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Founder and Owner of the Flexbone Association. Since 2007 we have provided the tools necessary for teams to succeed running the Flexbone Association System. Over the last ten years over 200 teams have been instructed by the Flexbone Association. I've consulted with teams and or run camps everywhere from Belfair, WA to Key West, FL. The Flexbone Association strives daily to help coaches succeed with this time tested offense, I have been a football coach for 16 seasons, currently at Harrison High School in Kennesaw, GA I played at St. Mary's Springs High School in Fond du Lac, WI under legendary head coach Bob Hyland. I've been fortunate to be part of five state championship teams (1997,1998,2002,2011,2012). In 2011-2012 St. Mary's Springs led the state of Wisconsin in scoring and set consecutive school records for points scored, Psalm 27

The Pistol Disadvantage


With the play of Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers, at least the 2012 play of Kaepernick, it looks as if NFL defenses have caught up this year; The Pistol Offense and thus Pistol Flexbone has taken some high school and college campuses by storm. The two areas that have been most heavily affected are Michigan and Indiana. With the maturation of the scheme developed by highly successful head coach Tony Annese, notably of Muskegon High School, followed by Grand Rapids Community College and now  at Ferris State , many option teams across the nation have looked at running the Flexbone from the Pistol Formation. It does look however that the Ferris State attack has moved to more of a true shotgun attack with the back offset running a significant amount of jet sweep, and some single wing elements added.

Since I’ve been in the Flexbone business since 2007, I’ve had a number of coaches tell me that they were considering running Flexbone from the Pistol. I’ve continually cautioned against it, no matter who made the switch, for what reasons or how great our relationship is. I’ve also had many of those same coaches tell me they are going back under center. A few of the reasons are disparate, but others were comparable from coach to coach. 

Pistol Flexbone Base Aligment

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Let’s first take a look at the base alignment of the Pistol Flexbone, and some built in disadvantages you will have with the formational variance. First, the quarterback takes the snap 2.5 yards from the center. Any time the ball is snapped in the air, that’s a coaching decision. If the snap is not true and the quarterback mishandles the snap, that’s a coaching error. You don’t need to snap the ball in the air to the quarterback. Option football takes time to practice, so does the pistol or gun snap. You are spending precious practice time to do something that’s not mandatory.

The quarterback then has to catch each snap, which forces him to take his eyes off the read. The quarterback cannot get his eyes immediately on the read like under center. The longer it takes the quarterback to find his reads the more indecisive he will become when making them. Indecisive quarterbacks are not effective quarterbacks. 

Pistol Flexbone Mesh

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Now let’s move to the mesh. In the Pistol Flexbone, you must move the B-Back further away from the line of scrimmage, because the Quarterback is set further back. As you can see from the picture above, the mesh is taking place much further from the line of scrimmage than it would under center. The further the mesh is from the line of scrimmage the more time the defense has to react to the play. If you give the defense more time to react to the play, the quarterback will be wrong more often on his reads. Pistol coaches will tell you that giving the quarterback more time makes his reads easier. Time in this case is a detriment to the offense. 

Pistol Flexbone Mesh

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In one of my first coaching jobs in Arizona, we were running option from the gun. We played against Devon Kennard, then of Desert Vista, now of the USC Trojans. Since the read occurred further from the line of scrimmage, we gave a superior athlete the opportunity to play both the quarterback and the running back. Our quarterback was 6’1 and a rail thin 160 pounds. No matter if our quarterback gave the ball or kept it, Devon made the play. I concede that the read will take place a bit faster from the pistol than from the gun, but the point remains the same. Superior athletes given time to play any two phases of the option from the pistol will make your quarterbacks life harder.

The same case can be made for teams that will attempt to run a multitude of stunts against your offense. The more time they have to execute the stunts, the more elaborate the stunts can become. You allow either the dive key or pitch key the chance to slow play either of the first two phases of triple option. Your offense is likewise more vulnerable to a 3-2 exchange from the secondary. 

Setting the B-Back with his helmet at five yards from the line of scrimmage also increases the amount of time it takes to get the ball back to the line of scrimmage. I have always been a proponent of putting the best possible player you can at B-Back, regardless of size. I’ve seen players who are 5’8” 150 become tremendous B-Backs because they get through the hole at lightning speed. By moving the B-Back away from the line of scrimmage you are either negating the athletic advantage your B-Back could have over the defense, or if you have a bigger B-Back who is more of a workhorse that pounds the ball between the tackles, you make it more difficult for him to get into the line of scrimmage where he can do his damage.

