Using the H-Back Pistol Offense to Manipulate the Defense


The “H-Back”. Talk about something most coaches as the small college, high school, and youth football levels decide to give up upon because they don’t “have that type of athlete”. Well, for those of us who aren’t pessimists, the H-Back Pistol Offense adds unique elements to manipulate the defense.

Let me start by addressing some of your concerns. Yes, you probably have an “H-Back” in your program. No, he’s not a 6’6″ tight end unless your New England in 2011. Let me also say you probably don’t have a QB of Tom Brady’s caliber either, but you probably still use a quarterback in some fashion or another. Don’t let that lame excuse force you to ignore this article. Okay, so rant over. You got to coach up all your players – use tight end drills like these to start.

The H-Back, or really any movement player with some running and/or pass catching and blocking ability, can add a whole new element to your offense. The H-Back does a number of things to manipulate the defense. First and foremost, he can move the offensive gaps around quickly and easily, forcing defenses to respond with some reaction.

The H-Back Pistol Offenses: Advantages of the Pistol

We’re going to explore just the running game of this offense, because that’s how the pistol helps this type of system evolve. Under center, you’d be forced to pass in some situations. With the Pistol, you’ll always have a running option (even though the pass may be the better option – the run is still viable). Whenever you have a viable running option, the defense cannot tee-off on the pass, and their forced to play honest defense.

There are definitely play action, quick game, and drop back concepts that could enhance this ten-fold, but for time’s sake, this article will discuss running concepts.

H-Back Pistol Offense: Identify the Secondary Run Fits

As I’ve said countless times on Strong Football, secondary run fits are of critical importance to your success as an offensive play caller. Most well coached opponents run some stand front in some fashion, and if you are a well coached offense, your plays probably have a way to block all of them. The problem for most offense is where the extra “pass-first” (which they may not be) defenders from the secondary insert into the defense’s run fits.

With the H-back offense, even under center, we force the defense to declare their secondary run fit intentions. If they don’t, they give us a soft edge, or we quickly outflank them in some way. Either way, between 4-6 yards on the ground are to be had if the defense fails to adjust with the secondary, unless you get beat up front. Again, simple, effective blocking schemes will eliminate these mental mistakes, so this article will use schemes that can be run against most, if not all, fronts and have easy rules for all players to remember.

By understanding the secondary run fit intentions, we can manipulate the defense in a number of ways. If the defense does a number of different things when you motion your H-Back from play to play, use a check with me system to take advantage of what they show on that play.

H-Back Pistol Offense: Defensive Reactions

The first defensive reaction we’ll examine is when we motion the H-back to the tight end side, which will occur in all these diagrams due to time constraint. You could further manipulate the defense using return motion with the H-back (going back to the original spot), moving the H-back to a wing position opposite the tight end, sometimes motioning the flanker receiver after the H-back motioned to his side of the formation, or even just going to a twins set before motioning the h-back to the wing alignment either on the tight end side or away from the tight end side. Use these concepts to match up weaker safeties and corners on better blockers.

Back to the diagrams. In the diagram below, the H-back motions to a wing or hip position outside the tight end. In this case, the defense responds by rocking to a cover 3 look, with the free safety (F) playing the new “E” gap.


Upon Motion from Backfield to Strong Wing, Free Safety Spins to Invert and play new “E” gap

As you can see, we manipulate this by running away from the tight end with the Power Option. We read the defensive EMOLOS (end man on the line of scrimmage) away from the tight end because the Rover is the deep 1/3 player. You could run a lot of plays this way (Inside Zone for instance, speed option, etc). The biggest problem is the leverage of the linebackers relative to your blocking scheme and the alignment of the defensive line. Here, in the under, the 3 technique and defensive end are basically protecting the Will. If we can’t get the pulling guard on the Will, we should consider trap plays because we will have a great angle on that Will linebacker.


Pin and Pull Toss Sweep/Outside Zone Concept vs Cover 3 Cloud

In the diagram above, we get a different defensive reaction. Versus many trips sets (which this is), the defense will sometimes cloud a corner and play cover 3. They may do it to the single receiver, or the outside receiver on the trips side. This takes away quick passes or dominant receivers.

Well, you can you any blocking scheme (I picked pin and pull outside zone) to take advantage of the soft edge. The pulling linemen should eye any force players (like the corner beating the receiver – in that scenario the receiver should then go to the 1/3 safety) before turning their eyes inside to linebackers.

This scheme is essentially Wing T offense’s Buck Sweep at this point, without the buck trap concept.


Using the Option to Take Advantage of Double Invert Safeties

In our final example of the H-Back Pistol Offense, we see the defense brings both safeties down versus the H-Back set. This would normally mean we need to pass.

However, thanks to the pistol (or the shotgun really), we can read really any of the interior defenders and have an advantage. Because I like to use well recycled schemes, I chose a double option Inside Veer (reading the 5 technique end). The H back actually works back inside the tight end, makes sure the tackle blocks the Mike (he has a hard angle versus a well coached 5 technique) before working back out to the inverted safety.

Versus the double safety invert (be it cover 2 invert, a hard cover 4 shell, or a blitzing cover 0 concept), you have a lot of options – but many of them include passing or running toss sweep. I would rather play to where I can get helmets – and take advantage of a potentially blitzing defense with the option.

Conclusions on the H-Back Pistol Offense

This gives you just a quick glimpse on how we can take a “pro-style” offense, like the H-back offense, and use the pistol to add some option elements to make it a very flexible ground attack. Like I said, use your imagination with the formations and motions – as well as the player you use at H-back.

By the way, in regards to the motion, if you’re worried about “wordy” play calls, just tell the H-back on these plays he can motion from anywhere or from one look. It’s like calling “Jet Sweep”, you don’t really need to tag the motion in the call. The player knows he has to run jet sweep. It just depends on how much control you want to give the players and how you want to pick the plays (like a check with me system).