Redskins vs. Seahawks: Why the Pistol Formation Wins Games for the 'Skins

John Bibb@@JohnBibbAnalyst IIIJanuary 5, 2013

While Redskins QB Robert Griffin III threw for 3,200 yards—Griffin combined with RB Alfred Morris for 2,428 rushing yards in 2012.
While Redskins QB Robert Griffin III threw for 3,200 yards—Griffin combined with RB Alfred Morris for 2,428 rushing yards in 2012.Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Washington Redskins triple-threat, pistol formation offense has been a key component in their seven-game win streak.  If the Seattle Seahawks cannot diffuse this offensive bombshell, the 'Skins multifaceted offense will prove to be too much for the 'Hawks in Sunday's NFC Wild Card Game.

The Seahawks have a formidable and talented defense that ranks sixth in the NFL against the pass and 10th against the rush.  They led the NFL in defensive scoring and finished the regular season near the top in forced turnovers.

However, in the Redskins last seven games the team put together an offense that combines the NFL's top-rushing quarterback Robert Griffin III, the league's second-ranked running back Alfred Morris and a receiving corps whose top four receivers all have 500-plus yards.

The difficulty Seattle faces is much more than stopping the run and defending the pass.  The defense has to decide in a few seconds or less how they are going to play defense against a multitude of offensive threats and options.

It is like the decision a goalie in soccer has to make prior to an opponent's penalty kick.  The goalie cannot wait until the ball is kicked because he will not have the reaction time to stop the ball.  The goalie has to consider many factors—left or right, low or high and commit.

Defending the Redskins' pistol formation could be likened to the same scenario.  If the defense sees something forming at the line of scrimmage and they are incorrect, it's too late.  If the defense hesitates, the speed and versatility of Griffin will allow the 'Skins an opportunity to advance the ball downfield. 

For instance, in the Redskins' first meeting with the Dallas Cowboys in Week 12, the Cowboys admittedly focused on stopping the 'Skins rushing attack.  RGIII picked up on this and burned the Cowboys downfield with long pass completions—finishing 20-of-28 for 311 yards and four touchdowns. 

In the Redskins' final regular-season game and their second meeting with the Cowboys, the 'Skins switched their primary threat from passing to rushing and totaled 274 rushing yards.

With a combination zone-blocking scheme along the offensive line and their dual-threat rushing attack it is no wonder the Redskins led the NFL regular season in rushing yards per game.

With the Redskins triple-threat, pistol formation offense quarterback RGIII has the option of a hand-off to Morris (4.8 yards per carry) or pitch the ball outside.  Griffin can keep the ball himself where he averages 6.8 yards per carry.  If the defense commits to the run and loads the line of scrimmage with defenders, that opens passing lanes for the offense.

When passing on first down the Redskins have a 66.7 completion percentage for 1,413 yards—averaging 9.8 yards per completion.  While their first down completion average was less than 10 yards, it allowed the 'Skins a 2nd- or 3rd-and-short yardage situation.

The scenarios played out within this article are only examples of how the Redskins have effectively run the pistol formation this season.  There are many situations that could not be considered in evaluating how and why it worked so effectively, especially in the second half of the 'Skins season.

One thing is for sure.  The pistol formation is bringing about a sea of change in the way NFL offenses will need to operate to keep up with the evolving, fast-paced, dual- and triple-threat offensive styles that have emerged and flourished in 2012.  

The NFL quarterback position is undergoing a transformation that will eventually force out the standard, drop-back passer.  This will allow a new breed of team leader under center to emerge that cannot only evade pressure and elude tackles but leave defenses questioning, "Will he or won't he run the ball?"


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