A hitch route in football is a receiving pattern that has the receiver run straight downfield only to suddenly stop and turn back toward the quarterback and the center of the field.
A hitch route in football tends to be a fairly short route with the average distance being about ten yards down the field.
The way separation is created on a hitch route is on the hard cut back towards the quarterback. In order to beat a defender with this route you want them to believe you are running deep downfield.
Starting the route with a hard run upfield should have the defensive player anticipating a deep passing pattern.
Once the defensive back has started making his way deep downfield the cutback from the receiver is going to create distance between the two players.
What to know about hitch routes
Now that you know what a hitch route is in football it’s time to learn some of the key factors to making this receiving route effective.
Ball placement is important
One of the keys to the hitch route in football is that the ball is meant to be thrown directly at the receiver.
On most routes in football you will find that the quarterback is going to lead the receiver with the football. Since the player is stationary the ball is going to be placed right in his chest.
Unlike other throws in which the ball will be thrown away from the body so the player can reach for it the hitch route ball should be thrown at the player’s chest area.
The reason for this is that this allows the players to use their bodies to shield the ball from the defender. The defender cannot legally go through the receiver so they must go around them to break up the pass.
If the defender is close you may notice the quarterback will throw the ball quite low on hitch routes. This will make for a somewhat awkward catch for the receiver but it makes it nearly impossible for the defender to stop.
A low throw of a hitch route is often the best ball placement a quarterback can have.
Timing the throw
Another key factor to this receiving route is the timing of the throw. When running a hitch route the wide receiver is going to be stationary when the ball is thrown his way.
This means there is only going to be a small window of time in which the receiver is open. On other receiving routes receivers will often achieve separation and maintain it throughout their route.
The hitch requires a throw immediately after the receiver has made their cut. Oftentimes the receiver will turn around and find the ball right in their chest.
A delayed throw is going to give the defender too much time to get close to the receiver. Additionally, if the defender is able to intercept a pass on a hitch route they are going to have momentum heading towards the offensive team’s end zone.
For this reason, hitch route interceptions often result in pick-sixes. This makes the timing of the throw on this receiving route is quite important.
Be ready to adjust this route
One other interesting aspect about hitch routes is that the depth is going to change depending on the situation.
Most routes in football have a set amount distance before a player makes a cut. The hitch route often changes based on where the offense needs to get to on the field.
Say for example that a team has a third and seven play coming up. Instead of trying to have a player run a hitch ten yards down the field they may ask them to run a seven yard hitch to increase the odds of the pass being completed.
Similarly, if a team is facing a third and fifteen they may attempt a fifteen-yard route because this allows them to reach the first down marker.
Teams must be sure to practice this route at different depths so that the timing remains accurate at varying depths.