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Who’s to blame for NY Jets’ offensive futility vs. Giants?

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

The New York Jets’ offense played an embarrassing game against the Giants

New York Jets fans are well accustomed to horrible offensive efforts from the team. Over the last decade, they’ve been 28th or worse in points per game five times and 23rd or worse nine times. Their yardage numbers in those years are mostly similar.

Still, the Jets’ Week 8 output against the New York Giants was utterly shameful. They had 17 drives, punting 11 times, turning the football over twice, and losing it once on downs. Zach Wilson was pressured on more than half of his dropbacks.

It’s very convenient to place all the blame for the futility on Wilson. After all, he went 17-for-36 (47.2%) for 240 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, and a lost fumble. Pro Football Focus was generous with Wilson in blaming him for only one pressure and one sack out of the 19 pressured dropbacks and eight sacks that he sustained.

Still, the film is king in this situation. Who was really to blame for the Jets’ offensive fugue against the Giants?

Nathaniel Hackett (34%)

The first culprit for the Jets’ inability to move the football needs to be Nathaniel Hackett. Yes, he had a very difficult situation with both Connor McGovern and Wes Schweitzer down for the count with Xavier Newman at center. Yes, it was wet out there and the Jets couldn’t run the football at all.

That’s not what Hackett deserves the blame for. It’s everything else, everything that he could control, that was terrible.

All season long, we’ve wondered why the Jets can’t convert third downs or score in the red zone. I think the answer came out pretty clearly in this game: their play-caller has an inability to scheme players open and designs route concepts that make no sense. To add to those deficiencies, he often chooses the absolute worst personnel possible for any given situation, further weakening the chances that the Jets will actually obtain a positive play.

Here are just a few examples where you can clearly see how Hackett is holding back this Jets offense.

Short yardage

Throughout the season, one of the Jets’ biggest problems with converting third downs was the average distance to a first down. In this game, though, the Jets had four third downs of two or fewer yards and eight total of five or fewer yards. Still, they converted just one of those, and it came via the penalty committed by Adoree’ Jackson on Malik Taylor.

The most egregious issue was that the Jets were 0-for-4 on third down with two or fewer yards to go. The play-calling was highly reminiscent of Mike LaFleur’s in 2022.

On the first third-and-short, Max Mitchell whiffed on his block, allowing A’Shawn Robinson (No. 91) to stuff Hall short of the first down. It’s fair to wonder, though, why the Jets came out with so much space between their offensive linemen rather than tightening up for the short-yardage situation.

From there, though, Hackett decided that the Jets couldn’t run the ball on third-and-short. The next three times were all passes of the same variety.

Each of these play calls has a different wrinkle that makes it uniquely poor, but you can see that the concept is almost identical: try to roll out and hit a receiver running some sort of flat route. It’s a pretty standard short-yardage play, but it works only if it surprises the defense in some way. Perhaps you can argue that’s the case on the first play when it appears to be an RPO. Still, coming out in shotgun is not a great way to convince a defense that you’re running the ball so you can then throw off that look.

Once the Jets had done that, though, coming out in empty on the next third-and-short play was absolutely asinine. Now there’s no threat of a run, and the play call is the same sort of quick route to Tyler Conklin? Unsurprisingly, Jason Pinnock was right there. Conklin could have potentially walled off the ball better with his body, but this was going to be a contested ball from the outset.

On the third play, the Jets finally decided that coming out under center with a running back might be a good idea, but they still wouldn’t try running again. As bad as the offensive line was, it’s hard to fathom just going back to the same pass play. This time it was Breece Hall running to the flat rather than Conklin, but again, the defense was pretty ready for it. Wilson had a chance to complete that ball with a good throw, but it’s another predictable play call.

At the very least, why don’t the Jets try some sort of jet sweep or trick play on third and short? Maybe the defense would be prepared for that, too, as we’ve seen some jet sweeps blown up on third down. But if it’s done with Garrett Wilson rather than Xavier Gipson (who is known as almost purely a gadget player) and constructed well, that’s more likely to work than three consecutive plays of very similar design.

