Read the title again. It says that Washington should keep operating out of the pistol, not necessarily only run zone-read option plays. Many people confuse the pistol offense with the zone-read, using them interchangeably, but they are two very different concepts.
The pistol is a formation where the running back lines up behind the quarterback instead of next to him, unlike a regular shotgun position. Washington utilized this formation often in 2012, partly because it helps keep defenses off balance – not just to run zone-read plays.
Offensively, Washington was very effective last season, largely due to the hocus-pocus play calling and design. They led the league in rushing yards per game (169.3) and yards per play (6.17) and were 4th in points per game (27.2). Quarterback Robert Griffin III averaged 8.14 yards per pass attempt, leading the league, again due to the things the Redskins do to keep defenses off balance with the pistol. The Redskins ran a total of 994 plays in 2012. Well over 200 of those plays were executed out of the pistol offense and were run with extreme effectiveness. 128 of those plays were option runs, where Griffin or Alfred Morris ran the rock.
After Griffin tore his LCL and damaged his ACL in the playoff loss to Seattle, the media started the discussion of “Should the Redskins tone down the pistol?” They don’t understand two things – two extremely important things.
First, the “pistol” does not mean “RGIII will be running.” Second, Griffin was injured three separate times last year, with none of them occurring on option runs. The concussion in Week 5 against Atlanta and the LCL sprain against Baltimore in Week 14 occurred on scrambles when no receiver was open. The torn LCL against Seattle came in the pocket on a bad snap.
The fact that Griffin didn’t get hurt on any option plays signals that the coaches (Mike and Kyle) have talked to Griffin about what particular time he should get out of bounds on the QB keepers. He seems to know where exactly he’s going on the designed runs, unlike scrambles, where the entire play is improvised.
My message to the Redskins is to keep running the offense out of the pistol. Why? Because there is so much more than just run option plays that can be run out of the formation. RGIII averaged an astonishing 11.8 yards per play on play action passes, with many of those passes having been run out of the pistol.
One of the staple plays of the Redskins’ offense last season came out of the pistol formation. After establishing the ground game, Griffin stuck the ball in Alfred Morris’s belly, pulled it back, and fired a strike right in behind the linebackers to Pierre Garcon or Joshua Morgan running a skinny post route. As offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan put it, “I think what’s so good about the pistol is just that you can do everything out of it… The thing that the pistol gives you, it allows you to run the rest of your offense. There’s nothing you can’t do out of the pistol.”
Washington also runs its infamous zone-blocking stretch run out of the pistol. Many of those runs come off pitches to Alfred Morris in the formation, which allows blockers more time to engage on the defenders. Then it is on Morris’s shoulders to find a hole and cut through it. Morris has excellent vision and can find that hole easily. As Kyle Shanahan said, the offense can run its entire playbook out of the pistol.
Another aspect of the offense that was beginning to develop out of the pistol was the deep passing game. Aided by a play-action fake, Griffin would launch the ball deep towards speedsters such as Santana Moss and Aldrick Robinson. Griffin’s attempts at deep passes off of play-action from the pistol were effective (see: Aldrick Robinson touchdown against Dallas), but he only attempted 36 passes of 20 yards or more in 2012, or 9 percent of his attempts. In 2013, look for Washington to utilize this more and for these downfield throws to increase to between 15 and 20 percent.
The ‘Skins should keep running the pistol offense because, most importantly, RGIII will not get hurt, and it is effective – it burns defenses. Nobody can stop that little post route behind the linebackers.
So, whenever the media starts this circus of whether the Redskins should continue to operate out of the pistol or not, in the next game, RGIII can line up in the pistol, pull the ball back from Alfred Morris’s gut, fire a strike to Garcon, and silence the suggestion boxes. I meant the media. Actually… well, you get the point.