NY Jets, OC, Nathaniel Hackett
Nathaniel Hackett, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets offense has more problems than total yards, and it all revolves around two people

The New York Jets have a seemingly endless list of problems to solve after dropping to 1-2 in embarrassing fashion. But two positions are bigger concerns than any other: quarterback and offensive coordinator.

The Zach Wilson optimism is over

While the stats didn’t show it, Zach Wilson did show legitimate (albeit very small) signs of promise throughout the preseason and the first two games of the season. All of that optimism evaporated in Week 3 as Wilson reverted back to his old habits and had one of his worst games in the NFL, which is a tough bar to clear.

Completing 50% of his passes, averaging 4.4 yards per attempt, and posting a 17.5 QBR, Wilson was flat-out horrendous. Wilson lacked confidence all game long as he missed open receivers left and right, be it through poor accuracy or simply not seeing his teammates running wide-open.

It’s no longer possible to feel good about Wilson’s previous glimpses of slight progress considering how severe his regression was in this game. We’re in Year 3 of the Wilson Project and he is still putting out reps like this.

Robert Saleh claimed the Jets still believe in Wilson, but trust me, when he watches the film tomorrow, he’ll realize he is kidding himself. For all of the faults around Wilson (and there were many, as we’ll get into), an average quarterback still would have scored somewhere from 17-20 points in Wilson’s shoes, winning this game for the Jets without much of a sweat. Plays were there to be made, but the easiest aspects of the QB position continue to be Herculean tasks for Wilson.

It’s hardly even worth discussing Wilson with much nuance anymore. What more is there to be said? There’s no solution the Jets can come up with that will make him look good. He’s a bad NFL quarterback and that’s all there is to it.

As long as Wilson is under center, the Jets will have to be perfect in every other facet of the game to win. That was the case two weeks ago when it required four takeaways, five sacks, a missed field goal, one of the greatest catches in Jets history, and a punt return touchdown just to squeak by in overtime. And it was the case in 2022 when the Jets won five games with Wilson under center despite him averaging 169.4 passing yards and 0.4 passing touchdowns in those wins.

Wilson is not the Jets’ franchise quarterback of the future, nor is he an ideal backup quarterback of the present behind Aaron Rodgers – just as we feared coming into the season. It’s over. Done. Finished.

The Jets will move on to another quarterback before this season is over, benching Wilson for the third time in two seasons. The only question is when.

That doesn’t mean Nathaniel Hackett is off the hook, and the first issue is his baffling snap deployment

Before we start ripping Nathaniel Hackett, let’s reiterate this important fact: an average quarterback scores at least one more touchdown in this game and gets the victory. I don’t know if any offensive coordinator in the NFL today can work around Zach Wilson. Hackett deserves a little slack because of what he is dealing with at quarterback.

With that being said, Hackett cannot be excused for a litany of awful decisions in regard to his snap deployment and play calling. These blunders have nothing to do with the quarterback and fall completely on Hackett’s shoulders.

The main issue is that Hackett continues to egregiously misuse the talent at his disposal. He refuses to stop over-relying on veterans who are struggling mightily and seems to enjoy watching perfectly capable young backups collect dust on the bench.

C.J. Uzomah played 27 snaps (44%). Jeremy Ruckert? One snap.

Randall Cobb played 44 snaps (72%). Mecole Hardman played two snaps. Xavier Gipson played zero.

Saleh said earlier in the week that Ruckert “needs to get on the field more.” Well, so much for that.

What is going on? Why do the Jets keep playing favorites to overpaid, unproductive veterans? What’s more important: winning football games or keeping the veterans happy? The Jets need to show some accountability and play the players who are earning it.

Ruckert was the Jets’ third-round pick last year and has blocked wonderfully when given a chance. In the season opener, he threw the key block to spring Breece Hall’s 83-yard run. Meanwhile, Uzomah has been blowing blocks on a frequent basis ever since he signed with the Jets, and he is a non-factor as a receiver. There is no reason Uzomah should be playing over him. If there is one, the Jets are yet to give it to the media.

Cobb has one reception this season on 89 offensive snaps this season. What exactly does he bring to the team? He also isn’t a good blocker (there was a play late against New England where he got beat on a block and allowed a potentially huge Garrett Wilson screen to be held to nine yards), dropped an easy underneath catch against New England, and missed a pretty good chance at securing a miraculous Hail Mary to win the game.

Hardman has been successful against the Patriots in the past (he scored a TD in each of his first two games against them) while Gipson has flashed excellent playmaking skills on seemingly every one of his punt returns this year. Both players need to be on the field for an offense that has shown very little explosiveness this season.

What is there to be lost by playing these two guys over Cobb?

Lastly, it might be time for the Jets to admit defeat with the Dalvin Cook experiment. The 28-year-old back looks washed up and is bringing nothing of value to the offense. Sure, it’s only three games, but the early results are nothing short of pitiful.

