of plays that you’ve never run “live” before against the #4 team in the country in their stadium just doesn’t seem sane. But, neither does doing the same failed things over and over.

I am beyond puzzled by the sight of smart people repeatedly doing seemingly dumb things.


Is there evidence he hid anything the last few years? The only difference I recall was Herbert used his legs when it really counted, but that was on Herbert to decide. I agree, we’ve seen the playbook. But maybe I’m missing evidence to the contrary.


Not sure why anyone thinks Oregon was “holding something back”… seems obvious that this is who they are on offense.

It’s exactly what we saw last year… didn’t work then and it won’t work now.

When you run the ball 67% of the time and it’s not the 1960’s it’s because your chosen QB isn’t a thrower….and AB isn’t a thrower.

This team running this offense in Columbus next weekend will get blown up….Saturday will be a start drinking early day.

This team has the players but the scheme doesn’t fit them and they’re all on the bench…..with all due respect to AB, CJ, Travis, JJIII and Redd I’d really like to see the younger guys who I suspect are just better.

Minus major player changes and a new “throw the ball down the field” offense I don’t see this going well….and a couple of early loses and MC will be feeling the heat….and he should. Stubborn’s OK when you’re right…when you’re wrong not so much.


What if im still drunk from All the pistol plunges the last game…ugh!

Triphibius O. Fowle

Three observations:

  1. Ditto Mudslide. I saw OSU run the pistol effectively against Minnesota on Thursday night.
  2. Oregon did gain considerable yardage in the fourth quarter running through the A gaps. Of course, it would nice if the running plays had worked in the previous three quarters, too. I noticed that on some of these plays Jaromillo was at left guard. Perhaps the warm day and Oregon’s depth made the difference?
  3. Although they are not the most impressive physical specimens, perhaps our guards and center are just better linemen, and hence it makes sense to run plays behind them. I vaguely remember the PFF rankings last year looking better for them than the tackles.

For the record, I share the misgivings expressed by many others about what we saw Saturday. This is just for the sake of balanced comment.

Duckn Diego

I get the idea of not wanting to show our hand to Ohio State.

What I don’t get is why we have to play so vanilla that any defensive coordinator can pin their ears back when they see us in certain offensive sets because they know what we are going to run. How many times in the last 4 years have we gained less than 2 yards on 4th down? I bet it’s over 80%………..because it’s the same play over and over and the defense knows it.

I get the fact that Cristobal wants to establish his brand of physical football.

What I don’t get is why he believes a physical brand of football has to be so predictable. Last I checked, most teams in the SEC play a physical brand of football…………..but none are as predictable as we are. There was a time when we led the Pac-12 in rushing for +/- 10 years……….by designing running plays all over the field….not by running in the “A” gap.

Is it more important to not show our hand to an upcoming opponent…………or is it more important to head into a game loaded with confidence because we just destroyed our previous opponent…….. even if the next opponent knows knows much of what we are going to run against them?

I would argue the latter 100% of the time! If we are confident in our talent level……………..confident in our coordinators…………..why are we playing this game of cat and mouse with our upcoming opponent. Let the boys play ball and may the best team win.


Well said, Duckn Diego…..MC has made enormous success in recruiting and creating a strong culture, but the play calling is idiotic and all of the talk about physicality is silly.

MC has hired an experienced OC and recruited a large group of talented receivers, but he is squandering these riches.

How many seasons will he last if he is in the top ten in recruiting and he continues to fall short in games like the Fiesta Bowl against Iowa State?


My metric I want to see is the qb sneak, and then I will know Cristobal has shifted, or, at least somebody else is having an impact on the plays being called. The whole idea of Cristobal trying to sneak something is the antithesis of what defines him, now.

My thought is Cristobal had control of the play calls against Fresno. ‘We don’t need to trick these guys at all,’ and so we saw Cristoball.

When we see the RPO it is Moorhead taking complete control, but the true shift will be seeing something different on short yardage. This seems to be when Cristobal puts the short leash on play calling.

This is why I look for a qb sneak as the ultimate indicator Cristobal trusts Moorhead, and is willing to be creative. Two years ago we had a pass to DJ Johnson on short yardage and that was stunning. I looked forward to being shocked again, but I am not counting on it.

David Marsh

The pistol plunge phone booth is where the running back is just as likely to be tripped up by his own team as by the other team.

Autzen Magic

Last year the RPO was a staple of the O. I only remember seeing it once on Saturday and it was unsuccessful. Saving it for later? Or is it no longer preferred?

David Marsh

Holding something back? I think they are holding everything back.

I think we saw the offense they’d want to use in an opening game against an FCS school… Not a school that is in the hunt for mountain west conference championship.

I am really holding out hope the game plan was to put nothing on film.

However, let’s get real…. Moorhead has plenty of film on his offense out there and so does DeRuyter’s defense. How much new stuff could they possibly hide?


