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Colts' Offensive Staples: 3X2 Hitches

It is time for a new offseason series for the site. In the Colts' Offensive Staples series, I'll go through some plays that Frank Reich loves to utilize in his offense. Next up is a five-wide hitch concept.

The Indianapolis Colts under Frank Reich have consistently had one of the better offenses in the league, despite the team starting four (going on five) different quarterbacks over four years. In this new series, I hope to shed some light on why the Colts' offense has managed to stay efficient despite the turnover.

In the Colts' Offensive Staples series, I will be exploring some of Reich's favorite play calls for this offense. Obviously things change with new quarterbacks, but Reich has stayed pretty consistent on a few of his go-to calls over the years.

Sticking with the passing game, let's dive into another shorter passing call. While this play call may not have a typical name league-wide, from what I could find, I have decided to just call it a 3X2 Hitch concept. With this play, the offense has five receivers across the formation all running hitch or curl routes. It is a quick-hitting play designed to get yards early in the series.

In today's Colts' Offensive Staples piece, I dive into the Frank Reich's background with this call and how the Colts have used this play to success over the years.

Ken Whisenhunt's Influence

Former NFL Coach Ken Whisenhunt has had quite a bit of an influence over Frank Reich's career. Whisenhunt was the Head Coach of the Arizona Cardinals back in 2012, a year in which Reich was also the Cardinals' WR Coach. When Whisenhunt was fired after the season, Reich followed him to the San Diego Chargers to be the QB Coach for Philip Rivers.

While I will always call Reich's offense more a west coast passing attack, it is easy to see some of Whisenhunt's spread offense mixed in. Whisenhunt's offensive philosophy revolved spreading the defense out with five receiving options on the field, and then using those options to create quick passes that have a chance to gain more yards after the catch.

This style of play is similar, in theory, to a west coast passing scheme, which is why it makes a ton of sense for Reich to incorporate parts of Whisenhunt's scheme into his own. This hitch route combination is eerily similar to a lot of play calls that the Chargers ran back in the Whisenhunt-led years of that team. 

For more reading on a similarly-styled quick passing spread offense, I highly recommend this piece by Bruin Report Online.

3X2 Hitches

My quick title for this play is fairly self-explanatory, as I couldn't come up with anything super catchy on the spot. The 3X2 part of the play simply refers to the number of receivers on the field-- three receivers on one side with two on the other. Hitches, or the hitch route, is the name for a route that is a quick-hitting stop route underneath.

Here is the play in its entirety. It is pretty straight-forward overall with very few variations when the Colts run it:

3X2 Hitches Pic 1
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For this play to be successful, two variables need to happen:

1.) The defense almost certainly has to be in zone coverage. This call could work against man in some scenarios, but it is preferable for the defense to be in zone (typically cover-three or four).

2.) The quarterback is confident, and correct, in their pre-snap read. This entire play is predicated on the QB knowing where to throw the ball based on how the defense is aligned pre-snap. If the QB is unsure prior to the snap, the play is certainly doomed.

Luckily, in 2020 with Philip Rivers, this type of call was perfect for that offense. Rivers was at an elite level with his pre-snap decision making, and he almost always knew where the ball had to go once the play started.

His pre-snap read on the inside linebacker is what led to the quick pass over the middle to Trey Burton.

The main elements of this play, from a design standpoint, are the spacing of the receivers and the different levels of the routes. Each route is at a slightly different depth, and each receiver is sitting in a different zone of the field. This effectively spreads the underneath part of the defense, creating ample throwing windows for the quarterback.

T.Y Hilton's pre-snap alignment is basically on the sideline on this play below. This puts stress on the flat defender (the outside linebacker) to get to his zone before the ball is thrown. Rivers notices this pre-snap and fires a pass outside for a quick gain.

The play itself is simple, but it is effective at stretching a zone defense and creating easy windows for the quarterback. While this call was perfect for a player like Philip Rivers in 2020, it can also become an effective play for Matt Ryan this upcoming year.

With Ryan's ability to diagnose a defense pre-snap, I could certainly see this play design becoming an early down staple again in 2022.


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