Cook seems to have lost the special athletic traits that made him a superstar in his prime. He lacks explosiveness, often looking a beat late to hit the hole. All of his quickness and shiftiness seem to be gone when he tries to cut or juke. He also doesn’t finish runs with much forcefulness, often getting brought down right at the point of contact without falling forward for extra yards.

Against New England, Cook consistently failed to make plays in one-on-one situations. There were multiple situations where it felt like Cook should have gotten more yards than he did. Just about all he does right now is take the ball and rumble forward until he runs into someone and falls.

The numbers back up Cook’s ugly performance against the Patriots. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Cook generated negative RYOE (Rushing Yards Over Expected) on all eight of his carries. On the year, he is averaging -1.8 RYOE per carry, which ranks 35th out of the 35 running backs with at least 25 carries (as of the late afternoon Sunday games).

In fairness to Hackett, he actually has been working Cook out of the offense. After playing 50% of the offensive snaps in the opener, Cook dropped to 36% in Week 2 and 26% in Week 3.

But if the Jets are serious about winning rather than justifying a flashy signing, they’ll keep pushing that number down. If the Jets don’t want to overwork Breece Hall just yet, they can give more reps to Michael Carter, who is demanding more snaps with his excellent effort as a blocker. Every touch given to Cook feels like a waste.

It’s time for the Jets to be honest with their self-evaluation and give reps to the players who deserve them. That ultimately falls on Hackett. What more does he need to see from his current lineup before he realizes it’s time to try something different?

Nathaniel Hackett’s predictable and safe play-calling is also problematic

The second issue with Hackett on Sunday was his wildly predictable and harmfully safe play calling. Hackett did exactly what we at Jets X-Factor implored the Jets not to do: predictably run into loaded boxes on first down all game long.

To run the ball successfully against New England, it was clear the Jets had to throw the ball on first down to make the Patriots back off and lighten the box. Only then could the Jets run the football successfully. Until that point, the Patriots would just sell out to stop the run and dare Wilson to beat them. In a projected bad-weather game against a struggling quarterback whom they have always dominated, why would the Patriots do anything else?

Hackett did not take our advice and instead played right into the Patriots’ hands.

The Jets ran 12 plays on first-and-10 prior to the fourth quarter (when the score/clock situation forced them into obvious passing mode). Of those 12 plays, 10 were runs (83%). That is painfully predictable and the exact opposite of what the Jets needed to do.

Lo and behold, those runs went nowhere, combining for 19 yards – a glorious 1.9 yards per carry. Way to go, guys. Those 1.9 yards will sure go a long way to help set up your struggling quarterback for success on second and third down.

Yes, Zach Wilson is bad. I understand the Jets don’t trust him. But the Jets had to live and die with Wilson in this game.

Everyone and their mother knew how the Patriots were going to handle this game defensively. If the Jets tried to hide Wilson, they were destined to run into walls all afternoon and go nowhere offensively. That’s exactly what happened. Their only shot was to give Wilson chances to throw on first down and live with the results. Hackett opted for the scared route and the Jets paid the price. How Hackett didn’t see this coming is beyond me.

On the CBS broadcast, Tony Romo was making the same point all game, practically begging Hackett to call some play-action passes on first down. As Romo pointed out, passing on first down would have given Wilson chances to throw from comfortable situations where the defense was not necessarily expecting a pass.

Instead, by continuously running into walls on first down, the Jets were forced to have Wilson throw from far too many second or third-and-long situations. Those types of predicaments only further emphasize Wilson’s woes. If you don’t trust a guy, you should be primarily asking him to throw when you at least have the leverage to fool the defense into thinking run. Asking him to throw when the defense knows he’s throwing is the worst thing you can do.

This is also unfair to the Jets’ offensive line, which debuted a new combination on Sunday and deserved more efficient play calling to help them get off on the right foot. Running the ball when the defense has more defenders in the box than the offense has blockers is going to make the offensive line look bad when there is really nothing they can do to create a hole. It’s tough to judge the Jets’ run blocking in this game considering how unfavorable the numbers game was.

The Jets’ offense is averaging 12.0 points through three games. While Hackett is not entirely at fault, he certainly deserves a lot of the blame for his mind-boggling snap deployment and predictable play calling.

I believe Hackett would have done a solid job with Aaron Rodgers. The two seem to have a tremendous relationship and it feels as if Hackett was building an offense that would have perfectly suited Rodgers’ preferences. It’s unfortunate that Hackett did not get a chance to show off what he was cooking up with Rodgers.

However, Hackett’s career resume as an offensive play-caller outside of his years with Rodgers is highly suspect – and we’re starting to see why.

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at]jetsxfactor.com - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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2 months ago

Joe Namath was quoted saying, “I’m starting to wonder if Zach’s playing like he’s being coached. He’s making choices that are not intuitive to the quarterback position.” I think it boils down to him being told over and over not to commit turnovers, to play conservatively, and let the defense decide the game. Wilson is obviously incredibly timid and hesitant out there, which is not all the coaches fault, but as Joe suggests, it seems like their coaching has stunted his development. The less chances he takes, the less practice he gets and confidence he can build. It’s very interesting that Wilson’s best moments have come at the end of games when he is forced to take some chances. He actually said as much to the media after the NE game, where he explained that his good 4th quarter drive came about because they had no choice but to throw the ball come what may. It really shows where his head is at.

