Shot­gun of­fense went from sparse to ev­ery-down sta­ple

Sixty per­cent of of­fen­sive snaps came from shot­gun this sea­son

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - SPORTS - By Howard Fen­drich and Mark Long AP Sports Writ­ers

Might be hard to be­lieve while watch­ing Aaron Rodgers, Rus­sell Wil­son or Ben Roeth­lis­berger in the play­offs this week­end, but it wasn’t all that long ago that the shot­gun for­ma­tion was some­thing of a cu­rios­ity in the NFL, used less than once ev­ery five plays in 2006.

In to­day’s pass-heavy era pop­u­lated by play­ers who be­came ac­cus­tomed to spread of­fenses in high school and col­lege, most teams use it most of the time: This sea­son, 60 per­cent of of­fen­sive snaps be­gan with the quar­ter­back 5 yards or so be­hind the line of scrim­mage.

Dur­ing their first 10 plays in the wild-card round, the four win­ners — Rodgers’ Pack­ers, Wil­son’s Sea­hawks, Roeth­lis­berger’s Steel­ers and Brock Osweiler’s Tex­ans — used the shot­gun a com­bined 67.5 per­cent.

Still, the case could be made that the shot­gun — a nov­elty when Tom Landry’s Dal­las Cow­boys went to it pri­mar­ily for third downs and 2-minute drills in the 1970s, then pop­u­lar­ized more re­cently af­ter Bill Belichick’s New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots had suc­cess with it in the 2000s — has reached a tip­ping point, and it’s time for teams to be more ju­di­cious about the for­ma­tion.

For the sea­son, 78.9 per­cent of pass­ing plays and 32.5 per­cent of run plays started in shot­gun, ac­cord­ing to data pro­vided to the AP by TruMe­dia Net­works, whose chair­man is Tony Khan, the son of the Jack­sonville Jaguars’ owner.

“Some teams, it seems like they’re in shot­gun all the time,” Hall of Fame quar­ter­back War­ren Moon said. “And it won’t go away. Un­til some­body fig­ures out how to slow it down, you’ll keep see­ing a lot more shot­gun go­ing on.” That might very well be. Af­ter all, as Moon and oth­ers point out, a big ex­pla­na­tion for the rise of the shot­gun is that quar­ter­backs ar­rive in the pros hav­ing spent their for­ma­tive years op­er­at­ing that way. By tak­ing a shot­gun snap, in­stead of be­ing handed the ball di­rectly by the cen­ter, a QB has an eas­ier time read­ing an op­po­nent’s de­fen­sive alignment. He also gets more time to find some­one to throw to be­fore a rusher is in his face.

“It’s here to stay. It’s in the pro­gram. It man­i­fests,” for­mer NFL player and head coach Herm Ed­wards said.

Ed­wards said that when he’s told play­ers at a high school all-star game to line up right be­hind the cen­ter, “They look at me like, ‘Hey, Coach. We don’t do that.”’

No­tably, most of the league’s very best of­fenses re­lied com­par­a­tively lit­tle on the shot­gun this sea­son. The five high­est-gain­ing teams (Saints, Fal­cons, Red­skins, Pa­tri­ots, Cow­boys) all ranked among the eight that used the shot­gun least fre­quently.

Four of the five teams that used the shot­gun most ranked among the 10 poor­est-per­form­ing of­fenses. One ex­am­ple: The San Fran­cisco 49ers were in the shot­gun 77.6 per­cent of the time (add in the pis­tol, with a smaller gap be­tween cen­ter and QB, plus a run­ning back hid­den in the back­field, and the fig­ure tops 90 per­cent) and were 31st of 32 clubs in av­er­age yards.

Chip Kelly, who was fired af­ter one year as the Nin­ers’ head coach, likes the pis­tol be­cause “your quar­ter­back now can be a fac­tor in the run game.”

At the other end of the spec­trum: Un­der of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Kyle Shana­han, At­lanta ac­cu­mu­lated 415.8 yards per game, No. 2 in the NFL, while be­ing in shot­gun a league-low 37.5 per­cent of plays.

DON WRIGHT — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Might be hard to be­lieve while watch­ing Aaron Rodgers, Rus­sell Wil­son or Ben Roeth­lis­berger in the play­offs this week­end, but it wasn’t all that long ago that the shot­gun for­ma­tion was some­thing of a cu­rios­ity in the NFL, used less than once ev­ery five plays in 2006.

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