Here's A Simple Explanation Of The 'Pistol' — Which They'll Be Talking About Non-Stop During The Super Bowl

The pistol formation is the hot new thing in the NFL, and you’re going to hear about it a ton when the 49ers have the ball on Sunday.

In simple terms, the “pistol” is a formation where the quarterback stands up a few yards behind the centre (in shotgun), and the running back lines up behind him. It looks like this:

san francisco 49ers pistol

Photo: Fox

Here’s an FAQ.

What’s the point?

The pistol is designed so that the offence can do two things at once, 1) have a power running game, 2) have a spread passing game. Putting the running back behind the quarterback gives you an advantage in the running game because it hides him from the defence, and also gives him a running start when he takes a hand off. Putting the QB in the shotgun allows him to the read the defence and throw the ball to the perimeter quickly. It’s the best of both worlds.

Where does it come from?

Nevada head coach Chris Ault invented it less than 10 years ago. Colin Kaepernick ran it in college.

But it’s just getting used in the NFL now?

Yes. The 49ers just started using it in earnest during the playoffs.

Has it been good?

Ridiculously good. The 49ers are averaging 38.5 points per game in the playoffs, and only averaged 26.3 points in the regular season when they didn’t really use the pistol formation.

Why is it so good?

There’s this one play — the read option — that no one can stop. Basically, the 49ers begin the play like they are going to hand the ball off, but when it comes time for Kaepernick give it to Frank Gore, he can read the defence and decide whether he wants to hand it off or run it himself.

That actually works?

Yes, it looks like this if Kaepernick hands it off:

gore touchdown gif

And it looks like this if Kaepernick keeps it himself:

49ers kaepnernick gif

Photo: Fox

Seems like a gimmick, right?

Not really. The pistol isn’t one single play (like the wildcat), and it’s not an entire offence — it’s just a formation. It can be adapted to what the defence is doing, and that probably means it will be around for a while.

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