Route Breakdown: Hitches
In an effort to add to the reams of data that we already collect at PFF, we took the passing game to a whole new level in 2013.
Instead of just tracking each receiver’s targeted route, we went ahead and charted every route run on every pass play in the NFL and continued this work in 2014. We can now tell you how often each receiver ran a particular route, at which depth he ran it, and whether or not he was targeted.
This data becomes quite useful when analyzing each receiver’s role, but it’s also handy when determining passing concepts for each team. The ante was upped further this past season as we added exact WR splits as well as shifts in motions to our charting data. We now have the data to break down how often teams run their favorite plays, and the corresponding tendencies that come with them.
How often did Peyton Manning run his staple “levels” concept? How often did Chip Kelly have a built in bubble screen for his slot receivers? Which team’s receivers run the deepest routes? This is the type of data that can only be found in the PFF database, and it’s a big reason why NFL teams are adding our information into their weekly scouting reports.
While much of this data remains exclusive for NFL team usage, we’re pulling back the curtain to show some of the passing game trends, starting on a route-by-route basis.
Our chart routing is extremely detailed, but for the sake of this exercise, routes will be sorted into the basic families above. So while we can tell you if a wide receiver’s “go” route had an inside or an outside release, or if it was run up the seam or with a back shoulder throw, all of these unique routes will be lumped into the “go” route category for simplicity sake.
The Hitch Route
The hitch route, also often known a hook or a stop, sees a receiver pushing to precise depth, before turning to face the quarterback and possibly working back slightly toward the line of scrimmage. The length of the stem varies, and is intended to force a defender back to create the space in which the receiver will sit. It can be used to target soft spots in zone defenses, or take advantage of off-man coverage where the defender gives a healthy cushion to the receiver. It’s a timing-sensitive route and the quarterback should have the ball on its way before the receiver turns. Due to the nature of the route, the defender will generally be in a good position to make a tackle after the catch, so rather than counting on extra yardage in the way that slant routes do, the hitch needs to have a decent minimum gain built into the stem.
Here’s a deeper look into the players who ran the hitch most often, and most effectively.
– The Philadelphia Eagles’ Jeremy Maclin was way out in front, running the hitch 174 times. That’s 19 more than anyone else in the league, and 47 more than his teammate Riley Cooper. Cooper and Maclin combined to run 301 hitch routes, more than the next most frequent pairing, the Atlanta Falcons’ duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones, who combined for 290.
– Brandon Marshall ran the hitch on 28.4% of his routes, the highest percentage in the league, but only ran the fifth-most hitches overall with 146.
– Pittsburgh’s Heath Miller led all tight ends with 149 hitch routes.
– Mike Evans led all rookies by running 118 hitches, good for 25th in the league.
– As well as running the most hitches, Maclin was also the most targeted receiver with 46. However this was much closer, with Vincent Jackson just two behind with 44 targets, despite running the route 36 fewer times.
– Dez Bryant, Mike Wallace, Steve L. Smith and Eric Decker tied for the sixth-most targets with 36. However, Decker and Bryant did so despite running just 95 and 92 hitches, respectively.
– Jason Witten was tied for the 10th-most targets with 35, the top mark among tight ends.
– Jackson leads the way here with 385 yards, 55 yards more than Mike Wallace in second place, and 64 yards ahead of Maclin.
– Jordy Nelson ranked fourth with 318 yards on hitches, having tied with Anquan Boldin for the most receptions with 30. However, while Boldin matched Nelson’s catch total, he ranked sixth in yardage with 282.
– Davante Adams led all rookies with 178 yards from hitch routes.
Yards per Route Run
– Despite not appearing on any of the previous Top 10 lists, A.J. Green was the most productive receiver on a per-route basis, with 2.93 yards per hitch route run. Green only ran the route 70 times, the 80th most in 2014, but he still managed to produce 205 yards for an impressive average.
– Stevie Johnson ran fewer hitches (52) than anyone else to make these lists, ranking sixth in this category after gaining 156 yards from just 13 receptions.
– Jermaine Gresham had the highest rate of production among tight ends; his 2.22 yards per route run ranked 13th overall.