In addition to the problems listed above, trying to make reads further from the read key makes life more difficult for the offensive line. These players are forced to hold blocks longer; and in what may be the case for your team, you’ve come to option football because of the difficulty of finding and developing effective offensive linemen. Even if you have quality linemen, making them hold blocks longer will lead to errors. Like many coaches can attest to, coaching the offensive line and defensive backs are the two hardest jobs in football. Give your linemen and offensive line coach every advantage available. The Flexbone Offense is built on speed, deception, and forcing defensive errors.

Scroll back to the formation diagram. Notice the width of the A-Backs. With the A-Backs set five yards from the tackle, you virtually eliminate your ability to run triple option with twirl motion. The backside A-Back will not be able to get into pitch relationship while remaining stationary. Furthermore you must motion an A-Back to run triple option. There is no way to get them into pitch relationship without the motion. Aligning in the “Spread” Flexbone formation under center, allows you to run triple option without the automatic motion.

Moreover the A-Back tail motion has to be elongated and more deliberate. In the Flexbone Offense we tell our A-Backs to get 1.5 to 2 steps in the ground before the ball is snapped. We want the motion to happen late and fast. In the Pistol Flexbone, the motion is required to be longer and more deliberate because of the distance the A-Back must travel to get in pitch relationship. Due to the depth of the B-Back; the A-Back’s depth must also be deeper, making it harder for him to get into pitch relationship (see below).

Pistol Flexbone Pitch Relationship

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Lining up the slots as wide as five yards from the tackle you make it much more difficult to run the load scheme. You concede this advantage to the defense. Akin to Split Back Veer teams, having complications on the nub side against squeeze and scrape defensive stunts, Pistol Flexbone teams find themselves in the same predicament. Pistol Flexbone coaches will tell you they can run different plays, but you are now getting into a situation where your triple option has significant restraints. 

Lastly, let’s survey the counter play distictions between the two offensive sets. With the A-Back aligned wide in the Pistol Flexbone, the only viable counter plays acessible to you are triple option back to trips with twirl motion, midline back to twirl motion or a wing counter play that obligates the offense to pull a guard, which often ends up being run outside the B-Gap. Notice that twirl triple option in unavailable out of the “spread” double slot Flexbone formation.

In the Flexbone Offense under center and with A-Backs aligned in the standard position, you have midline and triple available with twirl motion. Likewise you can run Counter Option (future article forthcoming); and you can run Counter Iso (another future article forthcoming). Those are by far the best two counter plays to run in conjunction with triple option. That pair of plays is nearly inaccessible to Pistol Flexbone teams.

Triple Option football has been around for 45 years. The Flexbone Offense is a system based attackthat has been developed and refined since he early 1980’s. It’s time tested, traditional and proven.  When you have great players almost any offense will work. All you need to do is make sure the bus gets to the game and your players all  have the right equipment. If you aren’t in this situation as 99% of us aren’t, then you will need to defeat your opponent conventionally with good coaching and good fundamentals.

Since the 2013 season is winding down for many of you; I’ve been inundated the last few weeks with inquiries from around the country. Take a look at how the Flexbone Association can help you with either a Flexbone Association Football Camp or the Flexbone Association Academy. If you have a question about either of them, contact me here.

Photo: Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

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One Comment on “The Pistol Disadvantage”

  1. Bruce Madden January 14, 2016 at 9:56 AM #

    This was a very well thought out article. You outlined concerns and challenges of the pistol flexbone very well. I would however say that your concerns are spoken like someone who hasn’t run the offense. Your concerns about the depth QB and the B back are well reasoned but not all that accurate in live situations. The 1 yard difference in depth for the B back is really the only difference that matters, and it doesn’t have a great impact on the execution. The extra yard barely slows down the mesh at all. I have been an option coach for my whole career and I’ve been running this offense since 2009. It’s highly effective. It eliminates the 8 man box almost entirely. As far as the snap, I would say snaps are something that you work on every day, whether you’re running a gun offense or under center. We haven’t had a mishandled snap in the last 14 games. That would be a hard thing to accomplish even for an under center team. The concern for the extra width of the A backs is also off base. We tell out A backs the same thing you tell yours, late and fast. We like to have them take 1.5 to 2 steps before the snap. What you do not take into account is that in this offense your QB is only 2.5 yds from the ball. We align our slots at 5 yards width but also at 2.5 yards depth. This cuts down the distance they have to travel and the angle of their motion. We go late and fast, the motion is essentially undetectable by the defense. We can also run option without motion because of the way defenses have to align. Lastly we do run whirly and counter option as well. Whirly option is a little tricky and takes practice but counter option can be run without any extra trouble. This offense is different from the traditional flexbone for sure. I’m even saying it’s better but the concerns you raise are from inexperience running this offense. In addition to all that, the advantages you gain by clearing the box and in the passing game outweigh any disadvantages this offense has.

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