The Hitch Route

Some call it a ‘hitch’ while others refer to it as a ‘stop’, but no matter what name you give it, it can be the most powerful route in your playbook if you understand how to run it or teach it.  When you understand the fundamentals of this route and how effective it can be, it will change how you look at the entire route tree!

Other routes that require performing similar fundamentals would be the curl, the comeback, and the shake route (post-out) just to name the most common ones. Interestingly enough, the hitch, curl, and comeback are probably three of the most common routes run by receivers in a majority of offenses and they are probably run more often than many other routes. This is the reason I always teach my receivers the hitch first and I make sure that the fundamentals are performed flawlessly.

We will use a five yard depth as the most common depth at which to run this route. Most of the time you will see a receiver run a hitch route very lazily. He will burst to five yards and back into the route. What I mean by back into the route is that, most of the time, the receiver’s forward momentum is not completely controlled as he turns inside to look for the ball. I don’t think that is an appropriate way to run the route so let me explain the benefits of how I teach it.

The steps of a pass route should always match the QB’s drop.  So, in this case, it would be a three step drop by the quarterback. The reason for this is to eliminate the need to look at yardage to run the route at the proper depth. If a receiver knows his steps, specifically with a route this short, he will end up at the required depth regardless of stride length. I want the receiver to keep his eyes up and on the defense versus looking at the yardage.

The philosophy of a three step drop route by the quarterback is to make a pre-snap read of the defense and determine which side he will throw the route based primarily on personnel and coverage. If the coverage is a soft cover 3 on both receivers (running mirrored hitch routes), the QB should always look to the field side for this throw if the ball is on the boundary hash. You can’t throw this ball to the boundary side receiver as the linebacker responsible for flat coverage to that side of the field will usually cut off the throwing lane. If the coverage is press man the route will usually dictate a fade conversion by both receivers and the QB should target the fastest or most athletic receiver when doing his pre-snap read. If the coverage is 1/4, 1/4, 1/2 the QB should always target the 1/4 side coverage. If the coverage is off-man the QB should pick his most athletic receiver to throw to regardless of where the ball is on the field. Those are just a few examples of the type of pre-snap read the QB should make.

HITCH-field-15yds

I teach my receivers to run this route with the outside foot back on the LOS, which is typical for most offensive systems. This example will describe a route being run from the right side of the field.  I teach it on five steps (two big and three small). The first two steps should be a full stride burst off the line of scrimmage and the last three steps are what I call set-up steps at the top of the route. The route should attack the outside shoulder of the defender as this creates more space to step back inside to the ball and it also creates a perceived vertical threat to the defender. The set-up steps require the receiver to drop his body weight down, pump his arms, and drive his feet into the ground while keeping his shoulders over his knees. It’s very important that the receiver breaks down with his shoulders facing up field!  The first two of these set-up steps should be a right/left to stop the forward momentum of the receiver and the third step should be a pivot step off the right foot. I call this a pivot/plant foot. Since the forward momentum of the receiver has already been stopped and controlled with the first two steps, the third step is simply to rotate the receiver inside and step to the QB.

The foot on this third step should be at a 45 degree angle inside as this will cock the right hip and open the left hip. The step here is from the right pivot/plant foot to the left foot towards the QB. A key point is that during the three set-up steps the receiver should already be turning his head inside to look for the ball. Since the commitment to the top of the route has already been made by the receiver, it’s ok to get the head around at this point since the defender is already breaking down to drive on the route. Getting the head around early will help the receiver to adjust on a poorly thrown ball and since the ball should already be on it’s way this is a very important fundamental!

Once the receiver has opened to the inside, the ball should already be half way to the receiver as the QB has hit his third step and let the ball go. The receiver has already opened his hips, pushed off his pivot/plant foot and on to his left foot and then the last step is from the left foot to the right foot right as he is catching the ball. As the receiver catches and tucks the ball he should push back to the outside off of the last step (his right foot) and back out and up the field. This is, in essence, and inside/outside move and I have seen this shake a defensive back, on numerous occasions, for a long gain after the catch.

eyes-on-ball-diagram

You can see the advantages of this versus running up to five yards and just backing into the route. A receiver who has his feet under him and is not backing into the route allows for the following:

  • Stepping towards the ball creates more separation between receiver and defender on the catch
  • Due to this separation, the burst back out and up can shake the defender
  • The receiver gets his hands on the ball quicker as he is moving to the ball in flight (the sooner the receiver has the ball, the sooner he can do something with it)
  • Allows the receiver to make the catch in front of a quick-closing defender
  • Makes this route almost impossible to cover based on the timing aspect of the throw

A receiver who runs the route lazily and backs into it gives the defender a better chance of closing on him, reduces his ability to make something happen after the catch as the tackle is usually made right away, and reduces the ability of the receiver to adjust on a poorly thrown football. If the receiver’s feet are under him and he is ready to make a football move towards the ball in flight, he is in a better position to adjust to a poorly thrown ball. Because I am such a staunch proponent of always attacking the football, receivers I teach consistently get to the ball before the defender.

It is extremely important to make sure that the QB and receiver are on the same page and that the timing of the throw and catch are perfected. If the QB makes his read, hits his drop steps, and throws the ball before the receiver has opened inside, this kind of timing makes the route very difficult for a defensive back or flat defender to disrupt the route. This route should be completed 10 out of 10 times if all the elements I just explained are performed properly!  See a video on some hitch route techniques here.

Coach Van Tassel

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