In an attempt to find some way to get their sluggish running game going while also sticking with the three-wide sets that quarterback Joe Flacco has typically thrived in, the Ravens tried something new in Sunday’s 24-18 loss to the Cleveland Browns. For the first time maybe ever, they used the pistol formation.
I wrote at length about the pistol before the Ravens played the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl if you want a thorough explanation of the origins of the pistol, but to quickly sum it up, it is like the shotgun formation where Flacco catches a snap, but the running back lines up behind him instead of next to him.
By my count, the Ravens used the formation five times against the Browns. They ran the ball with running back Ray Rice on each of those plays. Rice rushed for just five yards on those five carries.
“I thought it went pretty well,” head coach John Harbaugh said at his Monday press conference. “We ran some of our zone schemes out of that. There’s going to be more of that. Obviously there’s a lot of offense you can run out of that formation. It’s something that we’ll try to build on and give defenses something else to defend.”
The Ravens had success running out the pistol in the first quarter. Rice ran for five yards on his first carry from the formation and four on his second. But after he lost three yards on his next pistol carry, the Ravens did not use it until the fourth quarter, when Rice lost two yards on his fourth pistol carry and gained one on his final one.
Bernard Pierce did not line up as the back in the pistol.
“I think [the running backs] liked it. It’s not so much about the head start, but the angles are a little bit different on some of the plays, so that gives them a chance to get a little more in sync with the offensive live,” Harbaugh said. “You watch the teams that do that all the time, they run the same basic plays out of the pistol that you run with the quarterback out of center, so it gives you the opportunity to do that.”
Harbaugh could just be bluffing, but it sounded like we could see more of the pistol formation going forward, and if we do there will likely be more wrinkles as not to be predictable. But with the running backs rushing for just 28 yards on 17 carries against the Browns, why not experiment with something new to see if it sparks the offense?