Shotgun Formation, the pros and cons explained – Football 101

The NFL uses three basic types of formations for the QB. Shotgun, pistol and under center. There are pros and cons to the shotgun formation, but every team uses it, including those operating mainly in a WCO system. In addition, teams will use more or less depending on who they’ll playing.

As we saw against the Patriots* at home, Blake Bortles operated frequently in the shotgun because they went away from run-first with the absence of Leonard Fournette.

The QB will line up 5-7 yards behind the Center who snaps the ball to him. Below is only a handful of formations out a very long list. In a pass happy offense, the choices of where the X, Y, Z, TEs, RB and FB line up is a long list.

  1. A generic 3WR set with a TE and RB.
  2. A 3WR set with a TE/RB and 3 receivers on the left side of the offense.
  3. A 2WR 2 RB set with a TE.
  4. A 5WR set with 4WR on the left side of the offense, which is aka an Empty set.
  5. A Shotgun Heavy with 2RB and 3TE.

Shotgun Formation,Shotgun Sets

As you can see, these are 5 simple examples; however, there are essentially endless versions that can be diagramed with teams creating new looks each and every week. Always bringing new tools to the chess match.

The shot gun formation is primarily for passing, so from the con standpoint, many running backs and fullbacks feel the QB is in the way. Plus, they’re getting the ball from a standstill instead of moving forward to get it, which gives them mojo when they hit the line. Hence, the formations are used more for a pass heavy offense. Running plays are a bit limited from the shotgun.

This leads to why is it called the shotgun? Since it’s considered a passing formation, teams regularly use more than two receivers. This means they are spread out across the field, stretching out a defense. There is an array of choices, like a shotgun can spread pellets.

A con is since the ball is traveling through the air before reaching the QB, there’s a higher risk of error. The other drawback is if the Offensive Coordinator isn’t creative, defenses will game plan and set up for a passing game. This can stunt the options.
The pros are numerous.

First, it allows the QB more time to read the defense because his eyes are down field from the snap. Second, it gives the Offensive Line more time to create a pocket. Third, if he hangs back, rushers are father away giving the QB more time to adjust.

Fourth, he isn’t holding the ball as long for receivers to get in position. This can lead to less sacks. If the QB is under C, he has to drop back before he can make a pass, so at times he’s holding the ball longer.

Fifth, while the RB may feel inhibited with the run game, he’s in a better spot for passes out of the backfield. Not to mention, having a RB and FB beside him, gives the QB “Max Protection” assuming they don’t drift out for pass routes.

Finally, good OCs/RBs/ QBs (especially if he can scramble) can use the shotgun against its opponents by using the run creatively. Also, a QB can act like he’s taking the snap under Center, but drop back at the last second or the reverse. For this to work though, the QB actually needs to run some from under C.

General terms

  • 3WR – 3 wide receivers
  • 2TE – 2 tight ends
  • 3TE – 3 tight ends
  • 4WR – 4 wide receivers
  • 5WR – 5 wide receivers
  • 4 wide- 4 eligible receivers with a RB/TE in the backfield
  • 5 wide – 5 eligible receivers
  • Twins- two WR on one side of the ball.
  • Trips – three WR on one side of the ball.
  • Quads – four WR on one side of the ball
  • Queens – A pair of stacked receivers
  • Kings – A trio of stacked receivers

Don’t you just love football?!