Should the Pittsburgh Steelers Run the Pistol in 2013?

By Curt Popejoy
Pittsburgh Steelers
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The latest trend that seems to be making it’s way around the NFL are these new hybrid offenses. They incorporate aspects of both a traditional pro style offense with some variation of a college spread run/pass system. There are many variations of this and while that’s a topic for another day, I want to ponder the idea of the Pittsburgh Steelers incorporating the pistol offense into their game plan for 2013.

The creation of the pistol offense is often credited to former Nevada head coach Chris Ault back in 2005, however it was actually created six years prior to that by a Division III coach named Tom Kaczkowski. Kaczkowski coached at Northern Ohio University and utilized a very pass heavy shotgun offense. He developed his “shotgun I” as a way to easily incorporate a rushing game into his pass heavy scheme.  It worked and from there the use of the offense spread, but it wasn’t until it was re-named the pistol by Ault in 2005 and popularized so much that it became much more widely known.

The advantages of the pistol are obvious. By setting the quarterback up four yards from the line rather than seven, plays come together more quickly and reads happen more quickly. The running back lines up seven yards behind the line of scrimmage directly behind the quarterback, which opens up the playbook for draws and counters as well as as full blown power run game using variations in formations and motions. It helps expose coverages and give the quarterback a better view of the field. The main disadvantage of the pistol is it can limit the effectiveness of play action due to where the quarterback sets up.

We saw the Steelers run a version of the pistol back in 2010 when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was dealing with a foot injury. They beat the Baltimore Ravens with it and while it is hardly a sample size to base anything on, it seems to me that the pistol would be an excellent fit for not only the strengths of this team, but also an excellent base set to run offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s quick hitting offense out of. And before you ask, no I am not saying that Roethlisberger is going to suddenly turn into a dual threat quarterback. The option component of the pistol is plug and play. All the power, counter, draw and trap plays the pistol uses are more about how the line blocks, creating a mismatch on the play side with motion and getting the back to the line of scrimmage in a hurry. All of these things can be done without having the quarterback run at all.

But that’s not to say Roethlisberger couldn’t run if need be. He might be a big and lumbering kind of guy, but he’s about as far from a statue as can be. Even a few carries a year in the option game would add a dimension to an opponents defensive game planning that it would make the rest of the offense even more effective. And this doesn’t even account for the sweep game that comes out of the pistol that could make use of the speed of a player like wide receiver Antonio Brown very similar to how the outside zone read does.

I’ve always been a big fan of the pistol offense, but it takes a special kind of team to run it right. We saw when the Kansas City Chiefs tried to run it, their deficiencies at quarterback were still too much for even an offense like this. I think with the combination of talent the Steelers have from Roethlisberger to the stable of talented running backs and speedy wide outs,  the pistol would help the transition of the offensive line and really add a new dimension to spark the offense.


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