AbsolutAnalysis - West Coast Routes

NET's X's and O's Guru Matt Lathrop takes the reader into the world of the West Coast Offense. This week's breakdown: Common WCO Routes.

Well, it's been a while but I'm finally back. Last time I saw you we finished up the three-part series covering defensive fronts, and I promised to move on to a new topic. Today, we will take a look at two more common route combinations you will see plenty of during the season. This installment of "Staples of the West Coast Offense" will examine the Hitch/Corner combination, as well as the Slant combo.

The Hitch/Corner combo is a simple yet effective package that is most adept to attacking Cover 2 shell, but also has a built-in option for a Cover 3 with a softer corner. In the most fundamental sense, the play is built upon the idea of throwing underneath to the WR Hitch if the CB plays with a cushion, or throwing over the top to the slot receiver running the Corner route if the CB presses the WR. Here's a diagram of the combination:

The pre-snap read for the QB is simply the form of coverage is the defense running. If they are running a Cover 2 or tight Man coverage, then the QB will make the read to throw the Corner, as you can see below. However, if the defense lines up in a Cover 3 shell, then the read will be to the hitch.

As you can see in the diagram above, the defense is in a Cover 2 shell, which means the CB will be pressing the #1 receiver (aka Split End). He will force a collision with the CB, which will open up the Corner area for #2 by keeping the CB in tight and forcing the S to get on his horse and cover a lot of ground. As I outlined in the Uncovering Coverages column, this is a weakness of Cover 2, and this package does a great job of exploiting it. The #2 running a Corner will head up field for about 5 yards, give the defense a quick inside move to loosen them from the boundary (sideline) and break the route, expecting the ball to be on its way. Now let's check out this package versus a Cover 3:

Against a soft CB in a Cover 3 shell, the QB will read to the Hitch route. Here, the CB will retreat on the snap as #1 pushes towards him. This will send the CB into the Corner area which will take away that route, but open up the hitch underneath. The receiver will use proper arm exaggeration technique to give the impression of acceleration and quickly breakdown and snap his head around for the ball. This package utilizes a quick three step drop and, as many routes do, the cuts break on the QB's third drop so he can retreat and fire immediately.

Now let's take a look at another common package. Perhaps the most fundamental pass route and most "West Coast" route is the slant route; a short, quick-hitting route that allows the receiver to make something happen after the catch. Today I'll show you a simple example of how the slant is packaged to increase effectiveness and open up other options for the offense. What we will look at here, is something of a double slant combo, the outside route being a quick slant which is being run underneath a deeper slant.

The route primary route is being run by #1, and is referred to as a quick slant, or short, among other names. This is also a route/package designed primarily to attack Cover 2 type defenses, that play with CB's pressing. The main idea is to neutralize the pressing CB by going after defenses inside the shell, such as the Nickel Back or OLB. And, as many of you know, this is a popular route to counter a blitzing defense, as it often occupies vacant areas and allows the QB to get rid of the ball quickly. Next, you may have noticed that the quick slant crosses the path of the slant, which is no coincidence. This combo employs a bunch, or compressed, principle in that it attempts to rub or pick defenders covering the receivers, by having the receivers cross paths. This way, the offense can use the defensive personnel against themselves, and try to create space by doing so.

Here's what it would look like against a pressing CB in a Cover 2 shell:

The key to running this package properly is less about the QB read, such as in the Hitch/Corner package, rather the WR using proper technique to allow himself a clean release into the route. Against a pressing CB or Man coverage, the WR should give a quick misdirection step in order to try and get the CB to turn his hips outside, and\or open his shoulders to the outside. This gives the receiver a clean release from the LOS, and maintains the timing of the route. On a tangent, this is one thing that really makes Marcus Trufant a special player; his ability to swing his hips is very rare, he has very fluid hip movement which makes these kinds of receiver releases less effective, allowing him to react and recover from them quickly and easily.

The Inside Slant will draw the Nickel Back and break at a point that will allow him to slide in an area underneath the Safety and over top the Nickel to get open in the event the primary target isn't open.

Versus a soft CB and\or Cover 3 shell, the route of both players is essentially the same as the first diagram of this package. #1 takes a hard step on the snap inside and should expect the ball immediately underneath the slot receiver.

Against Man or soft coverage, there are several route adjustments or "continuations" that can be performed off a quick slant route. For example, if the quick slant is unavailable, or if the coach simply wants to throw a wrinkle into a route that the defense has seen before, he can do something like this:

The Whip route begins just like a quick slant, but cuts as the receiver gets into the interior and breaks back outside. This would be especially effective against a CB that likes to squat routes and jump slants and hitches because it can catch him getting excited and jumping a route he thinks is a slant but ends up breaking back outside. Furthermore, a slant route will force the CB to turn his hips inside, giving the receiver the edge as the CB would have to swing his hips completely around in order to recover against a whip route. This would be equally effective against a Quarters type coverage, in which the CB will retreat when he sees #1 heading inside and #2 running vertically. This opens up space underneath the CB towards the boundary, which is right where the Whip is headed.

I'll take a look at one more adjustment before wrapping things up for this week. Say we stay with the outside Whip and adjust the inside route. Here's an example of what we might do:

Look familiar? We're back to the same concept as the Hitch/Corner. If we add a corner over the hitch, the QB will determine the best target to throw to by how the CB reacts. If he sees #1 heading inside, he will likely retreat (as he should) and let the Nickel pick up the slant. This will shut down the Corner route, but open up the Whip. The Nickel will have to jump the route at the break point of the receiver, who will return back outside to a vacant area. However, if the CB presses in a Cover 2 coverage, that will open up the Corner route, applying the same principles of the Hitch/Corner package above.

I wanted to give you these adjustments to show the flexibility and interchangability (I know it's not a word, but it makes sense anyway…) of this type of offense. By taking one simple route package or combination, you present yourself with handfuls of different adjustments that can be made to each component of each play. By making one adjustment to a route, you have a new concept that is still familiar, and then by making a second wrinkle, you have a whole new combination, yet it carries the same principles and basics as the original package. This allows for a high degree of flexibility, providing the coaches and players with the ability to adjust and make on field adjustments on the fly. I bet whoever told Bill Walsh it was a bad idea feels pretty silly now.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the column. As always, please email me with questions, requests and comments. If you have any problems or criticisms, email my boss. Until next time…

For past articles, check out the AbsolutAnalysis Column Archive

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