There was a time not long ago that no football team ran plays out of the pistol formation. In fact, there was no such thing until longtime Nevada coach Chris Ault designed the formation about a decade ago.
Now the pistol is everywhere, including the Jacksonville Jaguars' playbook.
With Chad Henne first and now Blake Bortles, the Jaguars have used the pistol formation plenty, but the most successful play has been the strong left motion 3 wide pistol zone stretch — a running play that isn't easy to defend.
Bortles — the Jaguars' first-round pick in May — ran out of the pistol formation, especially with the outside zone concept, with success last week against the San Diego Chargers.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin took notice of the difference between Bortles and Henne heading the pistol.
“They do some shotgun and pistol-like plays, some quarterback keeps and zone read stuff that really slows you down a little bit defensively,” Tomlin said. “Or at the very least it makes you acknowledge some of the responsibility football associated with some of that multi-dimensional offensive attacks like that.”
As the story points out, in the pistol formation, the quarterback lines up 4 yards behind the center, which is much closer than the 7-yard setback in a traditional shotgun formation. The running back lines up 3 yards directly behind the quarterback at tailback. The pistol is used for a number of reasons: It makes the defense defend both sides of the formation. It can spread the field by formation. It can use the quarterback as a runner. It can use the quick passing game to keep defenders out of the box. It's becoming a more popular formation in the NFL because it can freeze defenses with a mix of downhill rush plays and wide-open passing from the same formation.