Furthermore, if the Jets’ offensive staff had more attention to detail, they could also potentially execute the Tush Push. Brett Kollmann put out an excellent video describing the nuances of how the Eagles do it and why they’re so successful; it has little to do with Jalen Hurts’ bench press or even Philadelphia’s great offensive line and far more to do with proper technique. This is something the Jets should be practicing, particularly considering their struggles in short-yardage situations going back a year.

Avoiding tosses

The Jets’ running backs combined for 24 rushing yards on 14 carries. Just two of those carries were tosses. Meanwhile, they continued to run stretch plays that went for losses.

It’s definitely risky to run a toss with a poor offensive line. If just one player can knife through, the play can lose a lot of yardage. Still, if there’s one play that can be riskier than a toss, it’s a stretch run. There is more room for penetrators without the blockers being able to get into position.

Still, the Jets have had some success with tosses this year, and it was a potential way to punish some of the Giants’ aggressive defenders. Finding a blitz look and then running a toss away from it could have given the Jets numbers. Again, it wasn’t foolproof, but I expected Hackett to try it at some point.

The one toss they used with Dalvin Cook actually converted a short-yardage play, albeit on second down. Yes, he got only one yard, but look how precious that yard was in such a situation.

I thought it was a mistake to keep trying to run up the middle.

Route selection and design

Take a look at some of these route combinations. There’s just nothing there that will fool a defense or put any defenders in conflict.

I asked Michael Nania what on earth those three routes to the bottom of the screen (to the field side) are called. His response: “That’s called a spaghetti concept, I think. Just a bunch of squiggly lines intersecting.”

An apt description of a ridiculous play. Spacing and route concepts seem to be a recurring issue for this Jets offense. At times in 2022, it looked like Corey Davis may have run the wrong route on some of the weirder-looking plays. In this case, though, it’s hard to tell if the routes were wrong or if it was just that bad of a play call.

The Jets run a play-action bootleg with only one realistic passing option, Garrett Wilson. Perhaps Ruckert was meant to be the checkdown, but the two-man route here is very lackluster.

I’m not sure if this is just that Lazard is a bad route-runner or if it’s a horrible concept. That route did not take any attention off Wilson’s route, didn’t get open, and didn’t give Zach Wilson anywhere to throw the football. It looks like a poor design.

This has been a chronic problem in the Jets’ offense for two years now: for some reason, these offensive coordinators think that strong character in the locker room should equal more playing time. At least, that seems to be the case with C.J. Uzomah.

Uzomah can be a useful backup and get some YAC at times, as he showed at one point during the game. What he cannot do is run routes, and especially not a corner route out of the slot. Lining him up in the slot gives the defense such an upper hand since they simply do not need to worry about that spot.

This play was a mess for other reasons, but having a completely wasted route on third down is poor play-calling. This one’s on Hackett. Put Jeremy Ruckert in that spot if you insist on having a tight end in there.

Conservative plan

The Jets really haven’t opened up any deep shots with Wilson. In part, it makes sense given the lack of time from the offensive line, but sometimes hitting one of those is what it takes to open up the rest of the offense.

Finally, when Wilson took a deep shot to Malik Taylor on third down, the Jets got a defensive pass interference call that ultimately won them the game. It was an underthrown pass, but that’s exactly the type of throw that can draw a pass interference penalty. It’s one way to gain chunk yardage.

Pass catchers (22%)

PFF charged the Jets’ pass-catchers with only two drops, still a 10.5% drop rate that was the eighth-worst among teams in Week 8 (excluding Monday Night Football). Then there were a number of other plays that may not have been drops by the strict letter of the law but were nevertheless must-catch balls.

Most notably, Jets pass-catchers combined to go 1-for-9 (11.1%) on contested catches against the Giants. That was the second-worst rate among 15 teams with at least five contested targets.

Perhaps you try to blame Wilson for the fact that the Jets’ nine contested targets were tied for the most in the NFL. Still, the other team that had nine contested targets was the Eagles — and their receivers caught six of those balls (66.7%).

