Quality Control: Stick in 2021

Dusty takes a look at how the Packers fared with the Stick concept in 2021

After a handful of weeks of digging into some situational football – red zone, explosive plays, etc. – we’re back to digging into some individual concepts. Today, we’re looking at how the Packers did with the Stick concept in 2021.

As with a lot of these concepts, the origin of Stick can be tough to pin down. It grew to prominence with Bill Walsh and the West Coast system, but, as is the case with so many West Coast concepts, instances of Stick can be found in Sid Gillman’s offense 20 years earlier.

1981 Philadelphia Eagles (Sid Gillman)

1985 San Francisco 49ers (Bill Walsh)

2012 Green Bay Packers (Mike McCarthy)

At its core, Stick revolves around a single route: the Stick route. It is typically a 4-7 yard route, at which point it will break as an out route to the sideline or a hitch, depending on the leverage of the defender. If the defender is on the inside shoulder, run an out route away from him. If the defender is on the outside shoulder, run a hitch (or a slant) to the inside. As with all West Coast concepts, it’s a quick-hitting ball-control play, designed for the purpose of getting the ball out quickly for some quick, easy yards. Nothing fancy; just keep the chains moving.

This also includes one of the other hallmarks of a West Coast concept: there is a vertical option attached to it. The main purpose of the vertical route is to act as a clear-out for the Stick route, while also acting as an Alert. Basically, if the quarterback likes the match-up on the outside, that vertical route becomes Read #1. If he doesn’t, he moves off of it and comes back to the concept. The decision on the vertical route has to be quick, because Stick is a three-step concept, so the ball has to be out to Stick when the third step hits or you’re late.

The Packers – like pretty much every team in the league – run Stick as a base concept a couple different ways: One-Man and Two-Man. We’re going to look at their usage of each one, then assess the concept as a whole at the end.

For this look, we’ll only be looking at plays in which Aaron Rodgers was the quarterback. The reason for that is because I wanted to see how this looked when they were able to operate as they wanted. I didn’t want a Jordan Love start on a short week or snaps in a meaningless week 18 match-up to skew the results.

One-Man Stick (27 dropbacks, 6.3 YPA)

It will not shock you to learn that Davante Adams was the runaway leader in most targeted receiver on this concept. Of the 27 calls, 13 of the attempts (or 48.1%) went the way of Adams. Which makes sense. This is a concept that calls for the Stick receiver to win quickly by reading the leverage of the defender and making a quick, clean cut to create space. That’s a skill that is firmly in Davante Adams’ wheelhouse.

When targeting Adams, Rodgers was 11/13 (84.6%) and averaged 7.2 YPA. Of those completions, 8 of them featured Adams winning on the quick out route.

The remaining 3 completions took the form of two slants and a hitch. A bit of “secondary read” magic is needed for the first two completions (although I believe the first clip is more Rodgers waiting for Adams to get to the secondary window to throw), while the third completion is a nice, clean win on a slant for the TD.

The two incompletions to Adams came on an overthrown ball on the vertical tag, and a double-clutched throw to the boundary against trap coverage that he’s lucky wasn’t taken back for 6.

Of the remaining 14 targets, the highest targeted player was Allen Lazard with 4 targets (7.5 YPA). It’s not really beneficial to look at all the individuals targeted, so let’s look to a few situational stats.

As I mentioned near the top, Stick is not a concept you turn to when you need an explosive play: it’s more of a yard gainer. A way to stay ahead of the chains.

The Packers didn’t fare too well with this on 1st down – averaging 4.0 YPA, leading to an average of 2nd & 6 – but it did some nice work for them on 2nd & 3rd down. On 2nd down they set themselves up for 3rd & short, while they did a nice job converting on 3rd down. The sole 4th down attempt was covered in the second Adams cut-up above: an extended play TD against the Washington Football Team.

Let’s turn our attention to Two-Man Stick.

Two-Man Stick (30 dropbacks, 7.9 YPA)

This version of Stick was used slightly more often, and they had better success with it overall. That extends to their usage by down, as well.

They didn’t have a single attempt on 4th down, but they performed extremely well on the other three downs. They once again set themselves up for 3rd & short with the performance on 2nd down, then proceeded to convert well on 3rd down with this concept. They also performed better on 1st down, gaining more yardage on average to set themselves up for more manageable 2nd down situations.

Rodgers favorite target on Two-Man Stick was – once again – Davante Adams. Surprise surprise. Adams accounted for 9 targets (30.0%) and averaged 13.3 YPA. Marquez Valdes-Scantling was right behind him for targets with 7 (23.3%), but was not nearly as successful (3.0 YPA). All 4 of the completions to MVS came with him on the Stick route (where he averaged 5.3 YPC), while the 3 incompletions came from being overthrown on vertical routes (2 incompletions) and having a late in-breaking route thrown out of his reach (1 incompletion).

