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Shane Waldron’s Pistol

Chicago Bears v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

For us old heads who remember Ken Behring, I say this as sardonically as I can in type: Welcome to the Jody Years! Hahaha. An engaged, wealthy owner who wants to own the team is an irreplaceable asset. But we can’t do shit-all about that, can we? So while I’m awaiting word on whether the New Orleans Pelicans gets any giraffe bones in their trade for Portland’s CJ McCollum (Editor’s note: The Blazers are terrible this season, are blowing up the roster as we speak and probably won’t make the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2012-13... Vulcan-owned teams are having a brutal 2021-22), let’s consider something optimistic. Let’s consider whether Shane Waldron won’t suck next season.

I don’t know how he’s commonly perceived around these parts. But my read on Waldron was he started very poorly. He played DK Metcalf against his strengths because the offense he was cribbing didn’t have a DK-like player. He did nothing to solve the now season-endangering problem of protecting Russell Wilson. And whether Waldron ever figured out anything is hard to know because Rashaad Penny, for some reason pick your theory, went prime Nick Chubb for four games. Running back peaks can be painfully brief. What triggers them, what sustains them, is mostly unknowable apart from good health. And as for Penny and health ...

But I’m too sleep-deprived and hungover to entertain more disappointment and suffering. Let’s talk about something good that happened and see if it means anything. Waldron was a rookie and rookies turn things around in dramatic fashion. Maybe he did. I hope he did.

What is generally true statistically is not always specifically true. The Seattle Seahawks posted good efficiency numbers on offense, measured by EPA or DVOA, but those quality efficiency numbers corresponded to a boom or bust approach that did not lead to a winning record or any semblance of ball control. Shooting for statistically defined efficiency while ignoring or denying the importance of other factors is how we got Hassan Whiteside’s spot on the NBA’s all-defensive team, Russell Westrbrook’s MVP, and about a million other manmade disasters.

I do not know if Waldron did that. But I do know the outcome of a game is the result of countless subtle and highly sensitive interactions, and ignoring a factor because it does not lend itself to statistical inquiry is choosing ignorance for fear of impotence. Seattle ranked last in time of possession and second to last in first downs made. That means something. That it hasn’t previously correlated to winning means little to me.

To ground this a bit, did you, with your human intelligence so much more subtle and complex than that capable by any machine, perceive the Seahawks to have a top 10 offense in 2021? One, Geno weeks included, which bests the LA Rams? Yeeeah.

But, with the season lost, and Wilson’s worst injury as a pro mostly behind him, Waldron debuted a few exciting looks out of pistol formation. The appeal of pistol is obvious. Wilson is better when he’s further behind the line, even throughout his career busting the pocket from the back to get a better look at the field, but Wilson also benefits from a run game. A power run game in particular because Wilson does not throw short middle frequently or I would guess effectively. I’m sure some kind of mirage created by imprecise binning might say otherwise, but I’m not trying to win an argument on a technicality. We’re looking at how Wilson’s latent potential may be unlocked. Stilts are not the answer. An innovative scheme built to embiggen Mister Wilson rather than fix Mister Wilson may be.

Here is a sampling of what I think that scheme would look like. Instead of breaking down every play in detail, I am going to post an assortment of plays here and below explain why, in general, I think these designs work so well.

Sorry for the lousy edit there.

This may not look like pistol to some because Dancin’ Homer is to Wilson’s right rather than right behind him, but I include it because Wilson is only four yards behind the line of scrimmage rather than seven. That’s pistol depth and that’s what I think is most important about this formation matching well with Seattle’s talent.

Succinctly put, the passes are on time. When Penny runs, he’s deep enough to build speed. It may seem too simple to be wise or at least right, but I think Wilson’s sometimes sluggish read is more attributable to not seeing receivers than not reading coverage.

All the talk about his height got tiresome sure but he is short for a quarterback. This Sunday, watch Joe Burrow takes snaps from under center. He doesn’t need to drop back to see the field and his receivers. Wilson seems to. Burrow’s read is instantaneous. Wilson is losing time from the snap. Wilson may have created a new model for a great quarterback, but he sure didn’t push the old model into obsolescence.

Shotgun works to help speed up Wilson’s read too but it’s tough to craft an intimidating run game from shotgun. Especially now that Wilson’s wheels are mostly shot.

By beginning from a moderate depth, Wilson’s natural penchant to slowly creep back in the pocket is less damaging. At some depth, it is all but impossible for an offensive tackle to pass block. The pass rusher has a two way go. The angles get all effed up and untenable.

When I think about why teams may be resistant to using pistol formation I remember this quote from the late Kurt Vonnegut.

“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

Talented people, artists especially, are honest and through their honesty often express prejudice and judgment which is offensively small in its reasoning. But I think we can all survive a little ugliness. We’re not instantly brainwashed by exposure, are we? Nor do we need to agree with everything the person thinks to find beautiful humanity in their work. By banning all but goodthink we only empower liars. People happy to be SS or social workers. Whichever benefits them best.

Setting aside the controversy inherent in such a statement, I like but do not at all agree with Vonnegut’s advice nor its reasoning. I like it because it represents something human, something very everyman in Vonnegut. Sure, his father has a hyperlink attached to his name on Kurt’s Wikipedia page. And Junior graduated from Harvard. But he was also a POW imprisoned at Dresden during the great bombings which leveled that city in World War II.

That mix of privilege and trauma, and a million other things my apologies for the extreme simplification here but I’m just trying to make a point, informed his voice and his voice conveyed truth. Not rectitude but truth and, truth is, people, many many many people, do not naturally like inbetween points, hybridization, anything that is not one or zero but greater than zero and less than one. We use all sorts of fraught words to throw shade on these semicolon-like inbetween points.

The pistol is a semicolon like inbetween not hypermodern nor classic. And I think that middleness creates a certain stench of inauthenticity and faultiness. Something’s not quite right about it all; it’s at best a bad idea and at worst grotesque and abhorrent. But by being open to the possibility that a player neither Drew Brees nor Michael Vick could be great, the Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson. Now it’s time to be as open-minded and daring in crafting an offense which develops and protects Russell Wilson.

Better always is a daring failure. We’ve failed safe enough under Pete. Maybe Shane Waldron only ever wanted to be an organizational hack printing money and staying employed by force of his own timidity and the inherent incestuousness of NFL coaching. But if so remember Shane what’s safe now invariably looks to the future like this:

Daring gives one a shot at timeless sublimity.

And that’d be a dope way to describe Seattle’s offense in 2022. Sure beats boring, botched and inherently abusive of its star player, I’d say.