The Shotgun formation, in American football, is an offensive formation used mainly when the team needs to gain yards quickly due to them being behind in the game or in a 2nd & long or 3rd & long situation. A team will more often than not run a passing play from this formation, although, if they have a Running Back (RB) in the formation, they will sometimes do a running play in an attempt to keep the defense on their toes and stop them setting up in a pass-prevention formation every time the offense lines up in the Shotgun.

The formation is so-called due to the number of receivers lining up and then running their routes all over the field as if being shot out of a shotgun – kind of like the spray out of the end of the weapon.

So, who’s involved?

In this formation, you will see the Quarterback (QB) lined up 5-7 yards behind the line of scrimmage. This allows him to get a better look at the defense and the way they are setting up and reacting to what is happening on offense pre-snap. This 5-7 yards behind the line position also gives the QB more time to see the play developing as he doesn’t spend the initial moments of the play “dropping back” as he would if he were “under center” (when he is right up behind the Center to receive the ball via a direct snap where the Center puts the ball straight into his hands). This starting position is designed to help the QB have more time to make a better target decision for his pass.

The QB lines up 5-7 yards behind the line of scrimmage. This variation of the Shotgun has a single running back (the HB) in the backfield.

The base Shotgun formation would setup with 1TE, 3WR’s and 1HB – as shown in the image above. It is, however, often seen with many variations of receivers and running backs. Sometimes there are no running backs in the backfield and instead, you will see an extra TE or WR. Or maybe there will be two running backs in the backfield at the expense of the TE or a WR. It all depends on the system the team is using and the situation they are in but, generally, if the QB is lined up some 5-7 yards behind the line of scrimmage, the offense is said to be “in the Shotgun”.

Running out of the Shotgun

As I said earlier, it is possible to see teams use running plays whilst lined up in the Shotgun. The usual play you’ll see is called a Draw play. I’ll go further into this play as I progress through my formation and plays series of posts, but, for now, the Draw play is when the offense start off looking like they are going to pass downfield to a receiver whilst the running back stays stood next to the QB looking as if he’s going to help block. Instead, after a slight delay, the QB hands the ball to the running back who then attempts to run with it up the field. By the time the ball is given to him it is hoped that the defense has settled into the play and are setting up further downfield in an attempt to stop the pass. This, in theory, gives the running back more room to run before he is tackled.

Another running play used from the Shotgun formation is the direct snap. This is when the Center snaps the ball straight to the running back instead of to the QB. In this play, the QB still play-acts as if he has received the snap and tries to make it look like a passing play whilst the running back who did receive the snap is off on his toes upfield trying to gain yards.

You will see more running plays from teams who use the Shotgun formation often but these are a couple of the more fun ones to watch as they can go for long yardage if executed well.

College QB’s can Struggle

Although some NFL teams do use the Shotgun a lot, most don’t. Compare that to college football teams that very often run most, if not all, of their plays from the Shotgun and this is why some QB’s struggle to adapt to the pro game. You’ll often here the experts and analysts referring to this fact during the run-up to the NFL draft as it can have a massive impact on where a QB is taken and by which team.

Shotgun Success

A few NFL teams have used the Shotgun formation as their base formation with great success over the years. These have included the 1970’s Dallas Cowboys whilst they were coached by the legendary Tom Landry. Another legend of the game, Marv Levy, also used a form of the Shotgun to great success in the 1990’s whilst he was the head coach of the Buffalo Bills. More recently, though, we have seen the Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts and Bill Belichick/Tom Brady-led New England Patriots use it to great success in the modern era of the game.