Adams was able to produce 3 explosives on his 9 targets, with every one of those coming as the backside vertical tag. In the first two clips he’s lined up against man coverage with the single-high safety shaded away. In the third clip, the Vikings are in a split-safety look, but Rodgers likes the match-up. Adams wins off the line – because he is Davante Adams – and Rodgers hits him in the hole.

The other 5 completions to Adams were on the quick out route (with a single hitch for good measure).

But what about the explosives generated by the concept as a whole? Let’s throw out the One-Man/Two-Man designation for our wrap-up and look at the overall concept.

Overall, Stick accounted for 7 explosive plays on 57 dropbacks (12.3%). Davante Adams accounted for 5 of those explosives (23.4 YPC), while Allen Lazard accounted for the other 2 (17.5 YPC).

What about the overall concept in general? How did the Packers fare when running Stick in 2021?

When I look at how a concept did on a certain down, I tend to use the Football Outsiders definition of Success Rate. They consider a play a success if it meets the follow criteria:

  • Gets 45% of the yardage needed on 1st down
  • Gets 60% of the yardage needed on 2nd down
  • Gets 100% of the yardage needed on 3rd & 4th down

By this criteria, Stick was an overwhelming success in 2021. The Two-Man version was the better of the two, but the overall concept was successful – on average – on every down in 2021. Again, it’s not sexy, but it’s a solid concept meant to get the ball out quickly and stay ahead of the chains, and it absolutely did that in 2021. If you feel like digging in for yourself (and of course you do, because if you've read to this point you're my kind of weirdo), here are cut-ups of all the times the Packers ran Stick – by down – in 2021. (Excluding 4th down, because that’s only one play and we covered it above.)

With a bunch of this article being focused on how well Adams did with this concept, it's worth thinking about how this may look in 2022. After all Adams is no longer with the team. So how will the Packers make up for his loss on this concept?

For starters, I could see them leaning a little heavier into Two-Man Stick in 2022. The usage was a near 50/50 split in 2021, but Two-Man gives you some more options. It's a little more limited in terms of how you can run it - the personnel/spacing needed to one side of the field and whatnot - but it gives the QB another option. In One-Man Stick, you have the primary receiver on that route and if he doesn't get open the QB is left scrambling a bit. In Two-Man Stick, you're putting a little more stress on the defense and have two potential receivers breaking in the same area. If one of the receivers doesn't create separation, the other may be able to. It just gives the QB another option on the three-step drop to read and get the ball out quickly to the open man. If there isn't one receiver you absolutely trust to win every time, Two-Man Stick is the way to go.

As far as personnel, I could see them leaning on Lazard and Cobb as the Stick receivers. They have both shown the ability to create quick separation. Put speed on the outside to the Stick side (Sammy Watkins in Week 1 makes a lot of sense), then put Lazard at #2 and Cobb at #3. I think they could find some success with that early. As some other receivers start getting worked in the rotation a little more, they'll have the flexibility to get more creative with their groupings, but that's the group of receivers I can see out there to make this concept effective early in the season.

Hope you enjoyed this look at the Stick concept in 2021. I always learn a ton when I’m putting these together and going through all the clips, so I hope you learned something as well.

If you want to go back through the rest of the series, we have:

Deep dive into the Packers RPO game
A look at the mechanics of PA Boot and the key variations
How the Packers generated explosive passes in 2021
How the Packers may look to generate explosive passes in 2022
A few top TD concepts from the Packers in the High Red Zone
A few top TD concepts from the Packers in the Low Red Zone

Albums listened to: Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers; Florence + The Machine – Dance Fever; The Black Keys – Dropout Boogie; Zola Jesus – Arkhon; Regina Spektor – Home, Before And After; Soccer Mommy – Sometimes, Forever


Dusty Evely is a film analyst for Cheesehead TV. He can be heard talking about the Packers on Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter at @DustyEvely or email at [email protected].

NFL Categories: 
2 points

Comments (3)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Silajay's picture

June 29, 2022 at 11:38 pm

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog, I will keep visiting this blog very often. https://octordlegame.io

0 points
Johnblood27's picture

June 30, 2022 at 07:15 am

Another educational read, Thanks Dusty - I appreciate the work you put in to bring us up to speed.

I sure hope that MLF is doing a LOT of self-scouting in relation to the amount of "Davante-vision" that led to the skew of targets. I saw a couple of times when more diversity of field vision could have led to much better results if only AR would look at the field instead of just to Adams.

I have a LOT of hope for this offense without Adams IF AR can become less of a tunnel vision QB and more of a field general. Better for AR, better for the GBP - I hope he sees the light.

2 points
DTowleJr's picture

June 30, 2022 at 08:06 am

Holy open receiver Batman!

Love these breakdowns, it helps my fandom by allowing me to talk Packers concepts intelligently. The game has changed over the years, and some of these terms are thrown around so much that it's assumed we all know what is being talked about. Having the actual concepts broken down and exampled adds to our enjoyment.

1 points