Eagles Add Pistol To Toolbox For 2014


Chip Kelly believes his job is to provide players with answers.

If he hasn’t armed them with solutions to their on-field problems, he has come up short as a coach.

Last year, there were many answers as the Eagles had one of the top offenses in the league, setting franchise records in points, yards and a number of other categories. There were occasions, though, where opposing defensive coordinators stymied the Birds’ attack.

So the offseason has been about adding layers to the offense. The foundation remains the same: spread ’em out and run the ball until the opponent forces you to do something else. But there will be new wrinkles added in 2014. Some might be obvious in four days when the Eagles host the Jaguars. We might not see others until November or later, depending on the rhythm of the season.

Either way, it seems likely that one of the wrinkles revealed itself in the preseason: the pistol.

The fine folks over at The ChipWagon have done a lot of the legwork on this topic. While the starters were on the sideline in the preseason finale, the backups picked up 44 yards on eight carries out of the pistol.

“Yeah, we showed those in earlier games,” Kelly said afterwards. “When the back is not offset from the quarterback, you can run plays in either direction. But we’ve run that a couple other times in the preseason. It’s something that’s always been in for us.”

The pistol is not a play, but a formation. Here’s a look from the Eagles’ final preseason game against the Jets:


As you can see, the back is stationed directly behind the quarterback, not off to the side as is the norm in the Eagles’ offense.

“It’s just a different formation,” said guard Evan Mathis. “It’s a different alignment for the back and the quarterback. It’s good not to always do the same thing, so it’s just a changeup.”

Added Nick Foles: “It’s a formation that the defense has to look at and prepare for, and you can do a lot of different things out of it. It’s just one of our formations that we like.”

The pistol was created by former Nevada head coach (and current consultant with the Kansas City Chiefs) Chris Ault.

“Everybody thinks the pistol is just a read, but the pistol is a formation,” Ault told the San Jose Mercury News in 2013. “And from that formation, if you’re a power offense, you can run the power. If you’re a counter offense, you can run the counter. It’s not just a read offense. I think the read offers another dimension to it, but it’s really a versatile formation.”

Versatile. That’s a word Kelly loves. Yet for years, observers confused what his Oregon teams did with what Ault and other teams were doing. Before the 2013 Fiesta Bowl, Kelly was asked about the pistol.

“Don’t know. Haven’t been there,” he said. “Don’t run the pistol offense. That’s not what we do.”

“Chris Ault at Nevada invented the pistol offense. Just retired. Great football coach out there. There’s lots of ways to play football. Pistol, don’t know that very well. We’re more of a spread run team.”

Of course, as @ByAJRodriguez points out, while Oregon wasn’t a pistol offense, they did show pistol looks at times.

Eagles players used mostly vague terms Tuesday when discussing the pistol. Most agreed that it was part of the arsenal last year, yet no one could remember it ever being used in a game.

So why does Kelly think it can help the Eagles now?

“The broad sense of the term is that when you’re in the shotgun, defensive players have a lot more tipoff on the plays that you can get, just based on the running back’s alignment,” said Jason Kelce. “When you’re in pistol, it makes it a little bit more difficult for the defense to be able to get pre-snap reads on where the ball is going.

“Whenever you’re in formations, whether it’s putting a tight end right or a receiver left, that gives the defensive players tips on certain plays that we’re gonna run because everybody has tendencies to run certain plays out of certain formations. So when the back is offset, it’s a little different. Now when the back’s directly behind the quarterback, that tips off a lot less. There might be certain plays you like out of pistol, and then all of a sudden, you’re tipping stuff off with that as well. But it’s just another tool that offensive coordinators, I think, try to use in order to not tip too much off to the defense.”

Kelly loves talking about tools in the toolbox. We know the foundation of the Eagles’ offense is the inside zone. In the run game, there is also the split zone, the outside zone and the sweep.

It appears the Eagles are adding the pistol as another tool in 2014.

“For the defense, it limits their prediction of where the ball might go, where they could overload strengths because of the back to that side,” said quarterback Matt Barkley. “The back can go in either direction, including in pass pro… he can go either way. I think it just enhances the offense’s ability to remain ambiguous with their play-calls.”

