How NFL Teams Are Using the Y-Stick Concept to Shred Defenses
With the era of the "Tampa 2" defense all but over in the NFL—its holes and foibles thoroughly exposed after a decade of prominence—defensive coordinators have shifted to newer, trendier philosophies. With the league evolving to a spread-passing league, concepts like the "Wide Nine" have come into vogue. With each passing defensive conceptual adjustment or creation, so too, do offenses adjust to exploit them.
One concept that helped bring about the end of the Tampa 2 is the "Y-Stick" passing concept.
At its heart, the Y-Stick is a brilliantly simple play. It is designed to stress zone coverage and force a defender to choose between two possible attacks on his zone. In essence the "Y" receiver lined up on the concept side of the play runs a "stick route" (essentially to the first down marker, or "sticks," hence the name) while a back, receiver or tight end lined up near him runs out to the flat. I've demonstrated a version of this in the rudimentary graphic below.
This is a concept that offensive coordinators prefer to run against teams with four down linemen. In most scenarios, all four down linemen will be rushing the passer, leaving the strong-side linebacker (designated as "Sam" in the graphic) and the cornerback to cover the shallow zone to the strong side of the play. If the strong safety were to come down and support the zone, or if the quarterback reads man, he can simply check his first read to the backside slant route or check out of the play altogether and into a predetermined run.
At the snap of the ball, the "Y" sprints directly forward for five to seven yards, sticks his foot in the dirt and turns looking for the ball. The player attacking the flat—in this case the second tight end, designated "TE" in the graphic—jets out into the flat. The quarterback takes a three-step drop and reads which way the Sam linebacker leans, then throws to the opposite, and presumably open, receiver.
The other routes in the play are designed to pull defenders away from the "Y" and "U" (second tight end) routes and give the quarterback an easier throw. As you can see in the graphic, the "Z" receiver will be running deep but attempting to get outside leverage on the route in an effort to turn the cornerback away from the play. The halfback runs the wheel route to the opposite side of the formation in an effort to pull the Mike and/or Will linebacker out of the play as well.
The play itself can be run out of many formations. Below is a cut-up of Hal Mumme and Mike Leach's approach to the concept.
Hardly a play limited to collegiate offenses, the Y-Stick concept has been used heavily by the New England Patriots for a few years, and teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals have relied on the concept quite a bit early on this season.
As you can see, New England was quite successful with the play. The Patriots' variation splits a running back out and attempts to give him space to create if quarterback Tom Brady reads man coverage (see the second play), and it uses tight end Rob Gronkowski to split the zones if the defense is in zone.
The Kansas City variation (not shown) further builds on the Y-Stick route by adding a hook-and-go concept after completing the play several times. It attempts to catch the strong safety trying to bite on the route and sends the "Y" receiver back down the field after faking the stick route.
One thing I've discovered in my years of coaching and observing the game of football is that it's the simple things that make an offense great. The Y-Stick is a remarkably simple concept, which allows for all kinds of variations and is an incredibly easy concept to build off of when adding depth to your offensive philosophy. I stay excited wondering how defenses will counter it and how the concept will evolve next.
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