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Pistol vs Read Option

Okay - read through all the threads on the Pistol. There is confusion in the Forum.

1. Pistol = FORMATION -- The primary benefits of the formation are
a.) the run game can be highly varied from this formation,
b.) the tightness of the formation makes the run action very quick hitting, and
c.) motioning a player out of this formation (like any other motion) allows you to get a read on the defensive scheme for that play.

But it still leaves 2 players in the backfield with a huge amount of running play variation possible. Secondly, the motion man becomes a receiver (or edge blocker) like the slot receiver with a free release at the snap of the ball. The ideal motion man is a run/receiver threat - LMJ, Walker, maybe VD next year.

2. Read Option = A PLAY -- It's a simple isolation run with optionality of hand-off to the RB or keeper by the QB on the isolation target - typically the DE. This is the part that is questionable for long-term viability in the NFL. REGARDLESS, if you have a running capable QB, the very motion of the option freezes the DE and helps the RB.

The Pistol is a good formation for PLAY-ACTION PASSING because of the multiple run fakes possible, and the fact that you naturally have some protection in the backfield after the fake. BUT, it leaves fewer receivers for the perimeter. Also, the run fake transitions easily to a pocket.

The Read-Option is not so great for PLAY-ACTION PASSING because the QB has to sell the QB threat by bringing his eyes down to the DE to freeze him. This means the pass play has to be relatively simple and almost ALWAYS to the side of the read option play is going.

Almost all Play-Action has the QB take his eyes off the secondary momentarily and then coming back to a specific pass as the first read that the run fake should have helped open up. But the read option requires a longer time with eyes off the coverage.

The DEFENSIVE KEYS are different for the Pistol and Read Option from typical Pro-Style offenses. That is what makes them so problematic for a defense. They have to change their keys and instincts when facing the new style of offense. BUT, a well schooled defense obviously can defeat both.

NFL Read Option -- To me, the Pistol is just an interesting formation that can create some good plays. The bigger question is the read option's viability. To me, the Read-Option is diffent in the NFL than the typical college game. In college, the typical read-option QB is NOT a huge threat to throw the ball. By selecting only the best college players to run it at the NFL level, you really have a dual threat QB that can actually kill you with his arm - RGIII, Cam, and Kap. Other NFL QBs can run the read option just fine and pick up run yards, but lack the elite speed to make it such an outsized threat - eg Tebow, Rodgers, even Alex Smith.

IMHO, the key for the long-term viability of the read option in the NFL is to incorporate a passing threat into the QB's options after he keeps the ball.
1. A key way for the defense to kill the read option is to have the corner and safety react down to the running play to shut off the QB's run lane if he gets outside the DE.
2. But a pass threat means if the CB and/or safety over committ, then they get gouged by a pass play.

So at the NFL level, I think the read option will survive only if it becomes a triple threat - which is possible with Kap and a select few others.

The issue of QB durability and back-up QB's is a separate issue all together.
The Pistol also hides the RB in the backfield from the LB's eyes so he get a start on runs before the LB's know what direction he is going to go.
read the title
read the post



one way to avoid the eye fake problem on play action is to run a couple run plays that are handoffs outright, disguised as a read option. the QB does not have to read the DE and can keep his eyes downfield.
or have the FB kick out and undercut the DE after the fake. then off of that, run the FB into the flat by the DE.

neither of those can be big hitters, but they can set them up. and the DE will have so much to digest he may just roll into a ball and cry.


seriously it is amazing how the pistol can just eliminate a player and make the defense 10 defenders.
Good thread, I for one will admit that at times i use the fomation and / or play interchangeable .. Thansk for the knowledge
Fabulous post. Some actual good reading during the offseason for once.
The main point is the read-option is a type of play and the Pistol is an offensive formation (like shotgun) that can be used for many types of plays. When all these guys keep saying we use the read-option offense, they're talking out of their butts.
I think to some degree, it's viability will be tied to ref's interpretation. In Atlanta, their DE's covered Kap, didn't hit him. Raven's often hit him after handing off, no penalties. Will NFLs officiating attempt to continue to protect it's QBs even when their QBs engage in "increasingly dangerous play" (pistol/option)? Free shot after the QB hands off the ball or more protection for our QBs, when they get rid of the ball?
[ Edited by OldJoe on Feb 26, 2013 at 6:40 AM ]
So glad you posted this. It's been very confusing to ppl even in the media. That said, the PIstol formation we use is called the "Q" according to Roman himself. It's HIS version of the Pistol at the pro level. And it's here to stay. You can line anyone up in the Q with CK and two others next to him/around him...Hunter, Gore, James and I'd REALLY like to see more VD and esp. Jenkins next year (something the Vikings do for Harvin). It can create all sorts of mismatch-issues and confusion while helping the passing game at the same time. The read-option, once Alex leaves, you can expect to all but die.

The timing of runs out of the Q is very different and you have to really credit the OL and Gore/James for adjusting accordingly. Like mentioned before, it oculd even mean you have a James and Gore in the Q and one of them ends up being a lead blocker. You can throw Miller back there as well and use him in the run, block or pass option.
[ Edited by NCommand on Feb 25, 2013 at 10:09 AM ]
And, the QB running from the read-option PLAY is something that doesn't really happen as much as people seem to think. Everyone's gripping about the QB not lasting, but I saw a stat that showed that Kaepernick actually ran out of that play less than 3% of the time.