Welcome to the best NFL offseason series you'll ever read -- that is, if you're like me, and you want nothing more than the blissful lie that your team will be good in 2019. How Your Team Won Super Bowl 54 will take you through each NFL franchise with one goal in mind: convincing you that there's at least one universe in which Your Team wins it all. I'm Doctor Strange, you're Tony Stark, the Avengers are Your Team, Thanos is...Bill Belichick? I've lost the metaphor.
One thing's for sure:
You'll die in the end. Your Team is going to win Super Bowl 54.
FREAKIN' LOOK AT THIS PEOPLE LOOK AT IT
DO YOU SEE IT?! ARE YOU LOOKING AT IT?!
Okay, okay, okay. I'm calm.
The pistol alignment matters a great deal in an NFL that's increasingly embracing the spread and moving to shotgun offenses. Let's paint this picture.
The spread offense wants to stretch the defense horizontally -- that's the most fundamental concept that all iterations of the spread share, and it's why the system is named as such. Generally, spread isn't so much a system as it is a philosophy: by forcing the defense to cover the entire range between the sidelines, you force one-on-one matchups, decreasing the density of the defense and maximizing the yardage that can be gained by your top athletes.
In order to quickly get the ball to the boundary, the quarterback needs to be in shotgun, to be immediately ready to turn and fire, while ensuring that immediate constraint plays (like bubble screens) are forward passes. It also opens the world of read option runs, in which the quarterback becomes an option to tuck and run with the football, again forcing the defense into further stretches and constraints as they account for the 11th man. At the college level, this also allows for subpar throwers to quarterback effective offenses, by minimizing their difficult downfield throws and maximizing their athleticism.
So we acknowledge the prevailing philosophy of the spread, and recognize why shotgun alignments are an essential part of most successful spread offenses. Nice.
However, there are drawbacks of shotgun alignments. One of the big ones: back alignment. In the shotgun, it's difficult if not impossible to put your running back directly behind the quarterback -- he'd be at least nine yards deep, which means any runs he'd execute would take quite some time and effort to just get back to the line of scrimmage.
Accordingly, backs line up to either side of the quarterback in shotgun alignments, which has a deleterious effect on the variety of running concepts and directions a team can establish. It's harder to execute downhill runs, as the running back is initially moving laterally; it drastically limits the frequency of "same-side runs," or put another way, runs typically go to the left when backs are aligned to the quarterback's right, and vice versa. Defenses can set the strength of their run defense opposite the backs' alignment and feel comfortable knowing that most runs will flow that direction.
Of course, this doesn't apply to every shotgun offense. It's a generalization. But the shotgun alignment makes the running offense go vanilla; pistol brings the flavor back.
The pistol alignment -- an abbreviated shotgun, if you'll permit the imagery -- allows for a back to align behind the quarterback, which opens up the downhill running game and conceals run direction by keeping formations mirrored. That, at its most basic level, cures the shotgun's ailments while retaining its advantages for the spread system.
Then it's the cherries on top. Pistol alignments do more than just fix the back, they create a natural space for an upback/H-back/fullback/do-it-all-back/whatchamacallit. This back can align next to the quarterback -- like the running back in shotgun -- and create more read-option and even triple-option opportunities. He can push up into the line of scrimmage and become an extra blocker -- kickout or lead or arc -- on any number of option style plays. Go watch some Oklahoma, Memphis, Oklahoma State, or Nevada to see what I'm talking about.
Or, you know, watch Baltimore.
Baltimore has a wicked running QB in Lamar Jackson -- who was very successful running pistol ideas in Louisville. They've added a lightning-quick zone runner in Justice Hill -- who was very successful running pistol ideas in Oklahoma State -- to an already strong stable of backs with Kenneth Dixon, Gus Edwards, and Mark Ingram. Their versatile tight ends -- Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst, and Nick Boyle -- allow them to run 12 personnel sets that look more like 20, 10, or 11 by alignment. Throw in their fullback -- yep, they've got one of those! -- and now they can run 22 and 21 personnel sets with multiple running, receiving, and blocking threats.
That is a whole two handfuls, man. Defenses don't want to deal with that. They have to put multiple defenders in conflict responsibilities; ask defensive backs to play in the box and linebackers to play flexed out; default to zone ideas to keep eyes on Lamar Jackson should he break the pocket. There's so much going on, that Jackson doesn't even need to be a plus passer -- he just needs to be enough of one to keep the passing game relevant.
He's more than that.
Baltimore already has a good defense. Now they have a unique offense that can withstand the ups-and-downs of a young and inconsistent quarterback, with depth at the skill positions to withstand injuries. That offense won't have the gaudy stats of a Sean McVay West Coast bonanza or Doug Pederson's fully-automatic spread 'em and shred 'em -- but it will be a bear to prepare for and put points on the board. That's what counts.
How The Baltimore Ravens Won Super Bowl 54
The record for QB rushes in a single playoff game is 17 -- Tom Matte, in 1965. Yardage is 181, in 2013, on the legs of Colin Kaepernick (16 attempts). TDs is 3 -- Otto Graham. So Lamar will hit 23 attempts, 204 yards, and 3 touchdowns as the Ravens possess the ball for 39 minutes and suffocate the Los Angeles Rams in back-to-back Super Bowls. Earl Thomas wins MVP for 2 pick-sixes and because I want him to. John Harbaugh is never put on the hot seat ever again.
How many universes does this happen in?
30 out of 1000. The Ravens at +275 to win the division are a tremendous bet.
How does it all go wrong?
I mean they're gonna run the ball a lot, which is apparently never a good idea, so.