San Francisco 49ers – Colin Kaepernick & the Pistol Formation

While the Piston Formation developed by Chris Ault isn’t something used by everyone in the NFL, it is one of the staples that makes the offense of the San Francisco 49ers under Colin Kaepernick so successful, allowing him and the team to maximize the talents at their disposal.

Ault, recently retired (once again) from the head coaching job at Nevada, leading the Wolfpack to a 233-109-1 record while he was there, was the one who came up with the Pistol offense, which is mostly about allowing a team to employ a very strong running game, hopefully with a quarterback who can run as well (just like the Washington Redskins did with Robert Griffin III) and disguise the direction the offense is going very well.

In 2005 and 2006 , that’s all we ran. We ran the power, the gaps, 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. And this is how we created it, and then we advanced the pistol run game — the read part of it — two years later.

Now, the Piston offense has advances in the last 7-8 years, and Kaepernick with the 49ers is mostly using the read option, which worked so well against the Green Bay Packers, as Kaepernick ran for 181 yards, and also in the game against the Falcons, with Kaepernick going off for runs only twice, but completing 16-21 passes and feeding Frank Gore and LaMichael James to three touchdowns.

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. And those two plays I believe that Gore scored on, both of them were read-type plays. And the beauty of what we’ve done in the pistol — and what I see 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.

The Pistol works very well with athletic quarterbacks who can run, any offense does. But what it does best is allow you to run any number of plays, including passing plays, although being so close to the line of scrimmage does hurt your chances of running an effective play-action. Still, the Falcons were so worried about containing Kaepernick in the pocket, it allowed Frank Gore and James to run very well, while also Kaepernick did an excellent job in using his arm for quick throws to Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree.

When that back sits behind the quarterback, the backers do not have a clear view of what he’s doing. And everybody’s talking about the read-option, which is a big part of our offense, but you can run downhill power games, counters, gaps and all that from the pistol. And those counter steps and trap steps that backs take in this day and age — sometimes those linebackers lose it.

The Pistol isn’t a gimmick. It’s a system designed for power running, but works best with a quarterback who keeps defenses on their toes, not knowing if he’s going to run, hand-off or pass. That’s one big headache for the Baltimore Ravens going into the Super Bowl, and something great for the 49ers to build on.

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