Not all contested targets are created equal, and it’s likely that Jalen Hurts’ balls were far more on target than Wilson’s. Going 1-for-9 on contested catches is unacceptable regardless, especially when no one is open.

That leads to the next point: the Jets’ receivers simply can’t get any separation. Garrett Wilson was open enough, but if the Giants doubled him or his route was not a good option based on the coverage, Zach Wilson rarely had somewhere else to go with the football.

Hackett definitely deserves his fair share of the blame for that, as described above. Still, there’s no doubt that the Jets don’t have reliable pass-catching options past Wilson.

Even Hall, whom the Jets targeted often in this game, had a bad drop on what turned into the game-winning drive. It did not end up costing them but certainly could have. This looked like it might have been a first down and a lot more.

Conklin was rarely open in this game, either; he did not manage to pull down either of his targets, and there was really only one play where he was open and could have been targeted.

Allen Lazard, meanwhile, has no shiftiness and often dropped the ball when it did come his way.

This may not have been a perfect throw by Wilson, but it was right in Lazard’s hands. That’s a ball he needs to catch. Lazard’s astonishing 19% drop rate shows that the drop was quite expected, though.

This was not the easiest catch in the world, but catching it wasn’t optional. If not for the Giants’ big bungle at the end of the game, this would have been the Jets’ final drive. It was a third down play. Catch it and the discussion is whether or not it’s a first down, but either way, the worst is fourth and short. Drop it, as Lazard did, and it’s fourth-and-10. Lazard dropped it. He did redeem himself later in the game, but if he had caught the pass earlier, it theoretically might not have been necessary.

Xavier Gipson also made a bad mistake early in the game, stalling a drive. He failed to turn around for a hot route when the Giants had a free rusher on the blitz, forcing Wilson to hold the ball. By the time Wilson was able to throw it, the play was dead.

Malik Taylor, who is virtually a career practice squad/special teams player and was just elevated from the Jets’ practice squad for the game, played the third-most snaps among Jets receivers. That’s just how depleted their pass-catching corps is.

Garrett Wilson had his moments in this game, too, despite reaching the 100-yard plateau and being the only Jets player who could move the ball. This one, in particular, had me scratching my head.

Off the bat, it looks like Zach Wilson read this correctly; the defensive back was over the top of the route, which meant that a back-shoulder throw was warranted. Garrett Wilson continued running upfield. They were not on the same page here, but it took away the option of an easy completion for the Jets.

It looks like the throw might’ve been a bit lower and farther outside than was ideal, but it was likely catchable if Wilson had turned around.

Nowhere to go

It’s hard to identify exactly how much of the blame for the lack of receiver separation is on Hackett vs. the receivers themselves. Here are a few more plays where Zach Wilson had nowhere to go with the football, and it appears it’s simply on receivers who can’t beat man coverage.

Perhaps Wilson could’ve hit Malik Taylor here, but he was flushed out because he had nowhere to go with the ball.

Offensive line (22%)

This could really go up a lot higher than 22%, but the truth is that you can look at the offensive line a few different ways. Hall averaged 1.4 yards per carry, and that was the fault of the line, in large part. The only quarterbacks pressured at a higher rate than Wilson in Week 8 were the two Giants signal-callers, and they had 11 and 13 dropbacks, respectively, compared to Wilson’s 43. That’s also largely attributable to the line.

Still, when you watch the game, the lack of viable receiving options was often just as much if not a bigger issue than the pressure. Wilson was harassed all game, but he rarely had an option to beat that pressure. On occasions where he tried to throw a hot route, the receiver either didn’t look back to the ball in time or didn’t cut their routes short enough to allow for an easier completion.

Here is one example where the pass rush stopped Wilson from completing what otherwise would have been a nice gain. For the most part, though, Wilson was harassed and hit when he didn’t have anywhere to go with the ball.

Kayvon Thibodeaux and Dexter Lawrence undoubtedly wrecked the Jets’ offense, but they were also given ample opportunity to do so. The Jets’ line put the meaning into the word offensive.

