Today, we continue our series of looking at passing concepts the Packers ran in 2020. We kicked this series off last week with one of my favorites: All Go HB Seam. Last week’s concept was designed to hit vertical shots down the field. This week’s concept plays off the well-worn Stick concept and is designed to pick up a few yards off a quick throw, while allowing Davante Adams to use his specific skill set to break down defenders from the slot.
For starters: what is the Stick concept? Stick is a West Coast concept, believed to have been created by the late, great Bill Walsh (though there are concepts from Sid Gillman that look almost exactly the same). It’s a three-man concept, designed to stretch the defense horizontally on one side of the field. It’s a quick concept, designed to have the ball out of the quarterback’s hands at the top of his three-step drop. The Stick concept consists of:
- A vertical route from the outside (typically a fade route)
- An out route from the slot (or a flat route from the backfield)
- A “stick” route (push vertically for 5-7 yards, then turn and look for the ball) from the inside
Let’s take a look at some playbook pages of Stick through the years
1981 Philadelphia Eagles (Sid Gillman)
1985 San Francisco 49ers (Bill Walsh)
1997 University of Kentucky (Hal Mumme)
2012 Green Bay Packers (Mike McCarthy)
A common variation of Stick is to have the receiver running the stick route to run a stick-and-nod route. Run forward 5-7 yards, turn to look for the ball, then turn back up the field on a vertical route. That release can also be paired with a pivot route from the slot receiver, though it is not always run that way.
If the defense is sitting on the stick route, this is a good way to take advantage of the defensive lean. This is one of my favorite examples of the stick-and-nod route, featuring Randall Cobb and Luke Kuechly:
The Packers paired the Stick-Nod concept with a Lookie route from the slot on the other side. The Lookie route is basically a three-way option route. Depending on the leverage of the defender, the route can be a slant, stop or out route.
It’s hard for a defender to cover a receiver out of the slot, as they can release in any direction on the field. When that slot receiver is Davante Adams and he has a three-way option route depending on your leverage, it’s nearly impossible. The Packers, having smart people running the offense, realize this. They ran this concept 18 times and Adams ran the Lookie route on 16 of them. He drew the target on 13 of those plays and averaged 6.31 yards per attempt.
To quote Vince Lombardi, “There’s nothing spectacular about it; it’s just a yard gainer.”
I’ve mentioned the three options on the Lookie route: Slant, Out and Stop. In the 18 times they ran this concept, Rodgers threw it to the Lookie receiver 14 times. Let’s take a look at each of those categories.
This route was targeted on 57% of the throws to the Lookie route, and averaged 6.25 yards per attempt.
On this play, Adams has a defender aligned on his inside shoulder pre-snap and the only defender wider than him on the field is over the outside receiver. At the snap, Adams pushes in slightly to maintain his leverage, then releases outside. With the outside receiver taking the wide defender deep, there’s no one on the boundary. Rodgers hits Adams for 8 yards.
This specific route could be seen more as a pivot route than an out route, but, for the sake of simplicity, I decided to group all of these types of routes in the Out category.
This was the second most popular route, garnering 36% of the throws to the Lookie route, and averaged 7.8 yards per attempt. Per Bobby Peters’ book on the 2020 Packers offense, the general rule on this route is “slant till you can’t.” A slant route gives the best chance for a nice pick-up of yardage, since the QB is able to hit a receiver in-stride with a head full of steam.
If someone is playing straight-up over Adams, he can beat them whichever way he sees fit. On this play, he attacks, gets off the jam and releases inside. Rodgers hits his third step, fires to Adams and the Packers pick up 10 yards on 3rd & 3.
There was only 1 throw to the stop route, and it fell incomplete. It was in the Week 6 loss to the Bucs, when a lot of things went wrong.
Jamaal Williams goes in motion before the snap, dragging the defender off Adams and to the boundary. With no one replacing him and the Bucs looking like they’re bringing pressure, Adams runs the stop route more like a hot route. With the linebacker from the opposite side of the line trying to drop under the route to replace the blitzer, Rodgers is expecting Adams to drift away from the middle. Adams may be looking for the outside defender to roll off Williams to trap the route, so he stays straight. A miscommunication – or Rodgers and Adams reading different parts of the coverage – and the ball falls harmlessly to the turf.
There are only 4 instances of throwing to the non-Lookie receiver. The biggest play out of the 18 plays I looked at came from a late throw to the pivot route out of the stick concept.
With Khalil Mack falling under the stick-and-nod route and Buster Skrine breaking on the initial out route, Equanimeous St. Brown pivots away from the out route and finds a ton of room in the middle of the field. Rodgers sets up for a better throwing window and St. Brown has a nice run after the catch for 15 yards.
Like I said near the top, this isn’t going to be a game-breaker concept, but it has been a staple in the passing game for decades for a reason: it’s a simple and versatile concept that is consistently good for 5-7 yards. “It’s just a yard gainer.”
Before we go, have a smattering of numbers on this concept:
- When completed, this concept carried a minimum of 5 yards, a maximum of 15 yards and a median of 8 yards.
- Rodgers completed 72.2% of his passes on this concept, slightly above his season completion percentage of 70.7%.
- Rodgers had 5 incompletions on this concept, with 1 of those incompletions being a throwaway. That throwaway came in Week 1, the first time they ran the concept in 2020.
- Of the 14 throws to the Lookie route, 13 went to Adams for 6.31 YPA. The other throw went to Allen Lazard for 7 YPA.
- Throws to the Lookie route on this concept averaged 6.36 YPA. Throws elsewhere on this concept averaged 5.5 YPA.
- With 4 or fewer rushers, this concept averaged 5.92 YPA. With 5 or more rushers, this concept averaged 6.8 YPA.
- The Packers ran this out of 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) on 56% of their attempts and it accounted for 50.5% of the yardage.
- Small sample size, but the most productive personnel grouping was 01 personnel (0 RB, 1 TE, 4 WR). They only used that personnel grouping twice (11%), but it accounted for 20.7% of the yards on this concept.
- This concept was run exclusively out of shotgun.
- They ran this with pre-snap motion 28% of the time and gained 3.0 YPA. They ran it without motion 72% of the time and gained 7.4 YPA. They did not run jet motion at all.
- Their best week was their Week 16 match-up against the Titans. They ran this concept 4 times and gained 29 yards.
- They ran this 4 times in the season against the Bears, also gaining a total of 29 yards across those 2 games.
- They ran this concept against Middle Field Closed defensive alignment (single-high family) 11 times for 6 YPA. They ran it against Middle Field Open defensive alignment (two-high family) 7 times for 6.4 YPA.
Albums listened to: Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia; Taylor Swift – Folklore; Autolux – Future Perfect; Eliza Shaddad – The Woman You Want; Falcon Jane – Faith; Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon; Oasis – Definitely Maybe; M83 – Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts; The Killers – Imploding The Mirage; Jessica Lea Mayfield – Make My Head Sing; Josh Ritter – The Gospel of Mary [Single]; Happyness – Floatr