by derrik klassen
It’s no secret that Lamar Jackson brings a different flavor to the Baltimore offense than Joe Flacco. jackson is an all-time great athlete for the position, while flacco looks like a smart phone booth. The quarterback’s career threat was destined to expand with Jackson at the helm, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has gone to great lengths to lean on Jackson’s skill set, making extensive use of the pistol formation.
The pistol formation is similar to the shotgun formation in that the quarterback is lined up a few yards from the center, but instead of having a running back to his side, the running back is a few yards behind him. the. it is a mixture of shotgun and traditional formations under the center. Chris Ault, Nevada’s head coach at the time, pioneered the pistol offense in 2004, and the “new” offense finally came into the national spotlight when Colin Kaepernick led the offense under Ault in the early 2010s. .
In short, the pistol allows a violation to operate as both an extended pass violation and a downhill run violation, reflected at the same time. likewise, the pistol formation can also open up the offense to shooters and different option plays in a way that can be more difficult to execute off the shotgun, where the running back’s attack paths are closer to the line of scrimmage. hit. Like any traditional under center offense, the pistol can be adjusted to 10 or 11 man as well as heavier 12, 21 and 22 man sights. he’s as versatile as the offense wants him to be.
Over the past two games, Baltimore has turned into a pistol offense. Pro Football Reference credits the Ravens with 139 offensive plays (knees not included) over the last two weeks, and I personally recorded 60 of those plays starting in the pistol formation. The offense almost never went to pistol when Flacco was starting out, but pistol has more or less become the team’s base offense with Jackson playing. Even when Jackson was only coming in for occasional package plays, the Ravens turned to the pistol.
The following table shows the personnel Baltimore has used in its pistol formations, broken down by running and passing:
while in louisville, jackson operated quite a bit in the guise of a gun. Louisville was more of a 10- and 11-person squad, while Baltimore currently leans more heavily on heavier formations, but many of the same philosophies and concepts apply either way. Adding Jackson’s familiarity outside of the gun is a healthy change to Baltimore’s offense.
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Among a handful of other concepts, arc reading is a dead run move out of the gun. arc read is effectively a zone read play, but with split action from a tight end or h-back, rather than the traditional inside zone. Kaepernick’s highlights in Nevada are littered with shots of him keeping the ball in this concept and burning West Mountain defenses up and down the field.
Baltimore is in a two-back set with a single tight end on this play. (Nick Boyle, nominally a tight end, is playing H-back/fullback.) The defensive end circled in orange is the read key for Jackson during the hand-off exchange. During the handoff exchange, the H-back lined up by Jackson’s side will cross the formation and the read player’s face, looping around the edge to meet the outside linebacker at the second level. Assuming Jackson makes the correct read and the H-back can get around the edge in time, Jackson should be sprung free out of this look.
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as designed, jackson gets the ball because the defensive end (read key) gets inside to defend the running back. Jackson is able to get to the rim and pick up 8 yards without even getting hit. while arc reading can be quite effective early on, putting the running back further away from the defensive end through the lineup and path can persuade the defender to follow the back rather than play the net point.
Later in the cincinnati game, the ravens doubled down on their heavy staff pistol formations with a “diamond” look in a short and third situation. diamond gun, or “full house”, puts one running back behind the quarterback with two other running backs, tight ends, or h-backs on either side of him, creating the diamond lineup. this formation is especially good in short-yardage situations because the abundance of players in the backfield presents the defense with a handful of potentially mobile blockers and run gaps.
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again, the ravens read the arc again, but this time with an additional blocker on the outside. in essence, the play becomes more of a sweep play than a true arc play, but the goal remains the same: read the end at the line of scrimmage and take out linebackers with an h-back that crosses the formation. Although the play isn’t looking for an explosive win, Jackson picks up enough to move the clubs and keep the momentum alive.
To overlay this newfound creativity on the ground through the pistol formation, the Ravens have also opened up their action and passing game a bit. No, his play action isn’t necessarily more successful because the team is handling the ball more effectively, but adding the pistol to the team’s arsenal adds another wrinkle and formation for defenses to think about. when mornhinweg turns into deep gunshots, the results can be devastating, and it looks like the ravens are only scratching the surface in that department.
This play-action play blends a high-low levels concept to the left side of the formation with two vertical routes from the tight ends to the right side, not unlike one of Peyton Manning’s favorite concepts back in the day. In theory, the short in route should be taken any time it is available pre-snap. However, Oakland is playing press coverage with a two-deep shell on the back end, which may signal either an aggressive quarters or Cover-2 look.
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Just before center, Jackson looks to the left and sees the press coverage on the receiver set up to run the short. Jackson then calls for the snap, fakes the transfer, and proceeds to confirm or reassess if necessary. , coverage as your receivers go out on their routes. jackson scans both safeties, from left to right, and sees them both playing safety-half assignments. With that information, Jackson knows he has a one-one-one down the right sideline with tight end Mark Andrews. jackson turns on andrews and throws the ball more than 30 yards in the air as a pass-rusher pushes into his lap, guiding andrews perfectly to allow him to run after the catch. In one play, the Ravens ran 74 yards to go from falling back inside their own 15-yard line into the opposing red zone.
this is a good concept for any quarterback, but a perfect fit for jackson. In Louisville, Jackson became very familiar with the pistol action game and the aggressive concepts of full field passes. had the coverage called for it, jackson would have been just as comfortable taking the 7+ yards from the short route, but he knew he had to go elsewhere on this particular play. Concepts like this should come up more and more as Jackson becomes a heavier load at quarterback.
the caveat about baltimore’s pistol-based offense is that it is typically phased out when the team is in a hurry or in clear passing situations. this is not because the pistol is bad for those situations per se, but rather because shotgun builds can more easily allow for simple six-man guards with the runner, or allow the back to get into faster control paths. Instead of using the pistol all the time, Baltimore has leaned more heavily on it as his base offense, later turning primarily to the shotgun when necessary. Although it looks a little different, this is similar to the Dallas Cowboys being a center-focused, run-oriented offense that leans on the shotgun when the pass is absolutely necessary.
jackson still has a long way to go to become a top-tier quarterback like the rest of his rookie teammates, but he’s being deployed in a refreshingly exciting way. As the Ravens prepare to take on three of the worst defenses in the league over the next three weeks (the Falcons, the Chiefs, and the Buccaneers), tracking Baltimore’s use and expansion of his pistol attack is going to be a fun minigame. For NFL fans to play as they watch Jackson get into his thing. For the first time in years, Baltimore’s offense is worth keeping an eye on and is at the forefront of an ever-developing NFL landscape.