X&O Labs Releases...

The Pistol Formation Study

>> 5 of Chris Ault’s Former Assistants Break Their Silence on Nevada’s Pistol

>> Over 35 Videos Featuring Pistol Game Film in This Historic Study

>> 13 pdf and PowerPoint Digital Downloads. Just Click and Go…

>> The Largest Research Project Ever Conducted on the Pistol


The Pistol is a formation, not an offense.  That’s the first directive in our research that we wanted to make abundantly clear.

X&O Labs’ ground-breaking research into the Pistol formation uncovered new trends in football’s most popular formation. Continue reading to discover how you can get instant access to all 6 cases and all 35 videos found in The Pistol Formation Study.

Thanks to the recent success of the San Francisco 49ers and the Washington Redskins, the Pistol formation is quickly taking shape throughout all levels of football.   While it’s the Pistol formation that seems to be the “new fad” in football, it’s origins trace back almost nine years ago when former University of Nevada head Coach Chris Ault designed it in 2005.

Still, the success the Pistol has generated the last two seasons has top level NFL coordinators scurrying across the country trying to find as much information on the formation as possible, including how to defend it.  In fact, according to our research, 52.2 percent of coaches have only begun to use the Pistol formation in just the last two seasons.  So we found it to be no surprise that Chris Ault is now a consultant with the Kansas City Chiefs, and rumors are circulating that at least four other teams (aside from the 49ers and Redskins) will be tinkering with the formation this coming fall.

In fact, one NFL assistant told us, “I don’t know why teams are not running their entire offense through it.”  Perhaps most of them will and our intention of this report is to provide coaches with the most useful information possible so that if they desire to make their own transition to the Pistol they will be thoroughly educated in doing so and can make their own decision on whether or not to implement it.

Editor’s Note: We put all of our research findings into our biggest special report, The Pistol Formation Study – and it’s only available in X&O Labs’ exclusive membership website: Insiders.

We went right to the source when conducting our information on the Pistol.  In each of the six case studies that make up The Pistol Formation Study, you will find first hand interviews from five of Ault’s former assistants who are now spread throughout the country as assistants.  As tight -lipped as they might have been while still at Nevada, they talked exclusively to X&O Labs:

  • Chris Klenakis: former offensive coordinator at Nevada, now the offensive line coach at Iowa State University.
  • Jim Mastro: former running backs coach at Nevada, now the running backs coach at Washington State University.
  • Cameron Norcross: former offensive line coach at Nevada, now the offensive line coach at Fresno State University.
  • Dave Brown: former Graduate Assistant at Nevada, now the offensive coordinator at Fort Lewis College in Colorado.
  • Kevin Maurice: former QB’s assistant at Nevada, now the recruiting coordinator at Purdue University.

Of course, those aren’t the only coaches that contributed to this massive report.  We had an abundance of support, upwards of three-dozen coaches contributed at all levels of football by providing both content and video on some of things they were doing from the Pistol.  The Pistol Formation Study contains over 35 videos, which is the largest collection we’ve amassed in all our special reports.

The contents of our special report are broken down into the following cases below:

Case 1: Philosophy and Formations: 

This first case focuses on common personnel groupings, formations and alignments that are most frequently utilized in Pistol formations.  Our research in this case includes the following:

  • The origins of the Pistol formation and dispelling the myths most commonly associated with why it was constructed by Ault, as told by his top assistants

    Former Nevada Offensive Coordinator Chris Klenakis opens up about Nevada’s Pistol Offense in X&O Labs’ The Pistol Formation Study – available in the Insiders website.

  • The 5 top advantages of using the Pistol formation as told by the various coaches who took our survey
  • Why 11.6% of coaches first implemented the Pistol formation to produce a run/pass conflict for second level defenders, 25.6% of them said it was the biggest advantage the Pistol gave them
  • Why over 30% of coaches are now in the Pistol formation in 11-personnel and 26.3% are using it in 10-personnel… A stark contrast to Nevada’s roots of being in 12- or 13-personnel much of the time
  • Why 11-personnel and 21-personnel Pistol formation may be the newest trends in offenses this season
  • Why many coaches including Bruce Barnum, the offensive coordinator at Portland State University, are saying 10-personnel Pistol may be the hardest formation to defend
  • The reasoning behind using a detached and an unattached Tight End in Pistol formations and the benefits of doing both and why 39.6% of coaches choose to use a detached Tight End
  • The benefits of using 30-personnel Pistol groupings, including new research on the Diamond Formation made popular by former Oklahoma State and now West Virginia Head Coach Dana Holgorsen
  • How coaches the University of New Mexico’s offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse are using 21-personnel Pistol formations to outflank defenses and provide instant misdirection
  • The different ways in which coaches in 21-personnel Pistol formations are hiding the offset back and breaking offensive tendencies
  • Why even though 53.2% of coaches choose to have their QB’s heels at four yards, many are beginning to move him up and back in certain downs and play calls
  •  Why some coaches are choosing to toy with the vertical alignment of the deep back in Pistol formations, based on personnel
  • Plus much, much, more…

Case 2: Base Run Concepts:

This case is centered around the base run concepts (other than option) most associated with the Pistol formation and why coaches are choosing to utilize the Pistol to run these concepts including:

