The pistol formation, for those uninitiated few, is an innovative formation that Scott Linehan brought back from Alabama after a trip there last offseason. It lines up the QB in a short shotgun formation with the RB lined up directly behind him. In a traditional shotgun, the RB is lined up next to the QB. Here’s a description from Wikipedia of its advantages.
“The pistol formation can be used in a variety of ways, because the quarterback is closer to the line of scrimmage than a traditional shotgun formation. This allows him to see more easily over the line and make down field reads. He will also get the ball snapped to him faster, which can alter timing patterns greatly for a preparing defense. The pistol offense can effectively use draw plays, counters, and options using three wide receiver formations or multiple tight ends combined with a fullback for pass protection. In a pistol formation, hand-offs occur 2-3 yards closer than in the shotgun, which can make for a more effective running game, while keeping pass efficiency. This formation works well with dual threat quarterbacks who can both throw and run.”
Anyway, the lions used this formation a good deal in both training camp and the regular season last year and they used it enough in training camp this year for Tom Kowalski to comment:
“Back to the running backs. Look for the Lions to use a lot of pistol formations this year – that’s where the quarterback is in a shortened shotgun with the back behind him. In a regular shotgun, the back lines up next to the quarterback.”
On Sunday, the lions ran 43 plays out of the shotgun and 26 plays from under center, but not a single pistol snap. It’s certainly a part of the offense and I expect to see it at some point this season, but for whatever reason, Linehan kept that one in his pocket.
2. The lions ran the ball fairly well:
Let me start off by saying that I took all yardage from the game film so it may not match the official stats and I discounted QB scrambles because they’re not intended by the play-caller to be running plays (for the most part). Here’s a chart breakdown by quarter of both the frequency and effectiveness of running plays.
The lions ran the ball overall for 3.67 yards per carry (YPC). However, that’s brought down by the 4th quarter like a lead weight. Through the first 3 quarters, the lions rushed for 4.22 YPC, a very good number, including 4.54 YPC in the 3rd quarter (killing the clock wasn’t so ineffective after all). In the 4th quarter, the lions rushed for a pathetic 1.17 YPC. Running the ball will probably end up being a key factor in at least one game this year, so the early success is a good sign, but the inability to perform when a first down or two would have sealed the game is very troubling.
3. The lions used a ton of 3 TE sets…:
…and ran the ball every single time out of it. The lions ran 14 plays out of this formation in which 3 TEs line up right next to each other all on one side of the line, with 1 WR, and a single running back. Through the first 3 quarters, the lions ran this formation 11 times for an average of 4.82 YPC. In the 4th quarter, they got all of 4 yards on 3 running plays out of it. I haven’t gone back to take a closer look at it yet, but I expect that with their cover 2 scheme, the Bucs stuck with 2 deep safeties and a corner lined up on Calvin Johnson. With the other 8 defenders available to cover the run (or TE routes) you’d expect the lions to have a tough time rushing. However, 5 offensive linemen plus 3 tight ends equals a blocker for every defender until the running back reaches the safety. Whether the 4th quarter difference happened due to systematic adjustments or simply poor execution, the lions put this on tape for future opponents to see and I fully expect Scott Linehan to begin the chess game with this formation. The lions have some serious receiving threats at TE, but have proven the ability to run out of this formation also. Expect to see more of it.
4. The shotgun:
There are a few things in this category. First of all, the lions ran fewer plays out of the shotgun than the Bucs. Yes. That’s right. The hugely pass-heavy Lions ran fewer plays from the shotgun than the very run-savvy Bucs (by a 51-43 margin, in fact). “Okay,” you may say, “but they were playing catch-up.” You would be absolutely right. The Bucs began shotgunning like a college freshman at a tailgate once the Lions got up by 10 near halftime. With 1:39 left in the 2nd quarter, the Bucs had used the shotgun formation 5 times. If you’re up to snuff on your subtraction, you’ll see that Tampa Bay used the shotgun 46 times after that point, an astounding 97.8% of their snaps from that point. Yeah, that means they ran 1 snap from under center after 1:39 left in the 2nd quarter (a quck-hitter to the fullback on 3rd and 1, which was unsuccessful, yessssssssssss). So how did they do? Well first let me note that the sample size for under center is pretty small, but they did improve their offensive output from 3.31 YPA to 5.16 YPA when shifting to the shotgun. However, I will note that their rushing average went from 2.8 YPC to 2.5 YPC in the shotgun. While the increase in effectiveness is obviously not good, this ability to force Tampa Bay into the shotgun is good news for the Lions. It’s exactly what they’ll want to do against Kansas City. Force the Chiefs to pass and the Lions will win it in a walk (theoretically).
5. The Lions didn’t exploit multiple TE formations in the passing game
As I mentioned earlier, the Lions used a lot of 3 TE sets, but ran the ball every time. That analysis pretty much extends to 2 TE sets as well, oddly enough. At least in my mind, one of the Lions’ biggest offensive mismatch opportunities is by using their tight ends. With Pettigrew and Scheffler both being above average receiving threats, putting them both on the field to match up on linebackers or split the deep safeties should be a given. However, a two tight end set was only utilized 7 times and 5 of those plays were runs. The two passes went to wide receivers. With the out-of-nowhere emergence of Scott Chandler (Bills TE) last week against the chiefs and the season-ending injury to Eric Berry (Pro-Bowl Safety for the Chiefs), I expect the lions to chuck it to the tight ends a lot this Sunday.