Every time something new is introduced to the National Football League it comes with its fair share of praise and criticism. This goes all the way back to when Bill Walsh introduced the west coast offense that is now the dominant scheme in the NFL.
When rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins opened their 2012 season with a 40-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints in the Super Dome they unveiled their version of the pistol offense including the read option. The offense was at least a one week success as the rookie Griffin in his first start carved up New Orleans for 19-26 passing for 320 yards and two touchdowns, consuming an additional 42 rushing yards.
Throughout the season several teams picked up on the pistol offense and began running read option packages. Most notably the Seattle Seahawks with rookie quarterback Russel Wilson and the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers with Colin Kaepernick.
Throughout the season and thus far this offseason many coaches such as Rob Ryan and Aaron Rodgers have been outspoken that this style of offense is just a fad and it will go away.
It appears opponents are either jealous because they do not have the ability to run such a scheme, or scared because they haven’t the slightest idea of how to stop it.
The pistol formation is just getting started in the NFL and after its success in its first season it won’t be going away anytime soon. In the years to come the pistol formation and read option will be as prevelant and frequent as we see the play action pass.
While defensive coordinators are scrambling to try and find a way to stop the pistol formation, offensive coordinators are collecting players that fit into the evolving system, putting them one step ahead.
The most dangerous and misunderstood thing about the pistol formation is that it is the Redskins base offense, or that whenever in the pistol the read option is the only play being called. Both of those are false, as the Redskins showed with Kirk Cousins during the time Griffin was injured the Redskins base offense is a normal pro style offense with the pistol mixed in.
The beauty of the pistol formation is that not only is the read option available from the formation, but so is just about every single run and pass play in the playbook can be run from that formation. Many running backs prefer running out of the pistol because they like to get the ball in their hands as quickly as possible in order to get their eyes up the field to read blocks.
So far the best option the defenses have come up with so far is to hit and punish the quarterback as much an often as possible to try and get the mobile quarterbacks out of the game. That certainly was the only way anyone could stop Robert Griffin III last season on his way to rookie of the year. I wouldn’t consider that a very popular option with the way the NFL protects its star quarterbacks and in the wake of the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.
Had Griffin stayed healthy there was little doubt that the Redskins would have possibly made it as far as the NFC Championship game, the unfortunate injury ended the streak in the first round of the playoffs but once Griffin is back to full speed I expect big things from Washington in 2013.
The introduction of this scheme and philosophy should not have come as a surprise. More and more college teams have moved to spread offenses and almost all of them have a read option in their system. And the teams that have historically run a “pro” style offense such as the Universities of Tennessee and Michigan are moving into more of a spread attack. Eventually we had to know that the style would matriculate into the NFL, and I think it’s here to stay, and soon every team will have a version of the pistol.