Chris Ault thinks his pistol offense will grow in the NFL


When Colin Kaepernick was in college at Nevada, he was a phenomenal player — the first player in NCAA Division 1 history to pass for 10,000 yards and run for 4,000 yards in his career. But he wasn’t a Heisman Trophy candidate or a first-round draft pick, in part because many people thought the Nevada “pistol” offense was a gimmick.

Now that Kaepernick has led the 49ers to the Super Bowl from the pistol, the man who invented the offense, former Nevada coach Chris Ault, is celebrating what he has accomplished — and predicting big things for the pistol in the NFL going forward.

Ault said on NFL Network this morning that contrary to what some people believe, the pistol isn’t predicated on a quarterback running the ball. In fact, Ault said he believes NFL defenses will be able to take away a lot of the runs that Kaepernick does so well. It’s just that when defenses are focused on preventing Kaepernick from getting to the outside, that leaves a lot open in the middle. Ault said he thought Frank Gore’s two touchdown runs against the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game were set up by the defense having to worry about Kaepernick running in the read-option.

“I think defenses will catch up, but here’s the beauty of the pistol: I know we saw Kaep run for 181 yards against Green Bay — that’s certainly the read part of the game, it’s great — but what you saw last week is what I believe our pistol brings to the table: Kaep didn’t run it. He read it and handed it off because Atlanta was taking away Kaep on the outside,” Ault said. “And those two plays, I believe, that Gore scored on, both of them were read-type plays. The beauty of what we’ve done in the pistol and what I’ve seen the 49ers and the Redskins doing, is, it’s not just the read play itself. It’s also the play-action pass off of it.”

Ault said the pistol formation, in which the quarterback is not under center but is closer to the line of scrimmage than a typical shotgun formation, with a running back directly behind the quarterback, makes it harder for the defense to key on the running back.

“When that back sits behind the quarterback, the linebackers do not have a clear view of what he’s doing,” Ault said. “You can run downhill power games, counters, gaps and all that from the pistol.”

Anyone who thought the pistol was all about the quarterback running the ball after watching Kaepernick’s record-breaking rushing game against the Packers saw in the 49ers’ win over the Falcons that that’s not the case: Kaepernick led the 49ers to a win while running just two times for 23 yards.

“I don’t think the NFL quarterbacks are all going to start running the ball 15 times a game,” Ault said. “But if you’ve got the read in your offense, it is a threat, it’s something you’ve got to be concerned about, and of course if you’ve got a guy like Kaep who can run like a gazelle, you’ve got to be more than concerned with it. You’ve got to put one and a half people on him.”

Ault said that any NFL team, even those with slow, pocket passers, could run its offense 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.”

Ault isn’t suggesting that his offense is the best for every team — he acknowledged that it has weaknesses and strengths like any other system. But he says it’s not a gimmick. It’s here to stay.

32 responses to “Chris Ault thinks his pistol offense will grow in the NFL

  1. I love these guys who think they are reinventing football. Everything in sports comes full circle. Go back to the 40s and 50s. Very similar concepts with this option. Granted the athletes that are running it are infinitely superior, but overall similar mindsets. There is only so much you can do strategy wise in football. It then gets saturated and people figure out the scheme and how to defend it and it goes away for a while and then some “genius” brings it back up and becomes a football inovator. It’s not rocket science. It just take someone to stop this offense once, create a blueprint, and then the whole league copycats the defense and it fades away. Football is still football. SF and Baltimore did not win because of pistols and gimmick offenses. They won because they were more physical on off and def. Smashing your opponent in the mouth until they quit always works and never goes out of style. Try that inovators instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.

  2. You forgot to mention that, Chris invented the formation after already being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Such a great and Under rated Football minds of all Time.

  3. It will be interesting to see what NFL teams that don’t have a really mobile QB try and utilize the Pistol….me thinks it won’t be the old time Coach’s, but the newer one’s who have something to gain by it.

  4. I think that some teams this works for, but I don’t see why my favorite team (The Vikings) should come out of the power running game as long as Adrian Peterson is alive (he will be playing RB into his late 30s). They are going to key on him either way, so you mind as well beat teams by actually blocking guys instead of trying to throw them off. This is not a good system if your RB is a gamechanger and your QB isn’t.

  5. Remember when you had to have a stay in the pocket, 6′-4″ kid who couldn’t run a lick? Now he has to run at least a 4.6 forty. What goes around comes around. For now, having a kid like Kapernack is like having 12 men on offense. He freezes linebackers and runs a 4.45 forty. He is also tall and strong. It will be interesting to see how all this plays out!!!