  • New research behind the footwork on the Pistol inside zone concept
  • The technique of the Slice Player in the inside zone concept including why 51.9% of coaches choose to use the fullback to carry out these assignments
  • The difference between pure outside zone schemes and Pin and Pull Horn concepts in the run game, including the QB footwork behind each of these
  • How Heidelburg University’s head coach Mike Hallett has a three-play run check based on the technique of the Defensive End in even fronts
  • Why some coaches, including Bruce Barnum at Portland State University are choosing to have their Pistol back open up the same way in all run concepts, and the benefits it gives him offensively
  • Various tweaks of the Horn concept including a QB Horn and Slot Horn variant that many coaches are transitioning into
  • Why 24% of coaches feel that gap concepts in the Pistol formation are the most productive, which includes single and double puller schemes
  • Why 45.3 percent of coaches use the Power concept out of a two-back Pistol personnel, but are constantly changing where that back starts pre-snap
  • Full responses from our survey on how coaches are training the footwork of their QB on gap concepts
  • Plus game film on all these concepts and much more…

Case 3: Double-Option Concepts:

In this is our largest case which focuses on the most popular concepts in the Pistol formation – the read option game and why 35.1% of coaches said the zone read scheme was the most productive scheme they ran out of Pistol formations.  This case is strictly centered around double option concepts including:

  • The distinction between double option and triple option concepts in the Pistol and why we’ve found many coaches are either using one or the other and not both
  • Why the mesh game in the option concepts is the baseline for usage, and the various ways in which coaches are teaching it
  • Jim Mastro’s “drop and cock” technique for his QB’s in the zone read game and why he says it’s more effective than a “ride and decide” principle
  • Mastro’s “perfect mesh” video that includes clips of the “snatch technique” the one he taught Colin Kaepernick while he was the running backs coach at Nevada
  • New research on the debate on whether QB’s should use 45-degree or 90-degree footwork on read schemes and distinctions between both
  • New research on the debate on whether QB’s should use a shuffle or open technique in their footwork and distinctions between both
  • Various footwork of the Pistol back in zone read schemes including what Mastro calls a “search step” and why it may be more important that they “slow” up when getting the mesh
  • Why many coaches, like Cameron Norcross have decided to change the aiming point of the back to a back side entry point in zone read schemes
  • Various ways to manipulate the dive read in zone read concepts, including new research on the “Arc” and “Slip” concepts made popular at Nevada
  • Chris Klenakis presents on the technique of the “Arc” and “Slip” player in zone read schemes
  • How coaches are using various players to be the “Slip” and “Arc” player in zone read schemes including pure responses from our survey on how coaches are teaching the slip or “cruiser” technique
  • A breakdown of the double arc concept made popular by the San Francisco 49ers this season with Kaepernick and the different spin-offs coaches are using of it
  •  How coaches are combating various defensive counters of the zone read including negating gap exchanges, first level twists and alignment changes of first and second level players
  • Plus game film of these concepts and much more…

Case 4: Triple Option Concepts:

In this case we devote our research to triple option concepts from the Pistol formation including why many pure Veer and Midline option coaches are deciding to run these schemes from the Pistol including the following:

  • A breakdown of the various advantages of utilizing Veer and Midline schemes from the Pistol formation according to the coaches we spoke with
  • The distinction between “Zone Read” and “Veer Read” schemes and why both coaches are choosing to use both in their offensive system
  • The various QB footwork used in these schemes presented by pure option coaches
  • Why coaches like Daryle Weiss, the offensive coordinator at Bates College (ME), are using more of a flip technique by the Center in Pistol formations in an attempt to speed up the mesh game
  • Various teach tapes provided by coaches they use to teach the mesh of the QB and Pistol back in triple option schemes
  • The various Pistol back footwork used in triple option concepts presented by pure option coaches
  • How coaches are finding way to manipulate the read key in triple option concepts by using the “load” and “deuce” concepts
  • Various pre-snap movement packages, including the ones used at Sam Houston State University that hide the dive and pitch player in triple option concepts
  • How many coaches are finding ways to effectively integrate practice time to accommodate the fundamentals necessary to integrate these option concepts in their offense
  • Actual practice plan installations from coaches that details how the time is spent on each of these concepts and fundamentals
  • Plus game film of these concepts and much more…

Case 5: Play-Action Concepts:

This case is strictly centered around the pass game most commonly associated with the Pistol formation, particularly the play-action concepts which many coaches say is one of the biggest benefits of being in the Pistol formation.  This research includes:

  • A detailed breakdown of the most common pass protections utilized in Pistol formations and the percentage of coaches that use each
  • New research on Zone or Naked concepts from Pistol formations and various adjustments/tweaks coaches have made off Nevada’s original scheme and why 44% of coaches said this was the most productive pass concept
  • New research on the Zone Read or “Bluff” play-action pass concepts from Pistol formations and the various adjustments/tweaks coaches have made off Nevada’s original scheme
  • New research on gap play-action concepts including those based off of Power and Counter run actions
  • Veer and Midline play-action pass schemes from Pistol formations including four vertical concepts that stretch defenses
  • The most common errors coaches are making with the Pistol back in pure man protections and how the former Nevada staff corrected them
  • Plus game film on these concepts and much more…

Case 6: Exclusive Pistol Resource Library:

This case is truly special.  It is a collection of data such as power points and PDF’s that our coaches provided to document what they are doing in Pistol formations.  It’s a service extended exclusively to X&O Labs’ Insiders members.  It’s “plug and play” football at your fingertips that our readers can take advantage of.

Over 35 Videos Included in This Special Report

Here’s a short clip of just one of the 35 analysis videos waiting for you in the full-length version of The Pistol Formation Study. 

When you join X&O Lab’s exclusive membership website, Insiders, you get instant access to all the full-length videos and all 6 case studies found in The Pistol Formation Study.  We’ve released the entire Pistol Formation Study on our exclusive membership website - Insiders.

You can join the Insiders right now and get instant access to this study.

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  • Concept Blocking System
  • Defensive Line Study
  • 3rd Down Conversions
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