News | Washington Commanders -

Running Game Sets Up Play-Action Success


Even as the rest of the NFL embraces a wide open aerial attack, the Redskins have remained balanced, employing the Pistol and play-action attack.

Redskins' running back Alfred Morris is tied for the rushing lead among NFL rookies (1,106 yards), doing it in six fewer carries than Tampa Bay's Doug Martin.

Galvanizing the {istol formation at the pro level, quarterback Robert Griffin III has gained 714 yards on the ground, passing for another 2,660 through the air.

The team's increased usage of the Pistol formation is by design, and has heavily contributed to the three-game winning streak.

"I think what's so good about the Pistol is just that you can do everything out of it," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan explained this week.  "I think one thing about the NFL, if they know a play is coming – no matter what the play is, no matter who the players are – if they know it's coming, defenses are going to stop it.

"The thing that the Pistol gives you, it allows you to do all the zone read and everything, but it allows you to run the rest of your offense. There's nothing you can't do out of the Pistol."

According to ESPN stats, the Redskins have run nearly half of all offensive snaps out of the Pistol since the Week 10 bye week. Griffin III has passed for nine touchdowns in the last three games, including one out of the Pistol formation in each game.

For Shanahan and the offensive coaching staff, this was a plan concieved in January, that really took form when the Redskins' moved up to the No. 2 overall pick.

With Griffin III in the backfield, the Redskins have the ideal playmaker for the system.

"We spend our time from January to April just studying college players coming out of the draft. I never really got into [the Pistol] until I knew we had a chance to get Robert," Shanahan said.  "The main stuff we studied was what the NFL had been doing. We wanted to see how NFL defenses were playing and what we thought we would have to do to adjust through the year. I think that's what helped the most."

Even when Griffin III has taken snaps out of a traditional NFL formation this season, the threat of the run has been paramount to the offensive success.

The Redskins' offense has used the play action fake to set up nearly 41 percent of Griffin III's passes this year, the highest rate in the league. According to ESPN stats, Griffin III's average target length (11.4 yards) is twice the league average (6.1 yards) on those attempts.

For a rookie quarterback with the skill set to run the scheme, Shanahan explained that the Pistol can put him in a position to make something out of nothing.

"You definitely have to have the right guy to run it very much. When you have the right personnel for it, you can do it a little more," he said.  "You don't mind doing it into a bad look. You do it into a bad look with the wrong type of people and it's going to be a really bad play.

"When you have the right people for it and it's a bad look, you can still get a positive yard, which helps you keep calling plays and helps you move the chains. It definitely helps with the guys that we have. That's what makes it."

Griffin III has thrown four-of-five touchdowns in the last two games off of the play action fake.  For the season, the Redskins have passed for a play action touchdown in five-of-six wins.

According to ESPN stats, the Redskins have only one play-action touchdown in the Redskins' six losses.

"All of the guys are just catching on to it a lot better and the coaches are getting better at coaching it," Griffin III said. "We're seeing what defenses are doing to us and we're able to exploit those holes when we can. Kyle [Shanahan] has just been, not aggressive, but a lot more confident with the play calls because the guys in practice are doing it the right way.

"Practice definitely translates to the game."




This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content