  6. Meh… They had a good offense with Alex Smith, too, and this was just a good offense against the Falcons. It wasn’t the offense that won them that game, it was the defense with 2 turnovers and holding the Falcons offense scoreless in the 2nd half. If the Falcons got one TD or even 2 FG’s in the 2nd half they would have won.

  7. The Pistol offense moves the defenses in a certain way. If you have a threat to run, RG3, Kaep, Wilson, etc then you are forcing DE to try and figure out what is going on instead of rushing upfield. You are forcing middle linebackers to hang around flat footed just long enough to leave the in route behind them wide open because they have to respect the play action.

    It might not be the only formation a team runs once defenses start getting the hang of it, but it gives you a whole set of alignments that you can force a defense to prepare for. And the more you can make a defense need to prepare for, the less prepared they will be in general.

  8. I think coaches noticed the way you could control other teams top d-lineman with the wildcat and that lead to a willingness to use the pistol. The read-option portion of the pistol and everything else you can then build from that directly attacks the DE and takes him out of the game….without ever touching him…it’s really kind of genius. Before this offense the defense had 12 guys attacking 11 guys and a QB. This offense makes it even and an edge rusher that must be honest before attacking the QB loses at least half a second/step.

    This offseason will be the biggest test. It was all new and defenders were learning on the fly. Coaches can know study it for a full offseason.

    That said I think it continues to work and this type of QB will be come the standard. Especially with the amount of protection they get.

  9. I always enjoyed watching those late night Friday TV games with Nevada and Kapernick, such a skilled player (and a nice story). Wonderful offensive displays.

    But they lost some games, too, and NFL defenses are bigger, faster, and more physical than college. And if your QB gets hurt, it’s hard to immediately shift gears if the backup can’t play the same system.

  10. I’t interesting, but I agree with andyreidisthegoat, football, at the end of the day is still about blocking and tackling, blocking and tackling. I should know, I’m a Bucs fan who had to deal with Raheem’s Youngry (made up word) and now Schiano’s taking peoples knees out on victory formations. FML.

  11. I’m extremely interested to see the defensive evolution that occurs, and I know that there are many layers to the Pistol that have not even been unwrapped in the NFL yet. The next four years or so will probably be the most interesting chess match from an x’s and o’s standpoint that we have seen in decades.

  12. Those coaches who do not adapt will be left behind. The pistol and variations are an interesting concept that make it hard to stop as it causes the defenses to think more rather than simply react. It requires the right kind of QB however. There aren’t many tall fast QBs who are accurate. Vick is too fragile to run this. Tebow has the right build but can’t throw very well.

  13. Want to stop this Pistol offense in the NFL? Fly your OLB at the QB on every play and make him take crushing hit after hit. If the offense wants to play fun and games with the run fake, smash the QB on every play and see how he holds up.

    Once this happens, we’ll see how the league manages to tap dance on the blurred line between QB safety and allowing defenses to play defense.

  14. Really? Variations of this have been used many times. It is nothing new.

    There are always gimmicks run when there is a shortage of QBs that can throw. Sure, SF is going to the SB, but it isnt because of the read optio/pistol/whatever you want to call it. They are there because they have great players. They have great players because they drafted in the top 10 for 7 or 8 years in a row. It is how the draft is set up to work.

    Here is the problem with the option offense. There are a finite number of QBs who can run it effectively. There just happen to be 3 or 4 guys who can roll with it now. Cam Newton is in a simular offensive scheme, but they lose. Why? They dont have great players, thats why. How about Griffin? He can do it, but he might never play another game because he got hurt running the ball (not a designed run, I know, but the abuse these guys take adds up over time).

    Anyway, it is ridiculous to think teams will move to this system. Any one of them would take a great passer as a franchise quarterback over a read option guy. They dont have that, so they use the option game because that is all they have. They also know they have a QB that will be out of football in 3 or 4 years because the option opens up some pass patterns. If all teams have to do is cover recievers, most of these guys are done because they arent accurate enough to throw into coverage. Not to mention these guys get hurt. Just ask Mike Vick or RGIII how the odds turn for injury running this system.