Added Darren Sproles: “It’s good, because for me, behind the quarterback, they can’t see me. So it’s always good for me. Then when the line raises up, they don’t know where we’re at.”

The name pistol was given to the formation because the quarterback is generally closer to the line of scrimmage than when he’s in the shotgun. The standard pistol depth has been cited as 4 yards. But that’s not how the Eagles seem to be running it. As you can see in the above picture, the quarterback is 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. That’s the same depth Eagles quarterbacks set up at on traditional shotgun snaps.

The running back, meanwhile, is at a depth of 7 yards. What makes this a pistol look is that he is directly 2 yards behind the quarterback.

“The defense doesn’t know what side the back’s on, and plus they can’t see you so by the time you’re getting to their level, you’re already full speed,” said running back Chris Polk. “So the spacing and separation of pistol, it works perfectly just to time it. …We get a running start, and we get the ball sooner.”

The guess here is that the pistol will be another option the Eagles can turn to in the run game (and for play-action). It might not appear every week or even in the early part of the season. But when Kelly’s looking for a switch-up that will keep the defense from guessing and sniffing out the offense’s foundation plays, he now has something else to go to.

“Offensively, they’re just trying to disguise what they’re doing,” said rookie nose tackle Beau Allen. “So as a defense, you want to try to get as many pre-snap keys as you can, especially as a defensive lineman. …Any kind of change they can make to disguise their offense is a good thing.”

Added backup center David Molk: “Like everything in football, the offense is trying to outsmart the defense. And that’s all we’re doing. Changing a look. Changing the perception of what they think it is, and giving us the upper hand.”

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  • ridusofreid

    F**kin’ score points. What’s your plan?

  • PhillySean

    Release the hounds.

  • PaoliBulldog

    pistol works best when your qb is a threat to run — right?

    • Say No to Marc Mo From Easton

      Yea, so does Chip Kelly’s entire offense.

      Enter Nick Foles.

      • PaoliBulldog

        Oh I expect CK to figure something out. It’s a wrinkle. But it would be fun to have a third string qb who *is* a running threat and roll him out thre once in a while.

        • jpate

          Enter Brad Smith.

          But honestly I hope he does not enter as a QB.

        • Andy Six Score and Four

          No, playing someone who’s not your best quarterback, at quarterback, is never fun. Unless it’s in mop-up time.

    • Kleptolia

      It’s nice to have a running QB in Pistol (see: Kaepernick) but it’s not obligatory, particularly with a healthy wide receiver screen game. If it’s a read play, the QB can pull the ball and throw out to the edge,sort of like a long option pitch.
      Chris Ault used it as more of a power running game, with zone read principles. It was actually more of a ball-control offense, the way he ran it.
      At Oregon, Chip used it in conjunction with the spread. He’d have a tight end in the formation with 3 receivers and the QB an RB in Pistol. The neat thing about that Jets game is that he used 2 TEs.
      It was strange: he’d use it a LOT in one game and then it would all but disappear after that.
      I always wondered what he saw in a defense that would prompt him to suddenly pull out Pistol again.

      • Corey Dawson

        Probably a tendancy to overload the playside when he gave away what it was or something along those lines. Spread it out and run the ball (the way you want to) until they force you to do something different, right?

    • cheapmeat.mariota.crackwh0re

      Speculation, but FOles’ strength in the pistol may be his size.

  • sprawl

    The hidden-Sproles formation:

    “It’s good, because for me, behind the quarterback, they can’t see me.”

  • OverreacSean Jackson, #culture

    Awhile back a poster and I were discussing how disgusting it’d be if the Iggs added the pistol. Where is that poster? We gotta finish that convo.

  • NickS, Combine Warrior

    Instead of toolbox, maybe we should call it Chip’s Holster. Dude’s always prepped for a shootout.

  • Andy Six Score and Four

    I love having that in the toolbox holster. (Great formation in the NCAA games).
    The base stays the same, because we break some big plays by telling them where we’re going and letting them over-react. But when things aren’t going our way, this is a great way to change up the rythm and swing things back our way.

