Understanding the Broncos’ use of the pistol alignment

A lot is being made the last couple days of the Broncos’ adoption of the “pistol offense.”  There’s a big mistake being made with most of it – they’re confusing the use of an alignment with the adoption of an offensive scheme.

Cecil Lammey (predictably) seems like he get this, calling it the pistol formation.  Most of the Twitterverse and DP-verse seems to be making more of it than what is there.

For those who don’t know what is meant by pistol alignment, it simply is a half-measure between a QB taking a snap under center, and from the traditional shotgun.  Where the shotgun has the QB seven yards deep with a running back to either side, the pistol has the QB at four yards' depth, with the RB 3-4 yards behind him.

By the way, I like the term “alignment” much better than “formation” for this conversation.  Formation is a loaded term in football, and it generally describes the alignment of all eleven players.

The main benefit of the pistol vis-à-vis the traditional shotgun is that the run game is operative to both sides of the formation.  When the RB is to one side or another of the QB, the run is almost always going to go to the other side.  That means that the defensive front can slant their get-off to that side, even as they’re primarily focused on rushing the passer against a shotgun look.  There’s an automatic hedge for the defense.

With the pistol, the run can go to either side, just the same as it can from under center.  The QB gets most of the vision and timing benefits of playing in the shotgun, without the cost of a diverse running game.

Another benefit of the pistol is that the geometry is easier for the outside zone run.  For that stretch run that Peyton Manning ran so many times in Indianapolis, he really had to take a lot of steps to get to the outside mesh point.  From the pistol, the angle of intercept is different, and fewer steps and a shorter development time are involved.

Finally, the RB can participate in the protection scheme to either side, without having to cross the face of the QB.

The morons who are talking about “running the pistol” are all wondering about Manning riding the RB into the frontside hole, and pulling the ball back out to run to the backside, like he’s Robert Griffin or something.  That’s silly, and Manning won’t be doing it.

It must be noted that some effectiveness of the pistol alignment is lost without the threat of the backside QB run, all things being equal.  Defenses are going to crash the backside DE down, not worrying about Manning’s running.

Of course, for the Broncos, all things aren’t equal, not at all.  For one thing, they’re going to play against a lot of six-man boxes, so if the sixth guy (the aforementioned backside DE) wants to crash, he’s still going against seven blockers.  The math is still in the Broncos’ favor.

The other thing the Broncos can do is throw the WR the ball quickly on the backside off of play action.  Remember the Demaryius Thomas TD against Pittsburgh last year?  That kind of action is going to have to hold a backside defender to some degree, or else Manning is going to take it for big plays.

To wrap this up, here’s the key takeaway – the Broncos are going to probably run the ball a bit from the pistol alignment.  It will be meant to declare the intention to run, and play-action will be run from it.  We should consider it to be the functional equivalent of Manning playing from under center last year, in terms of what the Broncos are using it for.  No joke – right as I wrote this, John Fox said this same thing on Sirius XM NFL Radio.  (I’ll have some notes tomorrow from the Sirius camp show.)

Let’s be smart fans, and not imagine this to be anything more than an interesting wrinkle that the team will use to try to do the same stuff they’ve been doing in a more effective way.

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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