I have to wonder what conversations the coaches are having while analyzing the tape of the Pistol formation short yardage runs getting stuffed yet again??…Hey Coach, if only Verdell hadn’t been hit two yards behind the line of scrimmage he would still be running.

It’s like hearing your over served buddy tell the same dumb joke to everybody he meets. It wasn’t funny the first time, and certainly not funny the tenth time.

Time to get some new material.

David Marsh

The final score of the game was successful because it was unusual. I didn’t notice the triple option component but I’m not sure Fresno did either.

This is what I saw… It’s 4th and 2 … And Oregon is in the flipping pistol. You know what is coming next.

It was a shock to see Brown keep it for fans and the Fresno State players alike.

The offense on display on Saturday seemed to be lacking stuff we saw last year and the spring game. I am hoping the coaches are just holding way too much back to try and surprise Ohio State… Or they and everyone else is looking ahead to Ohio State and didn’t focus on Fresno State.


Superb analysis as always. I’ve learned more from this site than by watching countless games listening to a high paid analyst over decades. Thank you, Charles!

J Duck

The results speak for themselves. Use the pistol occasionally to throw them off, but as noted in comments below the teams winning championships only use it here and there. Getting the rushing numbers above 200 ypg will indeed be needed for a team to score 45 ppg which those winning teams do. Of more concern is the passing numbers…those need to be up there too. We have the talent, it’s on the coaches for those little techniques, but also the overall scheme.

If the D gives up 24 ppg to a MWC team, we better be scoring 45+ if we plan to make the playoffs. I think DeRuyter will get them in shape as we move ahead, and the turnover thing is a wonderful thing to see again! That will be huge. Decreasing the pistol will be huge too

David Marsh

Not making excuses… But it will be interesting to see how much success some of the teams that are not recruiting hot spots do this year because of being able to maintain most of last year’s roster of seniors.

So many programs need to develop players and those players peak at their senior year and then they are gone and usually not to the NFL but just done with football.

But if those players have a second senior year they will probably play at their ceiling for another year with all that experience. The extended scholarships have probably helped lower tier teams more than the top. The top teams saw the same turnover as normal… But a team like Frank State got an extra year with their best players. That is something that will be interesting to watch… For years to come because it effects the whole roster in terms of development.


The ability to run more plays and not have the “tell” blocking of the pistol plunge makes the shotgun formation preferable.

The key to good running is getting into the linemen’s feet quickly – reading the hole (vision) – and accelerating . The shotgun gets the RB to the hole quicker. The short pistol did that in 2014. LaMichael James did this so well!

Thanks for your analysis Charles!


P.S. RB should arrive in the hole as it is beginning to open. Arriving later the defense is rallying to the ball.

Until they start running for 250+ against lesser opponents and 200+ Average overall, they won’t be a championship team. Especially not throwing for at least 300.

When your QB has more runs than pass attempts you’re not a good offense.

The whole offense looked suspect. Across the board. Let’s hope they were holding back for this Saturday or it’s going to be ugly


Does anybody see the pistol at Clemson? Bama? Ohio State? Oklahoma?

Exactly. It’s gotta go away. Like Mr. Fishduck says, LBs have all day to plug the gap and even shed a few blocks on the way to the A gap when the RB is a mile away to start the play. Geesh.

On the contrary, watching the Georgia and ND offense was like watching Bama 2012. If it wasn’t for the Bulldog D line, they would have lost 3 zip. Haha.



Clemson, Bama, tOSU, OK all use the pistol.


I’m NOT offering push-back to your premise, Charles. I’m correcting an inaccurate statement by Quackanadian. Read his post again. Those teams do indeed use the pistol….although certainly not to the extent that the Ducks do.


No problem, Charles. I agree with your assertion regarding scoring average, by the way. And how, oh how do the Ducks get there? We’ll see. I still have this much >< hope that MC will loosen the reins on JM’s offense. They surely will open it up next Saturday. That is what it will take to beat tOSU .. or .. the Ducks will be playing catch up all day and will still have to open the playbook. Either way, we should see less of those gawd awful A gap pistol plunges. (Here’s hoping.)

If not tomorrow…never under MC.


Cool. Thanks for the reply.


We’ll see next week how FS plays vs UCLA if the LSU game was an outlier.


Great analysis!
The subtle head movements are a “TELL” that coaches on the field or in the box will coach their kids up to react to. I do miss the formations that Chip and Mark used to disguise what was coming and confuse defenses to out-scheme their opponents.

After watching highlights of the UCLA Vs.LSU game, there is a different philosophy. Pulling linemen to lead block, or pulling the entire o-line one direction to hit a free tight end in the flat was effective. Cristobal and Mirabel could effective coach these bigger, athletic and higher ranked recruits to do the same. Big, smashmouth, tough, physical linemen are great to have, I would not want it any other way!

Adding some proven techniques to there schemes would be a welcomed sight. If it is not successful, change back. Mario is a stubborn man!