Washington Redskins 2013 Season Preview: Why the Pistol Formation Will Be Key

Andy WittryCorrespondent IJuly 7, 2013

Rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris led the Washington Redskins to the playoffs last season.
Rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris led the Washington Redskins to the playoffs last season.Win McNamee/Getty Images

Led by rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, the Washington Redskins led the NFL in rushing last season with an average of more than 169 yards per game

With their young, mobile quarterback, the Redskins incorporated the "pistol" formation. Bucky Brooks, an analyst for NFL.com and the NFL Network, describes the pistol as a hybrid offense of the "hottest pro and college offensive principles."

I visited the University of Nevada-Reno on a school call. Chris Ault, the head coach of the Wolf Pack, is credited with creating the pistol to blend the strengths of the downhill running game from the I-formation with zone-read concepts from the spread offense.

With Morris lined up directly behind RGIII similar to the I-formation, Washington has more flexibility running the ball compared to a typical shotgun formation. 

After starting with a 3-6 record, the Redskins finished the regular season with seven consecutive wins. By defeating the Dallas Cowboys 28-18 in Week 17, Washington avoided a three-way tie for the best record in the NFC East and won the division for the first time since 1999. 

The Redskins have room to improve in their passing offense after finishing 20th in yards per game in the NFL last season. 

Griffin III showed promise as a dual-threat quarterback because defenses had to respect his passing ability. He threw for 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He had a 65.6 percent completion percentage, 71.4 quarterback rating and a 102.4 passer rating. 

(H/T: Elias) Robert Griffin III 93.3% completion rate is best by rookie in Super Bowl-era (min. 15 attempts)-- previous: Charlie Batch, 84%

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 18, 2012

Despite being a rookie, RGIII's statistics ranked among the best in the NFL. His completion percentage was the fourth best in the league. Only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady had better touchdown-to-interception ratios. 

As Griffin III develops as a quarterback, passing will become more important so that he takes fewer of the hard hits that he suffers when he rushes. 

Griffin III was knocked out of the Redskins game against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5 with a concussion, and he didn't play in Washington's Week 15 win against the Cleveland Browns due to an injury. 

UPDATE: @Redskins coach Mike Shanahan says @RGIII has Grade 1 LCL sprain that makes him "day to day" » http://t.co/NP5VMw52

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 10, 2012

After tearing the ACL, LCL and meniscus in his right knee in the Wild Card game against the Seattle Seahawks in last year's playoffs, Robert Griffin III and the Redskins will have to be much smarter about their use of the pistol. 

On running plays when Griffin III keeps the ball, he will need to be smarter about avoiding contact instead of looking to gain an extra yard by risking injury. In addition to Morris, Washington has a number of young running backs to use on offense. The Redskins should use their fresh legs in the backfield frequently and call designed run plays for RGIII sparingly. 

The pistol is only effective if there is a dual-threat quarterback and Washington needs to keep Griffin III healthy so that the Redskins can continue to build around him for the future. 

NFL analysts are missing it-its not just the "pistol" that's tough to stop-its spreading defenses out and having a QB who can run AND throw.

— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) February 1, 2013

Washington has a good mix of experience (Devery Henderson, Santana Moss and Donté Stallworth) and youth at the wide receiver position (Pierre Garçon, Leonard Hankerson) to provide Griffin III proven targets. 

Year one of the pistol formation with Robert Griffin III was a success for Washington, except for the injuries. Griffin III was knocked out of two games and didn't even play in one because of injuries. The Redskins can't afford to continue at that pace if they want to maintain their success in the future. 

Washington should continue using the pistol formation, but the Redskins need to be smarter about their use of Griffin III on running plays, which means that passing should be of greater importance next season.