Notre Dame ran a number of plays from the Pistol formation* last season, but the Irish lacked a quarterback capable of executing any of the read-option concepts that truly give defenses fits. With Everett Golson and Malik Zaire at quarterback, Irish fans finally caught a glimpse of how effective the Irish offense can be using read-option concepts like the “Pistol Zeer.”
What is the Pistol Zeer?
The Pistol Zeer is a read-option concept that combines the Veer’s read and blocking scheme with the Inside Zone’s focus on the running back attacking the A-gap bubble. The offensive line down blocks, i.e., blocks away from the playside, and leaves the defensive end unblocked. The quarterback reads the defensive end to determine whether to hand-off or keep the ball. If the defensive end crashes inside, the quarterback should keep the ball; if the defensive end stays at home to contain the quarterback, the quarterback should hand-off. By having the running back attack the A gap rather than the B gap like a traditional Veer, it is easier for the quarterback to determine if the defensive end is crashing inside or staying home.
Malik Zaire’s long run was a variation of the Pistol Zeer known as the “Zeer Bluff.” The Zeer Bluff uses a tight end or H-back as a lead blocker for the quarterback. The blocker, whether a tight end or an H-back, typically comes from the backside of the formation and is responsible for blocking the force player. The play works best when the defense has six or fewer defenders in the box.
Notre Dame lines up with 11 personnel (3 WR, 1 TE and 1 RB). Wide receivers Corey Holmes and Eric Lee are lined up to the field while Justin Brent and tight end Durham Smythe are lined up to the boundary. Notice how Smythe is set behind the line of scrimmage as more of an H-back than a traditional tight end. Malik Zaire and running back Greg Bryant are lined up in the Pistol. Rice lines up with a four-man defensive front and has six total defenders in the box.
Zaire will read the defensive end (red circle). If the end crashes inside to stop Bryant, Zaire will keep the ball and run through the C gap; if the end stays at home to contain Zaire, he will hand-off to Bryant.
Zaire has an easy read on the play. The defensive end (red circle) immediately crashes inside to tackle Bryant. Meanwhile, Smythe (yellow circle) bypasses the end and leads Zaire through the C gap. Zaire pulls the ball and follows Smythe upfield before ultimately cutting back for a big gain.
The Irish had some success with the Pistol Zeer against an over-matched opponent on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how effective it will be against better defenses and whether the coaching staff packages the play with bubble screens or other throws to further stress defenses.
*For purposes of this article, the “Pistol” or the “Pistol formation” means any formation with the quarterback aligned approximately four yards behind center with a running back aligned directly behind the quarterback an additional three yards.
- Purdue Review: Using the “Slash” Concept in the Red Zone - September 14, 2014
- Rice Review: A Look at the “Pistol Zeer” - August 31, 2014
- Irish Archives: “Comeback” out of the “Rip” Formation - July 9, 2014