There may be some dispute about whether or not the Redskins should continue to utilize the read option attack as a major part of their offense. However, it appears that the Pistol is in Washington to stay.

“I think it’s the key to everything,” said Kyle Shanahan last week.

Actually, the Pistol is more of a formation than it is an offense. It’s a variation of the shotgun formation, which has been used regularly in the NFL since the 1970’s. In the shotgun, the quarterback lines up seven yards behind the center to take the snap and the running back lines up a few yards to his left or to his right.

The downside to the shotgun is that it restricts the running game as the running back has to cross over to the quarterback to get a handoff and that limits which way he can go. The need to line up the back to one side or the other also can make it difficult for him to get a proper angle to pick up the blitz.

Enter the Pistol. Nevada coach Chris Ault moved his quarterback closer to the center, four yards off the line, and lined up the running back three yards behind him. In 2009 three Wolfpack teammates each rushed for over 1000 yards—quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running backs Via Taua and Luke Lippincott.

The Redskins became one of the first NFL teams to utilize the Pistol extensively when Robert Griffin III took the reigns of the offense last season. The formation became the primary launching pad for the read option, the attack that led to Griffin breaking the rushing record for a rookie quarterback with 815 yards and helped Alfred Morris set the Redskins’ single-season rushing record with 1613 yards.

The Pistol formation allowed Griffin to execute the option without needing to turn his back to the defense. But there are advantages to the Pistol that have nothing to do with the read option and will be beneficial to the offense if and when Kirk Cousins has to take snaps.