The Pistol is an offensive set featuring at least one running back, and varying numbers of tight ends and wide receivers to go along with the typical five offensive lineman and the quarterback who is in a shallow shot-gun alignment. The base set has one back, one tight end, and three wide receivers.

The diagram below illustrates how the players might normally be aligned. NOTE: The Pistol is a lot like the Spread and has a wide variety of potential base sets.


While there are some variations, the typical alignment of players for the Pistol are:

  1. Offensive Lineman – 2-4 foot splits with variances depending on play call and/or program
  2. Wide Receivers or Split Ends – Generally wide, often outside of the numbers. Also with variances based on play call and blocking scheme
  3. Quarterback – Aligned at 3-4 yards behind the center
  4. Slot Receiver – Alignment will vary. This player will often go in motion.
  5. Tail Back – The Tail Back will align 1-2 yards behind the quarterback.

The Pistol is a derivative of the shot-gun offense with some elements of the spread and various other one back sets. Used successfully by Nevada and Utah, the Pistol was quickly adapted to implement a quick release 3-step game that complemented the use of many option football plays in the run game. Many Pistol teams also use an extensive motion package to help diversify the offense.

Pistol teams also commonly use other formations in certain situations to either gain a numbers or leverage advantage over the defensive scheme they are facing. Take a look at some of the other Pistol Formations coaches use.