Alex Smith All-22 - Pistol AND the Read Option

From the FanPosts -Joel

While reading up on the pistol I randomly re-discovered this Greg Cosell article on Alex Smith's not-so-good game against the New York Giants in the 2011 NFC Championship.

This time, however, one line stuck out at me that I never even noticed before:

"They ran the ball 28 times for 150 yards, including 2 runs by Alex Smith out of the read option."


So I went back and checked the All-22 and, sure enough, Alex Smith ran the read option against the New York Giants about two-and-a-half years ago.

This odd discovery prompted me to ruminate earlier today on the history of the Jim Harbaugh offense in San Francisco and where it might be headed for 2013.

As for your (and my!) Kansas City Chiefs, it shows that Alex has experience running the read option at the NFL level.

Below, I have utilized my standard MS Paint procedure to bring you some stills from that game, as well as more from this past season, of Smith in the pistol and/or running the read option.

Do remember that the two are not the same. The read option is a play. The pistol is a formation. That's it. You can have a pistol formation and run the read option out of it, but you can also throw from it or run a power game from it or utilize the spread. It's just a formation. The important part is the concepts derived.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bang, Bang! He Shot Me Down

In every still, I have circled the gentleman/woman that Smith is "reading."

The purpose of the read option is to freeze and otherwise-exploit a purposefully-unblocked defender (is that enough hyphens for you?) by having the quarterback decide to hand it off to the back or keep it himself.

It gives you an extra blocker, lets you move your guys to the second level, and, when executed well at the right time, has big play potential.

The first set of stills come from the NFC Championship Game verse Eli Manning and the Giants.


Smith's eyes are focused on the circled Giant defender. He makes the correct decision to hand the ball off to Frank Gore up the gut.

The blocking on this play is excellent, and the Niners have more bodies at the point of attack than the Giants do. Both these points are a rare occurrence for this game as the 49ers' o-line was man-handled all day by the superior New York defensive front (and we won't talk about it anymore because I spent that night drowning my sorrows in beer and women in a San Francisco bar. Never again!).


In this still Smith keeps the ball himself upon seeing the Giants defender crashing the line of scrimmage unblocked. He works his way out side for a small gain.


Again, the circled defender is unblocked; and, again, Smith elects to keep it himself and maneuver outside:


One of the advantages of the read option is that it can catch a defense off guard -- especially if they are unprepared for it.

Above we see Smith is able to get around the New York linebacker despite correct positioning and no one to block him because he is over-committed to the threat of Frank Gore up the gut.

It leads to this:


A pretty big gap and, as you can see, the circled linebacker from the previous still is now tackling Frank Gore even though it is Smith who has the ball.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Is That a Pistol in Your Pocket or You Just Happy to See Me?

The following set of stills are from the 2012 season.


The Phoenix sees two guys outside and elects to hand it off to Gore.


Here is a formation you might see the Chiefs utilizing a lot. Smith is about 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage, with Kendall Hunter at his right hip.


Smith sees a whole mess of bodies to his right and lets Hunter keep it.


Hunter avoids that huge hole above him and decides to run into the other mess of bodies to his left. I'm not sure why.

Either way, the purpose of this still is to show Smith "following through" on the fake. He pretends he has it himself and begins running outside.


Once again, about 4/5 yards back from center. Traditional shotgun (5 to 7 yards back) can look like this, too; but this would be considered the pistol formation in my book.


And a different perspective of the same moment:



Here we have Mario Manningham in motion, selling a potential sweep. Smith is in the pistol formation with Gore behind him and (former 49er) nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga to his front-right.

Yes, the nose tackle is in the back-field.


Sopoaga pulls to his left. What this ends up looking like is a possible triple option play.

Smith could hand it to Gore. Or he could keep it himself and run outside.

If he keeps it himself and runs outside, he could then pitch it to Manningham, who is running where the red arrow is pointing.

Or he could keep it himself and run more. It's a hand-off option with an added pitch option should Smith elect to run outside.

If you are confused (it's okay; I am, too), the second part of what the above play could have turned in to if Smith kept the ball -- the pitch option -- is what we see here:


That is wide receiver Kyle Williams lined up next to Smith's right. Gore is on the left. Smith is about 4 yards behind center.

At the snap, both Smith and Williams run outside in tandem.


Smith reads the Jets defender and has the chance to run himself or pitch to Williams outside. The circled defensive back has to make a decision on who to pursue.


He chooses Smith, so #11 pitches it to the running Williams who almost takes it in for a touchdown.


Not content to utilize the pistol just for its stereotypical speed options, the 49ers bring in lots of bodies for an extra heavy run.

In case there weren't enough blockers on the strong side already, San Francisco also pulls left guard, Mike Iupati.

The play is not a read option, but a straight, strong side run. It produces exactly what you would expect: absolutely nothing.


Here, Smith is about 4 yards back with Gore behind him and fullback Bruce Miller (circled) to his right.

Miller pulls at the snap to lead for Gore.


Smith, seeing the Seattle defender in a very good position to prevent anything outside, hands the ball to Gore, who follows Miller through the hole.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Further Reading

Two pieces by Smart Football's Chris Brown: one written last December during the height of media fascination with the read option in the NFL; another written several years ago studying Colin Kaepernick and Chris Ault in Nevada.

Tyler Thigpen gets a shout-out in this 2010 analysis from Football Outsiders.

As much as I hate the Seahawks, Danny Kelly of SBNation's Field Gulls does wonderful things. Two required articles by him are this breakdown of the Seahawks' and 49ers' use of the pistol as well as this much more masturbatory article about the 49ers' mutli-faceted offense. These are the kinds of things Reid might want to do with Smith in Kansas City.

And, lastly, just to make myself feel like a good football writer by association: some of my own, much-more-elementary all-22 breakdown of the Seahawks' option attack prior to the Niners @ Seahawks game last year.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

follow @liberty_JAC for all future shenanigans

cool stuff might happen there

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.