Zach Wilson (22%)

Notice that I’m not absolving Wilson of blame. I blame him as much as the offensive line and the pass catchers — separately. When you combine the three other factors, though, Wilson is by far not the main reason the Jets played so poorly.

Jet X readers know that I’m not a Zach Wilson apologist. In fact, I am quite vocal in my belief that Wilson’s career as a starter is not salvageable. The only change in my tune over the last few weeks is that I now believe he can potentially find a job as a backup in the NFL rather than being out of the league altogether following the 2024 season. I would still be on board with potentially benching Wilson for Trevor Siemian if the situation warrants it.

Still, watching the film, I could not help but notice how much the other three factors conspired against Wilson. I wasn’t even watching the film specifically for this article; I was looking at Garrett Wilson’s game for the purpose of a different article. It just struck me time after time how one or more of the other factors made it impossible for Zach Wilson to succeed.

Remember, Aaron Rodgers struggled in 2022 in large part because he did not have competent receivers. Patrick Mahomes was pressured 44.4% of the time against Denver in Week 8, and he threw no touchdowns and two interceptions with 6.4 yards per attempt. Trevor Lawrence looked atrocious under Urban Meyer, then turned it around under Doug Pederson.

When you combine those three other factors — atrocious offensive line, no one open, and bad play-calling — the chances that any quarterback will succeed are very slim. This is not meant to excuse Wilson, but merely to place his performance into some sort of context.

Against the Patriots in Week 3, I believe that Wilson legitimately missed a number of opportunities. In the Giants game, though, the worst you can say about Wilson is that he took too long to throw the ball away. It certainly wasn’t good, but he did not play as disastrously as Willie Colon would have you believe.

The bad

Here are some of the poor plays that Wilson made or supposedly made.

This play is undoubtedly on Wilson. With Kayvon Thibodeaux coming from his blindside, perhaps it’s not fair to entirely blame the strip sack on him. Still, seeing Dexter Lawrence also coming up the middle, Wilson should have tucked the football to protect it. Bad, bad play here that cost the Jets early.

If Wilson had hung in the pocket for a half-second longer, perhaps he could have found Malik Taylor open. Still, the pressure was there, and it took that extra second for Taylor’s route to develop. You can’t really blame Wilson here.

When Wilson moved out of the pocket here, if his eyes were downfield, he might have noticed that Gipson had more separation than Wilson. The ball was complete, but if you want to nitpick, that’s one place to do it.

Wilson threw this ball behind his receiver. Based on the play-by-play, though, it appears that Dexter Lawrence may have tipped the ball. If not, that’s a throw Wilson should be completing. It’s more important than it seems because staying out of third down situations was one of the Jets’ issues all day.

On the broadcast, the announcers blasted Wilson for not throwing this pass hard enough. When I saw the pass, my first thought was that Garrett Wilson should have come back and attacked the ball rather than waiting for it to hit his chest, which is what allowed the defender to break up the pass.

Looking at the replay, I think both of these views are partially wrong. Wilson had cocked his arm to throw, then had to pull it up and fire again. At that point, his footwork was off kilter, which didn’t allow him to put mustard on the throw. It was that original hesitation that allowed Wilson to get off the deeper throw, since it drew the defensive back down and away from Wilson. Still, in the future, it would be wiser for Wilson to pump, reset his feet, and then release the ball so it will have the proper velocity.

From Wilson’s angle, he was more off balance on the play than I realized. He wasn’t just waiting for the ball but actually had to stop for a ball that was thrown softer than he had anticipated. He didn’t really have time to get back and attack the ball because he already had to stop his momentum.

I do still think Wilson needs to get better at catching these kinds of passes. I’m not necessarily pointing at this particular pass, but there are many times that his hands aren’t strong enough to grab contested balls.

There is some fault and absolution on both sides here.

Given the choice between throwing to Lazard or Conklin here, Conklin is undoubtedly more open. Still, with no running back in the backfield, Wilson may have felt pressure to throw to his first read. Lazard should have been able to nab this ball, but, hey, that’s just Lazard being Lazard.

