The pistol formation, in which the quarterback lines up not under center but closer to the line of scrimmage than the shotgun, with a running back directly behind the quarterback, became popular in the NFL last year when mobile quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III ran it. But on Thursday night the Broncos used the pistol with a quarterback who is decidedly not mobile, Peyton Manning.
In the Broncos’ preseason opener, Manning lined up in the pistol with running back Ronnie Hillman behind him. That’s a look we didn’t see in Denver last year, but apparently the Broncos liked what they saw from other teams running the pistol and decided to try it themselves.
Although the pistol was perfected at Nevada when Kaepernick was playing there, it doesn’t have to feature a quarterback with Kaepernick’s mobility. A classic pocket passer like Manning can also run an offense out of the pistol. Former Nevada coach Chris Ault, the inventor of the pistol, said in January that any NFL team, even those with slow, pocket passers, could employ the pistol. A team with a slow quarterback wouldn’t employ read-option runs as part of the pistol attack, but that doesn’t mean the offense couldn’t run effectively out of the pistol.
“They could run the pistol formation,” Ault said. “They don’t need to run the read part of it. When we first put the pistol in, in 2005 and 2006, that’s all we ran — we ran the power, the gap, the counters, the zones, the outside stuff. We did not run the read at that time. So the pistol offense, the most important thing there is you can run any offense you’ve been running.”
The pistol doesn’t represent a radical change to the Broncos’ offense. Just a new look.