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ATL Film Room: Robert Griffin III and the 'pistol' attack


We forked the Washington Redskins last month. That might have been a wild mistake.

With consecutive victories over the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, the Redskins caravan creeps ever closer to a playoff berth. Their success has everything to do with Robert Griffin III and the frenzied "pistol formation" offense.

The pistol is a relatively new scheme. Washington's version bears resemblence to the offense Colin Kaepernick ran at the University of Nevada under coach Chris Ault, who dreamt up the pistol in 2004. One of Ault's motivations was to dial up a power run game out of a spread formation, and we've seen the Redskins succeed on that front.

The option offense is dismissed by many in NFL circles as a passing fancy, but when your quarterback excels at protecting the ball (and RG3 has thrown just four interceptions all season) the pistol becomes a dangerous scheme that forces defenses to play mistake-free football -- or pay the price.

Let's take a look at three plays from Monday night's 17-16 win over Big Blue:

Run, Alfred, run

This offense starts with rookie running back Alfred Morris. Washington leads the NFL in rushing, and a successful ground game is core to the pistol. The Redskins waxed the Giants for 248 rushing yards in Week 7 and piled up another 207 on Monday night. So what gives?

Washington likes to bang opponents with rapid-fire run plays, and Morris fits like a glove in this scheme. This 19-yard gain shows a Giants defense on its heels. Why? Because its attention is divided all over the field. Will Morris get the ball? Will RG3 shift into play-action? Will Griffin simply take off with it?

The Giants were all the rage after slamming the Green Bay Packers 38-10 in Week 12, but the Redskins present an entirely different problem.

"This offense puts so much stress on the defense that it's hard to do the things we were able to do against the Packers," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck told The Washington Post.

In order for the pistol to work, defenses must respect the run. Morris commands attention, leaving opponents vulnerable against the pass.

Generating confusion

Griffin has been nearly unstoppable in the play-action passing game. The Post scored him as 9 of 11 throwing out of play-action against the Giants but just 4 of 10 on pure dropback throws. That speaks to the pistol's strength of deception.

RG3's 8-yard, game-winning touchdown strike to Pierre Garcon is a good example of what happens to defenses when they have to account for so much chaos at once. Garcon slips into space untouched on this play.

"The reason this offense is so difficult to defend is because of the variation,"'s Daniel Jeremiah told me Wednesday. "Linebackers are used to simply getting a run/pass read and reacting accordingly. That isn't the case against RG3 and this offense. There are run/pass/option and zone read plays that effectively paralyze linebackers. On this touchdown, there was so much action to worry about on the front side that the linebackers don't see the wide receiver crossing from the backside. Griffin basically functions as Mr. Freeze!"

The soul-crusher

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan saw Griffin take a pounding with the ball earlier this season. Washington has since reduced plays asking RG3 to carry it into the fray, but not entirely, because certain calls allow RG3 the option to exploit broken coverages with his speed.

Griffin masterfully sells the fake handoff. On this play, respect for Morris draws defenders into the center of the field. Jason Pierre Paul wants this play back, because his job is to contain the outside, and he blows the assignment entirely.

With JPP sucked in, Griffin takes off into a wide-open prairie land. Forty-six yards later, the Giants are frustrated and without answers.

They won't be the last team to feel that way until defenses figure out how to react more quickly to the Redskins' pistol offense.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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