Rams offense struck gold with this in 2023, so look for more in 2024

Once LA Rams HC Sean McVay finds something that works, he keesp improving it. Well, he hit the mother lode of offensive innovation in 2023.
Los Angeles Rams Minicamp, Sean McVay
Los Angeles Rams Minicamp, Sean McVay / Jayne Kamin-Oncea/GettyImages

Has LA Rams Head Coach Sean McVay lost his way? Has the master of offensive innovation hit the pause button? Or have we been so lulled into looking at the Rams offense in terms of it's passing game, route options, and big-play potential that we failed to grasp the subtle changes that could mean big things for this offense, and this team, in 2024? However we may have slipped the clutch on offensive analysis, let's get in gear right now.

While we have all been turning to the passing game, the offense has been making grand and effective use of the pistol formation. In fact, the Rams offense ran the pistol formation in the first three plays of their game against the New York Giants, and 10 times in all. each time the Rams used the pistol formation, the offense successfully gained yards. So now we simply need to answer the fundamental question: What is the pistol formation?

As the name would suggest, the pistol formation is a derivative, or variation, of the shotgun formation. In the more familiar shotgun formation, the quarterback lines up approximately seven yards behind the center, and the running back lines up to his side. In the pistol formation, the quarterback lines up four yards behind the offensive center, and the running back lines up directly behind him at a distance of two or three yards.

University of Nevada Head Coach Chris Ault developed the pistol in 2005. This innovative wrinkle preserved the advantages to the quarterback's ability to throw and to survey the entire field while introducing a far more effective rushing option by giving the running back a head of steam, while also allowing him to pick his rushing lane.

While some purists hold to the fact that the pistol offense is merely a formation, others have argued that it is an entirely new style of offense, and they may have a point. The pistol offense allows teams to run almost all standard offensive configurations knowing that the quarterback has a built-in four-yard buffer from the opposing pass rush. It also lends itself greatly to downhill running between the tackles.

You can get a glimpse of the pistol offense on display from the University of Oregon in the embedded video below:

Because of its formation alignment, pistol offense get an added bonus of deception because the handoff from quarterback to running back can be executed by the QB turning his back to the defense, forcing them to pause and distinguish the play as either pass or run.

Thanks to its advantages, more and more offenses are adopting some if not all of the pistol concepts in their own offensive arsenal. To that point, the LA Rams are simply one more team playing follow the leader. So what makes the Rams pistol innovative?

Well, for starters, the Rams make full use of the wide receivers on the football field as dependable blockers. That adds significant push off the line of scrimmage to the running play, as well as creating huge cutback lanes for the running back.

But as we had cited previously, the Rams complement of elite receivers forces the defense to think pass up to the moment that the running back is seen charging the line of scrimmage with the football in his hands. That hesitation is vital to the success of both the team's ground and aerial offensive assault.

Per Rams beat writer A.J. Shulte for the Sporting News, the team used the pistol formation the fourth-most of any NFL team, and was particularly active with the pistol after the Week 10 BYE. He also cites that the offense was particularly effective with the pistol, rising to the second best success rate in the NFL with a success rate of 31.9. He believes that the Rams will run the pistol formation even more frequently in 2024, and I agree

Using this development as a template, the Rams roster moves this offseason seem to fit the strategy perfectly. Big physical interior offensive linemen, a huge blocking tight end who can catch passes, and a deceptively strong and sturdy running back all put the Rams dead center of more pistol plays in 2024.

This is going to be fun to watch. Stay tuned. And as always, thanks for reading.