The Development of Shotgun Offense in the NFL, in Four Tables

NFL Shotgun Frequency, 2016
Highest Rate of Shotgun Lowest Rate of Shotgun
1 SF 99% 28 DAL 51%
2 DET 84% 29 TB 50%
3 BUF 80% 30 ARI 49%
4 CAR 78% 31 DEN 43%
5 GB 76% 32 ATL 40%
NFL Shotgun Frequency, 2011
Highest Rate of Shotgun Lowest Rate of Shotgun
1 DET 68% 28 MIA 30%
2 BUF 58% 29 SF 28%
3 CAR 57% 30 OAK 25%
4 DEN 55% 31 HOU 19%
5 GB 52% 32 CHI 15%
NFL Shotgun Frequency, 2006
Highest Rate of Shotgun Lowest Rate of Shotgun
1 MIA 44% 28 OAK 6%
2 NE 34% 29 SEA 3%
3 GB 34% 30 CHI 1%
4 IND 34% 31 HOU 1%
5 PIT 33% 32 TB 0%
NFL Shotgun Frequency, 1996
Highest Rate of Shotgun Lowest Rate of Shotgun
1 NYJ 27% 18-30 13 of 30 teams did not take
a single snap from shotgun in 1996.
2 NO 26%
3 ARI 26%
4 MIA 25%
5 JAC 21%

No, your eyes do not deceive you. The San Francisco 49ers set a new record by going shotgun (or pistol) on 99 percent of plays in 2016. This was Maximum Chip Kelly like the NFL had never seen before.

The 49ers only put their quarterback under center on ten offensive plays last season. TEN. Which means there were more teams that didn't run a single shotgun play 20 years ago -- 13, including the 1996 San Francisco 49ers -- than there were non-shotgun plays run by the 2016 San Francisco 49ers.

(By the way, in case it couldn't get stranger, none of those ten plays were short-yardage plays. Every one of the plays came with 9-10 yards to go except for a second-and-6, although we're only counting plays that counted here. There was also a second-and-4 where Daniel Kilgore got a false start. From Week 13 through Week 17, Colin Kaepernick never went under center.)

Also, for those of you curious because of today's signing of Adrian Peterson by New Orleans, the Saints ranked 25th last year, going shotgun on "only" 55 percent of snaps.


20 comments, Last at 26 Apr 2017, 4:48pm

#1 by Bright Blue Shorts // Apr 25, 2017 - 3:13am

Wow - that's quite amazing. It's rare such a clear picture of something from stats but that is clear.

What do I notice?

1) Can understand Det being top 2 in 20112011 & 2016 given they have a decent franchise QB. But why are Buf up there as well? I can't even tell you who the Bills QB(s) were in 2011.

2) Noting that Dallas rank 28th in 2016 with 51% would essentially have made the top 5 in 2011.

3) NE #2 at 34% in 2006. Would be interesting to see how that has varied for them over the years. If there's a team that innovates and changes scheme a lot it's them.

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#5 by jtr // Apr 25, 2017 - 11:34am

>NE #2 at 34% in 2006. Would be interesting to see how that has varied for them over the years. If there's a team that innovates and changes scheme a lot it's them.

Interesting to see it's only 34% in 2006. I'd be curious to see what their percentage was in 2007. I remember watching that team on TV and thinking it was wild that they seemed to run every play out of shotgun 3-wide. Nowadays of course that's pretty much the default.

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#13 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Apr 25, 2017 - 1:59pm

1)In 2011 Buffalo's QB was Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the coach was Chan Gailey, who's always loved the shotgun. Initially it worked! That was the year Fitzpatrick was lights out to start the year, and led the Bills to a 5-2 record. This led the Bills to giving Fitzpatrick a huge contract, after which he promptly cratered. Buffalo finished the year 6-10.

2)Dallas is interesting. Scott Linehan also loves the shotgun. He was offensive coordinator in Detroit in 2011, which had a top 10 passing offense, but a cover your eyes awful running offense, so it makes sense that he called mostly shotgun formation. In Dallas, with an excellent run blocking line and running game, he's wisely fit scheme to personnel and chilled out on his shotgun fetish.

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#2 by BJR // Apr 25, 2017 - 8:22am

Interesting to speculate where an eventual balance might fall here. Are we reaching an equilibrium point (at least temporarily), or are we headed inexorably towards ~100% shotgun (where anything non-shotgun is merely a trick play)? Or will shotgun use eventually decline as defenses become more adept at defending it, and new innovations are developed?

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#3 by dmstorm22 // Apr 25, 2017 - 10:14am

On this point, it is interesting to note the team that ranked #32 last year also had the best offense in the NFL, and if not for a truly legendary meltdown (run the effing ball) would have won the Super Bowl.

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#4 by BJR // Apr 25, 2017 - 11:07am

I would say when you have the best personnel (or more specifically the best blocking), what formation you use probably matters less.

It would be interesting to see teams' DVOA splits for shotgun/non-shotgun.

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#11 by Bright Blue Shorts // Apr 25, 2017 - 12:57pm

From what I can understand part of the rise of the shotgun-pistol is that college QBs are using it all the time and not getting practice at previously standard things like dropbacks and huddling.

I can't see college teams moving away from their schemes so the NFL is almost forced to follow suit. As noted elsewhere the current CBA prevents coaches getting the hands-on time with players to work on skills.

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#6 by dean815 // Apr 25, 2017 - 11:39am

Any more details? Where does MIN rank on this?

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#8 by Aaron Schatz // Apr 25, 2017 - 12:22pm

These numbers are ALSO available in the Premium DVOA database for every season back to 1989.

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#9 by Denaina // Apr 25, 2017 - 12:39pm

Interesting that the West Coast coaching tree is consistently on the low end (Holmgren, Kubiak, Shanahan, Gruden). The offensive philosophies are evident

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#12 by justanothersteve // Apr 25, 2017 - 1:35pm

Not entirely. Green Bay (Sherman, McCarthy) are both WCO, directly in the Holmgren line, yet consistantly in the top 5 users of the shotgun formation.

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#17 by Denaina // Apr 25, 2017 - 7:36pm

Sherman I forgot about, but McCarthy never coached under Holmgren/Sherman. McCarthy never coached in Seattle, and was the QB coach in GB for the one season gap between Holmgren and Sherman. Holmgren, Kubiak, Shanahan, and Gruden all came from the same Walsh/Seifert coaching tree. Mariucci's coaching record falls exactly outside of the tables, but I'd like to see his split as well

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#18 by justanothersteve // Apr 25, 2017 - 8:57pm

The 1999 Packers Offensive Coordinator was Sherm Lewis, who was also the OC for Holmgren. McCarthy was the QB coach for this team. The Packers still ran Holmgren's offense that year even though Holmgren had left the team. This article gives some background on how it was installed essentially as soon as Holmgren left.

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#15 by clark // Apr 25, 2017 - 4:49pm

Supposedly Bill Walsh put some shotgun plays in early in his 49ers tenure, but ran into trouble with crowd noise when they tried to run them on the road. He then said "never again" and didn't use the shotgun. The coaches who learned from him learned this and for years the WCO coaches were behind the curve on the shotgun.

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#16 by Theo // Apr 25, 2017 - 7:30pm

Ok - but does this have any impact on the game?

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#20 by nat // Apr 26, 2017 - 4:48pm

Any reason to skip 2001 in the every five year pattern? (or to add 2011 in the every ten year pattern?)

Going back to 1996 seems integral to this story. But having an uneven spacing of years just looks a bit odd to me. If the 2001 data strengthens the narrative, that would be great. If it breaks the pattern, that's interesting to know, too.

Points: 0

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