The Stick Concept & its Many Variations

The Stick Concept is one of the most popular passing plays in today’s NFL and NCAA. The scheme is simple and can be run with countless variations. The Stick Concept is a high percentage throw that minimizes how long lineman must protect. It can also be run as a part of a packaged play. In its most basic form, the Stick Concept is a three man scheme with a vertical stretch, a horizontal stretch, and the Stick route. The outside most receiver provides a vertical stretch and works for an outside release, the middle receiver provides a horizontal stretch and attacks the flat, usually via a speed out. Finally, the most inside receiver runs the “stick” route, attacking vertically for about 5 yards before sticking his foot in the ground and turning for the football. Below is an example from Week 1 of the 2014 season:

Roddy White Stick Route

Here, the Quarterback is reading the flat defender noted in the black square. If he carries with the flat route, the correct throw is to the Stick route. If the flat defender stays where he is pre-snap, the flat route should open up. The Stick route is intricate because the receiver must assess the coverage quickly. If the receiver turns and there is open space, he should settle in the opening for an easy completion. However, if a defender is tight on him, he must continue running and create separation. The tempo at which a receiver breaks out of his stick route depends on the coverage; against a zone he will lull out, whereas against man-to-man he will likely sprint out. Either way, the Stick route must run his route “friendly” to the Quarterback. This means he should break slightly downhill back towards the QB so a defender can’t undercut the throw. Below, the Stick Concept works for an easy 14 yard completion with the Receiver settling in an open zone:

Below, the Stick Concept is utilized at the bottom of the screen with multiple tight ends; the defense plays Rob Gronkowski and leaves the flat open:

The Stick Concept is also run with a running back from the backfield providing the horizontal stretch. This is illustrated by a page from the Patriots 2003 playbook, as well as the University of Houston clip below:

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 2.04.00 PM

When linebackers begin to overplay the Stick route, offenses can add a quick “lookie” route, where the backside slot receiver quickly vacates the space left by the linebacker. The Quarterback sees the open hole and can hit the receiver on the move. The lookie concept can be run in a variety of ways; the slot can have a high slant path or more of a spot/drag path (An example of the lookie concept is seen in the Houston clip below):


The Stick Concept can also be run without a vertical stretch, which as known as “Double Stick”:

Pats sb 49 dbl stick

The Stick Concept is more difficult to run without a vertical threat. In order to do so, an offense can bring receivers much closer together or even stack them. This forces defenders to play off coverage because of the possibility of crossing routes. With the cornerback playing nearly 10 yards off here, the vertical stretch is accomplished by formation instead of a route. The QB reads the highlighted flat defender for a relatively easy completion in the red zone:



Once an offense has set up the basic Stick Concept, it can counter with the Stick-Nod. The play looks exactly the same, except the Stick route becomes a double move vertically and across the field. Meanwhile, the flat route pivots back underneath and across the field:

Below, the linebacker runs with the Nod route and opens up space for an underneath throw:

Stick Nod is also a great red zone play. The Nod route double move can fake out a linebacker for an easy throw. If a linebacker plays the Nod route well like in the play above, an underneath route should open up. Below is a slightly different version of the Stick-Nod:

chiefs stick nod

Here, the underneath route is being run by the outside receiver, and the vertical stretch is run by the slot. The Cowboys linebackers overplay the Nod route, making for an easy throw underneath:


The concept can also be run from empty. Here, Stick-Nod is run from empty formation by the 2016 San Diego Chargers; Phillip Rivers checks to the play when he sees the coverage will be Cover 2 man:


Packaged Plays with Stick Concept

A “Packaged Play” is where one play has multiple schemes built into it at the same time, allowing the Quarterback to read a defender and make the choice of what scheme is best to attack the defense. The Stick Concept can be used in packaged plays in numerous ways, most notably via  “Stick-Draw” and “Read Screen.”

In Stick-Draw, receivers run the Stick Concept while the offensive line blocks for a running back draw. The Quarterback makes a quick post-snap decision, usually based off of the box defender closest to the Stick route. If the Stick is open, make the throw. If not, hand it off to the draw:

Diagram from SmartFootball's "Combining quick passes, run plays, and screens"

Diagram from SmartFootball’s “Combining quick passes, run plays, and screens

The Draw can be blocked in several different ways, depending on the front and where the Running Back is. Below are examples of the same Stick-Draw call with different play outcomes:

Read-Screen uses a similar design, except it has a screen play going away from the Stick Concept:

Diagram from SmartFootball’s “Quick Passes, Run Plays, and Screens

There are several other packaged plays off the Stick Concept, some of which are broken down here.

The Stick Concept is run a variety of ways and is a staple in almost every NFL and NCAA offense today. It involves a vertical and horizontal stretch along with the Stick route, and is a simple scheme to learn and execute. It should be run with a high completion percentage and build a quarterback’s confidence. With the rise of packaged plays, look for teams to find ways to incorporate the Stick Concept with other schemes to attack defenses. 

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