    It’s also another pebble on the mountain of information overload we burden the defense with while running the hurry up. Another factor forcing the defense to stay basic. We’re running shotgun with the offset back in the hurry up, bam, bam, bam and then the next play we’re in the pistol and they have about 2 or 3 seconds to recognize, process and react. Makes them think, which makes them play slow.

    I don’t expect to see it a lot, but it’ll be there when we need it.

    • NickS, Combine Warrior

      “It’s also another pebble on the mountain of information overload we burden the defense with while running the hurry up.” It’s this reason that, until it actually happens consistently to prove it, I don’t think DCs will ever fully catch up. As long as Chip has the QB to execute it, like a Payton/Brees setup, I just don’t see it.

      • Cyrus Robinson

        I think Shady running full speed at the line in the 4th quarter from the pistol is going to score some points.

        • NickS, Combine Warrior

          Probably. Not like he needed any help being a 4th quarter monster.

      • Jay Kalinowski

        Well, Peyton and the Broncos actually run plays out of the Pistol…

  • Corey Dawson

    I’m pretty good with x’s and o’s, but I’m not clear on the rules of motioning pre-snap. Is there anything in those rules preventing the back from doing a short motion forward a yard and left/right a yard to quickly turn this pistol formation into the base singleback we run the inside zone out of? I think I remember something about motion only being allowed to be horizontal. Or is it allowed to be vertical as long as there’s a full 1 second reset, like when wideouts switch who’s on the line of scrimage?

    If so, this could be a simple way for Foles to read the D, judge if the lined up incorrectly or overloaded one side, then just shift to the singleback with the playside being to whatever side he deems weaker. It takes away the option to run an unbalanced line in those situations, and would probably have to be run out of symetrical sets to be most effective, but could be beneficial.

    • Bert’s Bells
      • Corey Dawson

        Thanks a ton. Looks like what I’m thinking is fine as long as the motion is not abrupt and the rb, since he motioned forward, resets for a full second before the snap.

        Thanks both of you.

    • Andy Six Score and Four

      As long as the forward motion isn’t sudden, simulating the snap, in which case it’d be called a false start. But forward is fine as long as there’s the 1-second reset as you said.

      Happens all the time. QB moves from shotgun to under center. WR moves from off the line to on the line because motion left him uncovered, etc.

      • Jay Kalinowski

        That kind of motion happens before the offense comes set, once the snap count starts it can only be horizontal movement from someone that is not set on the line. The only forward “motion” I’ve seen is when a running back motions to the line then horizontal to a WR or end spot. The WR stepping off and another stepping up all happen before the set and snap count, to shift before the one “off” goes in motion. Offensive “shifting” is different from “motion” because the shift happens pre-snap count and can be any number of people, whereas motion is used to get one player into special position to block or get a good receiving matchup and to get the defense to show man/zone/coverage during the snap count.

        • Andy Six Score and Four

          Cool. But I was certainly envisioning a shift type scenario from the OP.

  • Kevin

    FWIW I found this FishDuck video showing Chip using the pistol at Oregon with Josh Huff lined up as the running back. Oregon double stacked the WRs on the outside and had them execute WR screen movements after the snap and ran an inside zone with Huff

    • cliff h-MOAR white goons

      cant wait to see Eagles run this. almost have to let Huff run it. cant leave shady or sproles 1v1 on outside, that’s not poison, that’s simply 6

      • Will, Always Shady in CA

        Instead WRs I can see us using TEs to block on those potential bubble screens. On the possibilities off this one look. :D

    • OverreacSean Jackson, #culture

      Back in the day I would watch Oregon for the same reason everybody else did: they fast, they score, they fun to watch. I wish I had known about the reads and FishDuck back then. It would have been so much more fun to watch.

    • All Things Bad@ss

      I’ve watched many of these short videos since CK was announced as our coach. You can’t help but run these videos back to back and marvel at how he’s constantly scheming, changing and evolving. I’m 37 now and have been a lifelong, die-hard fan ; I can’t remember ever being quite this excited about Eagles football and what I’m gonna witness on any given Sunday. CK still has a lot to prove, but the excitement level is through the roof.