Or: Why I Think the Pistol is Anything but a Gimmick.
I've been having this discussion on some of the threads for a while now. So perhaps it will help to make this its own topic, and have a chat about why I think the claims of 'gimmickry' are vastly overrated.
What is the Pistol in truth? Here is a link to a couple of variations in use: as used by Nevada and Urban Meyer.
The 'oddness' of the formation is two-fold. 1) The pseudo-shotgun snap. 2) The Read Option. Let's look at these in turn.
The 4 yard snap. Three yards shorter than the typical 7 of a shotgun, it allows the Tailback to line up in his traditional position. It means, in effect, the ONLY player on the field who is 'out of position' compared to a traditional offense.is the QB. But unlike the Wildcat which most cries of 'gimmickry' compare this to, the Quarterback is still the focus of the offense and still handles the ball every play. You give nothing away with the Pistol. You want to run from the I? The Tailback is right where he's supposed to be. You want a fullback? Well, you get one in the H-back mold. Multiple tight ends or WRs? All on the table.
The pistol uses standard personnel groupings. So the defense cannot simply key in on 'special' players and know how to defend it. You don't tip your hand, run or pass. Your whole offense is open. Even more so than with a conventional shotgun, where your formation groupings limit you to draws or pseudo-sweeps from the running game. The pistol leaves every play in the book on the table. It only ADDS a package to the mix.
2) The Read Option: First of all, let me dispense with the myth that the Option is new: It isn't. The option is as old as rugby. Just because it was a staple of the wishbone doesn't mean it was a gimmick of the formation. Wing T had it. You can conceivably run it from a standard I formation, though the mesh with the fullback isn't as threatening as it is with a tailback, and thus doesn't put as much pressure on the defense.
NFL defenses never 'stop' the option. More accurately, most coaches don't like their QBs running the ball to the extend a traditional option attack demands. They're too valuable to lose in perpetual violent collisions (though some, like Joe Kapp, relished them). And formations like the wishbone and wildcat preclude a balanced offense.And the rules in the NFL favor the passing game. As Jaws says, "You throw to score points. You run to win the game." If you can't do both, you don't win. Run & Shoots could score points in the NFL. You were never out of a game. The problem was, your opponent never was either. That was a gimmick passing game, favored by the rules. But still handicapped by the lack of power running. Wildcats are a gimmick because it kills the passing game, and usually has a specific personnel grouping, and thus can be prepared for.
As we've already discussed, the pistol doesn't. Run/Pass, or pass off an option fake. Every play of a standard offense is on the table. Moreso than the shotgun even.
The Option Game puts pressure on the pass rush of a defense. You can't attack from the edges, because those edge rushers have to respect the 'potential' of the option, even if you only run it a half-dozen times a game in truth. Even faking the option and still handing off puts the same pressure on the ends/OLBs as the option play proper. The formation leaves the threat open to the full option every time. So you never take a threat off the table, and add one more. It adds deception to the playbook, even if you only use it a handful of times. It's more for opposing defenses to prepare for, without forcing you into any 'box' of being a running or passing team.
People thought the (so-called) West Coast Offense (or as Dr Z rightly calls it: The Cincinnati Offense) was a 'gimmick' when it began. No one believed an offense that converted sweeps into screens and flairs, and used checkdowns as running plays could really succeed. Let alone it's typical disdain for the vertical threat. But in truth, none of that was 'necessary' to the WCO. It was only an implementation driven by Walsh's lack of a running threat in those early 80s teams for the Niners. Before that, the shotgun was (With more justification) called a 'gimmick' because of how it dispensed with power running. But it's evident value in situations where that game is not viable, along with the rules of the NFL constantly evolving in defense of the passing game, left it intact.
But if the shotgun can be a 'gimmick' that survives despite dispensing with perhaps the most important aspect of an offense to 'winning' the game, how can a formation that does nothing of the sort, and yet instantly puts the QB in a position to pass be a gimmick.
I don't have enough of a crystal ball to say the pistol replaces the I formation in 10 years. But I can say that there is no reason why it shouldn't. There's no special preparation you can do to stop it. There's no one silver bullet that kills the offense. The option is only one piece, albeit the most publicized. Stop the option, and you still have to respect the power running game or passing game like a standard offense, and still respect the threat of the RO, or you find yourself watching the backside of a running back the play your discipline broke down.