Indianapolis Colts 2013 Season Preview: Why the Pistol Formation Will Be Key

Jared Johnson@@jaredtjohnson21Featured ColumnistJuly 5, 2013

Andrew Luck should be bringing several new plays to the huddle in 2013.
Andrew Luck should be bringing several new plays to the huddle in 2013.Michael Hickey/Getty Images

A fad is a fad for a reason, so why not use it?

That seems like new Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton's attitude toward the pistol formation, which he has publicly stated that the Colts will use occasionally this season, according to SB Nation's Brad Wells.

Teams with dual-threat quarterbacks, most notably the Washington Redskins, the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks, have successfully started using read-option formations like the pistol to utilize their quarterbacks' running abilities.

Andrew Luck's athleticism does rival the athleticism of Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, but the Colts refused to run any read-option plays in favor of a downfield passing attack. The deep throws forced Luck slightly out of his comfort zone, but you wouldn't be able to tell from the Colts' 11-5 record or Luck's composure during games.

Now that Hamilton has arrived, the Colts plan to use "West Coast principles" in their offense, according to the Indianapolis Star (via's Dan Hanzus), which emphasizes shorter passes that will open up the field for long passes or runs. Since Luck had Hamilton as an offensive coordinator at college, the West Coast principles will be a lot more similar to what he is used to as a quarterback.

But apparently, the Colts will be switching it up in favor of the pistol formation for part of the time.

What is the Pistol Formation?

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In case you aren't familiar with the pistol formation, let's review it briefly.

According to Sporting Charts, the quarterback stands a few yards behind center—but not quite as far back as the traditional shotgun position. The running back remains behind him, and the three wide receivers and one tight end are in normal positions. 

The quarterback is close enough to see over the offensive lineman but far enough away that he has more time to defeat a pass rush (or "run rush," I guess).

The following video shows the rushing plays that Kaepernick was able to make out of the pistol formation last season:

Andrew Luck's Athleticism Needs to Be Used

While Luck isn't quite as speedy and probably won't run the ball in the pistol quite as much as Kaepernick, he is still nimble, strong and very good at reading blocks.

Since Luck's health is a top priority in the Colts organization, running out of bounds instead of getting tackled should always be his first instinct. But even if he cannot make it to the sideline, plays like the following can still happen:

Last season, Luck had many runs that weren't designed—he just had to get the heck out of the pocket to avoid a sack.

Even that didn't work sometimes. According to Advanced NFL Stats, Luck led the NFL in QB hits, getting hit behind the line of scrimmage 114 times. The next closest team's total was the Philadelphia Eagles at 93.

With an improved offensive line through free agency, look for Luck to use his athleticism and decision-making ability in a less spontaneous way in 2013 when the pistol formation is used to avoid some hits.

The Colts Receivers Need Quicker and Shorter Throws

Last year, Luck ranked seventh in the NFL in passing yards (4,374). However, according to Advanced NFL stats, just 1,611 of those yards came after the catch, which ranked him 18th in the NFL. This was mostly because of the deep attack the Colts used, which failed to properly utilize the short-area quickness of the Colts wide receivers.

With the pistol formation, the Colts receivers will be seeing a lot of quick hitters that they can get creative with after the catch.

T.Y. Hilton, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Coby Fleener are among the fastest players at their positions, which should allow them to make some nice plays after a short catch.

Here are some of Hilton's biggest plays from last season: You'll be able to see some of his success in catching short passes and taking them for big gains around the 3:06 mark.

Bottom Line

The pistol won't be a huge source of offense in the following year for the Colts, but it can provide some variance when the offense goes stale. The offense sure did grow stale sometimes last season, evidenced by Luck's unimpressive 54.1 completion percentage.

The following is a quote from a video in an article on with Jeffery Gorman, who interviewed Hamilton, which was quoted in a Stampede Blue article by Wells. Hamilton realizes how much of a beating Luck took last year, and doesn't want to take any more risks: 

"There's nothing we can't do...But, we'll be smart. We'll be judicious in how much we expose Andrew to taking additional hits."

I say that the Colts' revamped offensive line will do a better job in 2013 of protecting Luck, in order that he might be able to occasionally run the pistol without being worried about taking too many hits.