Four Variations on the ‘Stick’ Concept

Though originally introduced to football through the Bill Walsh/ Paul Brown inspired West Coast Offense, the Stick concept has proliferated to all levels of football, and you’ll find that most teams run some form of it in today’s game.

The stick route’s staying power for so long is due in large to it’s adaptability to so many offenses. It’s good against man, zone, and the subsequent constraint plays the you can run because of it should give you a simple but effective package that will provide you with a lot of answers to what the defense tries to throw at you. No matter what you’re running as your base scheme, chances are you can find room in your playbook

Before we begin, I also should mention that most of the time the backside route in the 3×1 formations I’ve drawn up are irrelevant to the rest of the scheme, I’ve just put some in that make some sort of sense, so don’t look to much into it. In my opinion you should add whatever backside routes you’re comfortable with, or whatever you do best.

Y-Stick: An Overview


The diagram above is an example of the traditional stick concept with the Y-Stick/Flat combination to the front side, and the drag-hook to hold the backside linebacker, so that usually the QB can read the play right to left and get rid of the ball within a second or two.

The play is effective against man or zone coverages, and is a simple enough concept to fit into any playbook. If you’ve followed football for any length of time, you’ve seen this countless times on TV. The problem comes about when defenses start to anticipate the play, or quickly recognize it once the ball is snapped.

What follows is a short list of suggestions on how to make your offense more dangerous by adding a couple of constraints on the defense. Make them hesitate, and that short pass play can turn into a long touchdown.

1. Sticko

The concept is the natural constraint play for the stick concept. The tight end will come out of his pivot at his normal depth of 5-6 yards, and after making sure to exagerrate the process of whipping his head around and getting his hands up as if he’s expecting the ball right now from the QB, he’ll take off and get vertical and look for the ball coming from his inside if the defender to his side bites too hard on the original stick route.

Likewise, the #2 receiver should fake as if he’s heading to the flat, then pivot and head to the middle of the field, trying to shake the defender assigned to him (in man coverage) or stretching the defense in the middle of the field in case the zone defender to the side of the stick route doesn’t bite on the fake and carries the ‘Stick-o’ route.

Whether it’s technically man or zone coverage, the idea is to give the defense something else to worry about so that they can’t just set up shop and anticipate the stick route.

2. Hitch-Stick

This is essentially the same idea as the basic stick concept, except instead of running a stick route, the tight end (or third receiver in the formation) runs a hitch at about 5-6 yards and gets his numbers facing the QB. This can be a much easier throw for the QB, especially if your emphasis is getting the ball out in a lightning fast manner.

This works even better if you flex the tight end out, since the defender responsible for that area of the field is usually an inside backer with run responsibilities as well. The more space you force him to cover, the better, since he has to stay relatively close to his original alignment in the box in order to stay gap sound.

I saw this one first-hand when Kevin Wilson’s deadly (and under-appreciated) offense at Indiana shredded us my last year at Indiana State.

The only limit to this is your imagination, so if your offense is one that relies on option routes, you could always tell your tight end to work off of the leverage of the near defender.

3. Stick- Z Dig

This is another example of a constraint play based off of the stick concept. By adjusting only a single route you can make an effective concept even more dangerous.

A big challenge when using 3×1 sets is finding ways to get the ball to the widest receiver to the three-receiver side. Just think about how many pass plays you know of run from a 3×1 set with the #1 receiver running some type of clear out route with a fade or a post route. Either way, the widest route is often an afterthought to defensive coordinators.

This route takes advantage of the tendency of defenders in zone coverage (or even in man) to want to jump the underneath routes on the stick concept, since any defensive coaches worth their salt will have their players ready for this play out of a 3×1 set if it’s a big part of what you do.

You can tweak the depth of the dig route from 10-15 yards, since the idea is to find the seam over the linebackers and under the safeties in a two-deep shell. It’s even better against a three-deep coverage, since the curl-flat and hook-curl defenders are going to be sitting on the stick and flat routes underneath, leaving the Z receiver room to get open behind them, having perfect leverage on the corner to his side.

The QB should be wary of holding onto the ball for too long, since the aggressive, quick-pass protection that goes along with the stick concept is what helps to sell the defense on the ball coming out quickly. That said, if the QB is facing pressure, he should be ready to get rid of it through his normal progression in the stick concept.

4. Stick-Draw

I love this play, because it combines two of my favorite things, 3×1 sets and packaged plays. You should have a pretty good idea of how the defense is going to play this formation before you attempt it, but with an experienced QB who knows what to look for, you should be ok either way.

There are obviously a lot of different alignments an opponent can throw at you on defense, but in general the man to watch is the first linebacker past the ball.

The ball should be out quick enough to avoid any illegal man downfield penalties. It’s a catch and throw as long as the backer either stands still or hesitates. If he stays put for even a half a second it shouldn’t matter, since your man knows where he’s going (and the defender doesn’t), and should be able to get there on time.

The running back will line up opposite the side of the LB that will be read, so that the backer over him to that side is assigned to be blocked by whomever comes off the combo of the nose from the center and guard. At the snap, the back will shuffle in place and wait for the QB to make his decision. If the defense sends a man through the open gap the back should abandon the fake and pick up the blitzer.

Another thing to remember is that when it comes to the exchange between the QB and RB, this is not an zone read mesh point/ handoff where the QB has not made a decision as to whether or not he’s going to give the ball to the back. Once the QB decides he is not throwing it, he is 100% giving the ball to the back and living with that decision.

These are just a few ideas, but hopefully they’ve given you something to think about when it comes to your offense. Likewise if you’re a fan, this play and its variants are pretty easy to spot on TV if you train yourself to watch for it.

UPDATED: Enjoy some cutups of the Y-Stick package in the NFL from a couple years back. If you want more video like this, be sure to CLICK HERE and sign up to be an Insider for free. You’ll get access to tons of hard-to-find film, playbook downloads, and more!

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