So, it’s not all the coaches’ fault that Wilson is scared to throw to open receivers, particularly when they are in the middle of the field. He could have more nerve and be mentally stronger to push against the coaches’ conservative approach. But it doesn’t help to have the coaches continually cautioning him. At some point, he’s going to have to risk throwing interceptions, to play more freely and intuitively, if he is ever going to improve. The upcoming KC game, where they are facing a team sure to score several touchdowns, might be a good time to take off the clamps and see what happens.

2 months ago
Reply to  DFargas

It also doesn’t help that every throw is life or death in the eyes of the media or fans. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve criticism but Mac makes a bad throw and it’s “oh that’s one that got away in the weather,” Zach should never miss. It’s that way with the fans too now, again not saying there isn’t deserved criticism but I for one couldn’t do my job if every time I made a mistake or had to correct something everybody would call for me to be fired.

If he had thrown 2 INT’s nobody would be saying today “at least he played loose.” Bottom line is he’s not ready (he may never be) but everybody knew he needed at least a year. That time frame didn’t change just because Rogers’ got hurt.

I still think Joe and Saleh are the right guys for this job, but their biggest off-season mistake wasn’t the OL, it was not getting a backup in here knowing Zach needed a year.

Also, Saleh better step in on Hackett fast or that hire is going to cost him his job. The HC said this week Ruckert needs more snaps, and he got 1. That disconnect with the coaching staff is as much a problem as Zach.

2 months ago
Reply to  Jets71

If Zach had thrown 2 INTs it probably would probably have been because he took about 10 more chances. Maybe it would have been more productive for them to have lost 27-20, rather than 15-10, because at least then Zach would have progressed a lot more, INTs and all. Sure the fans would howl, but at least there’s a chance that Zach would be better next time out. The way they’re going, there’s almost no chance he will be better. I think they’ve boxed themselves into a corner and the more aggressive approach is really all they have left to make something productive and definitive out of this season, if not successful in terms of wins and losses.

2 months ago
Reply to  DFargas

I agree with you, and I don’t know why they can’t mix in some hurry up during the game, maybe just to get them going a bit. There is zero flow. They sure do seem boxed in. They could bring in a guy and do something like the Dolphins did in 1981-82 and play 2 guys. (David Woodley/Don Strock). Start Zach, and go the bench if needed. I honestly think Matt Ryan is the perfect guy for that role.

2 months ago

Hey Michael, I want to make it clear I am in no way excusing Wilson’s play. But in the majority of clips you show, it seems like it’s never the first or second progression that gets open. It’s mostly 3,4,5. I say this without knowing the true progression’s of the play but making judgement calls.

If you look at the other team Mac typically has his first or second read open. In your opinion, how much do you attribute to Hackett scheming for a Qb we know can’t go through reads? Or do you think Zach is taking too long / leaving reads to early?

2 months ago

They will bring in a QB this week, the frustration on the sideline is palpable. I’m not saying Zach has been good, and I agree the positive vibes are gone but it’s becoming way to easy for this team to just blame Zach for everything. There is plenty out there to clean up as you have pointed out. Zach is the worst starting QB in the league, he’s also playing behind the worst OL in the game, and the other guys on offense don’t do much to help him.

Hackett’s play calling was atrocious, even through all of the bad things that happened they had the ball down 3, with over 2mins to play and all 3 timeouts. Yes, the field position wasn’t great but to just drop Zach back all 3 times was child’s play. No handoff to get things started, or a swing pass just so he could “feel” a completion. You may very well be right, no OC can coach around him but I don’t see much being done to help him.

Ruckert, Gipson, and Hardman need to get on the field. We don’t need to see Cobb any longer, and there is zero juice from the TE’s.

I’ll get thumbs down on this but the D has it’s moments too. I know you can look at the box score and see they had a nice day but there are still too many big plays left our there. No team should be converting nearly 50% on 3rd down against this defense, and I’m tired of seeing 3rd and 15 completed. For the second week in a row the opposing team got the ball and scored points on their first drive, that has to stop. The complimentary football is non-existent.

Lastly, (nothing to do with the game) for the second straight home game the field looked like shit. It’s time for a new stadium. Woody tried to get something in NYC, when he first bought the team and it’s time. We talk about player safety all the time, it’s simply not safe to be playing in bad weather. It’s also the progression of the league, the days of foul weather, 3 yards and a cloud of dust are over. Nobody wants to see a gross game in foul weather, especially in the day of Fantasy Football and all kinds of prop gambling. It’s time Woody, new stadium, retractable roof, get those grass fields that can live under the stadium like in Europe for soccer.