  15. This system is great to keep defenses on heels and always second guessing them selves… They way the NINERS run it is pretty well schemed… Good balance to the offense.. Because we also run traditional west coast formations.. NINERS do good job of scheme blocking to go with it.. Also Kaep is way Stronger bigger more physical then rgIII and Vick… So with Kaep it’s almost a win win because he can do all the intangibles and like he showed against atl.. He can throw from pocket.. Big ups to D.. Even if ATL scored more ouR offense would have matched it!! GO NINERS

  16. The pistol might work, but you need a QB with a very specific skill set (like Kaepernick). Not everyone can run it. As someone mentioned, the 49ers are talented all around because of their numerous top draft picks from being at the bottom the last few years. With the way San Fran is playing now, those top picks will soon be asking for more money and that’s when they get released/traded and the 49ers and Harbaugh will get a reality check.

    At the end of they day though, a drop back and pass QB who can dissect defenses gets you further than a read-option/pistol style/running QB.

  17. This isn’t a new offense… it’s an old one.

    Read option football where the QB has the option to handoff, run, or throw isn’t new… not a chance… wake up people.

    It’s like calling the west coast offense something that Bill Walsh came up with in San Francisco… please it was being run years and years before by Jerry Burns in Minnesota with Tarkenton and Foreman, and probably even before that. Even Walsh was running it in Cincinnati with Ken Anderson at QB.

    The execution is good by Kaepernick and he’s built physically to take some punishment, but it’s not new. Even Bobby Douglas ran it when he was in Chicago… he just couldn’t throw it good enough to make it really work.

    So the next time someone says they invented something back up the freaking salt truck… they are probably full of it.

  18. David Lee and Tony Sporano said the same things about the Wildcat 4 years ago….it works i see that but for how long? Someone is always smarter than the next guy.

  19. wrm1230 says:
    Jan 22, 2013 11:48 AM
    Want to stop this Pistol offense in the NFL? Fly your OLB at the QB on every play and make him take crushing hit after hit. If the offense wants to play fun and games with the run fake, smash the QB on every play and see how he holds up.

    Once this happens, we’ll see how the league manages to tap dance on the blurred line between QB safety and allowing defenses to play defense.

    Ha,ha, they would burn you on a screen all day long!

  20. The media has ten days to make this subtle yet accurate change to their stories of the 2012-13 Niners: “Now that Kaepernick has CO-led the 49ers to the Super Bowl”.

    Let’s not forget Alex Smith won 6 of the first 8 games on the schedule this year. 3 out of the first four away from Candlestick. Including the season opener against the Packers at Lambeau.

    Colin and Alex co-led this team to the Super Bowl. It’s Colin’s team to lead now. But he didn’t lead them to 6-2 in the first eight games. He led them to 5-2 in the last seven. He also led them to defeat the Packers in Candlestick. And the Falcons last Sunday.

  21. The key to the pistol is having a smart QB that could read defenses, wouldn’t work with Vick.Wildcat is nothing like the pistol plus Ronnie Brown isn’t a QB. HTTR

  22. Kaepernick is an excellent runner but he is no RG#… but that is a good thing. While they both have tremendous speed for almost any position, RG3 is much shiftier while Kaepernic generally takes what the defense gives him and gets down. Griffin may be MORE of a threat when running, but Kaepernick will be running far longer than Griffin because he takes significantly less punishment.

    One thing that is being left out here as well is that Kaepernick has a tremendous arm. In a draft with rocket arms like Newton, Locker, Gabbert, and Mallett, only Mallet threw the ball harder than Kaepernick. His accuracy and desire to stand in the pocket and deliver the strike are what have really set him apart from the others. He is an elite talent that is perhaps already a super star.

  23. Seems the 49ers were successful 3 times running to the
    right side for scores. Yet, their best linemen are on the
    left side. Anxious to see if this changes on 2/3.

  24. No mobile QBs ever win the big game and speed like Kapernick’s (sp?) is very fleeting. One good shot to his knees and that is it. The niners better hope they do it this year because QBs like have their windows close very early. Look at Vick, for that matter RG3 will never be the same threat he was earlier this year. The niners real strength comes from their play in the trenches up front.

  25. As a person who loves the game and the strategy of it, this was a great interview. I saw it on NFLN. I wonder if McCarthy would consider incorporating it a little with Rodgers? Rodgers is athletic enough he could be viewed as a run threat, and it would help their run game’s efficiency I think. You also must have a QB who is a great ballhandler, as well as being an accurate passer. Rodgers is both.

  26. Smart QBs take worst hits late in the pocket than on smart runs & Kap is very smart.
    He’ll face a much better D in the SB, so it’s exciting to see what wrinkles the Niners unveil. One ace they have is that the opposing MLB (who shall not be named) has lost a step or two. Who’s going to cover Vernon?

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