If Wilson read the leverage of both defenders, he should have known that Conklin was the better target.

This sack was one of Wilson’s big no-nos. Sometimes he needs to throw the ball away rather than trusting himself to escape a chasing edge defender. Kayvon Thibodeaux is not some 280-pound defensive end; he ran a 4.58 40-yard dash, in the 93rd percentile for edge defenders. He also has excellent closing speed on sacks, as he showed both on this play and the earlier strip sack.

In this situation, with 2:19 remaining in the game and the Jets at their own 41 on first down, this is an absolutely inexcusable sack. It may well have been the defining play of the game if not for the craziness at the end.

If taking that sack on first down was bad, taking it on fourth down was unconscionable. This was the Jets’ last chance (until it wasn’t): fourth and 10 from the 41. It doesn’t look like anyone is open, but you can’t take a sack here. Throwing up a Hail Mary and having it picked off is better than taking the sack.

Just like Wilson threw a ball well short of the sticks on fourth down against the Patriots, the risk aversion that he’s been taught made him extremely gun-shy over here.

The good

Though it’s hard to see it, Wilson actually made some good plays in the game. We never got to see if he could translate them into points because of the drops or lack of contested catches from his receivers. For example, the Lazard drops (shown above) significantly hurt the Jets’ chances of driving, as did Gipson’s gaffe on the hot route.

The main good that Wilson did came in the last 24 seconds and overtime. His two throws to Wilson and Lazard were strong, and he got the offense lined up in time. In overtime, he threw a checkdown to Hall that should have gone for 15+ yards only to see it dropped. He then got it to Garrett Wilson under pressure on third down. The pass interference play may not have been a good ball, but he took the shot and got the flag.

There was also one other good throw by Wilson that fell incomplete through no fault of his own. He found Garrett Wilson open and was poised for another first down, but Hall turned his route upfield after failing to get open initially, causing him to run right into the throw and prevent Wilson from getting there. The Taylor play came on the next play, but Wilson actually made a few good plays in overtime.

Main takeaways

Again, I’m not making excuses for Wilson. He was not good in this game. His most egregious errors were on the three sacks that I mentioned above: the strip sack and the two on the second-to-last Jets drive in regulation. Other than that, though, he didn’t really miss too many opportunities. As frustrating as it was to watch the Jets’ offense deal with punt after punt, there were many other reasons for that besides just the quarterback.

The problem is that if the Jets can’t acquire another receiver before the 4 p.m. ET trade deadline and figure out something along their offensive line, we may see more ugly games like this one. The Jets were lucky that the Giants ran out a practice squad quarterback and refused to throw the ball from there on in. Justin Herbert is a different story.

As far as Hackett goes, he’s going to need to get more creative than this. Lost in the post-Kansas City exhilaration was that the offensive coordinator has not planned anything remotely close to that since then. Perhaps the losses along the offensive line are part of the reason, but it seems like Hackett is living up to his dad’s reputation as a conservative play-caller.

Trying to win with defense alone rarely works in 2023. The Jets’ defense, as strong as it can be, is not good enough to hold teams under 10 points a game on a consistent basis. They’re going to need to score some touchdowns.

Otherwise, by the time Hackett might be able to get back his buddy Rodgers, it will be too late.

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7 months ago

Wow, that’s a lot of bad football to watch!
Without getting into the level of blame for Zach…
I agree that the play-calling, lack of innovation, and personnel groupings are extremely problematic.
Every time I watch other teams play I find myself saying “We don’t have that play”, or “We don’t ever do that”. Why not? It can’t ALL be because Zach doesn’t have the skills. At least try and fail. I’m not talking “Philly Special” schoolyard ball, I’m talking about pick plays, flooding a zone, having 3 choices on a standard waggle play! I’d be pulling my hair out if I was a Jets WR.
BTW, I watched the Tush Push video. Very interesting. I’m a strong proponent of going back to the old rule prohibiting pushing a ball carrier under all circumstances. Teams could still use their linemen (as in the video), but the push component would be eliminated.

7 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

Haha…no sour grapes!

7 months ago

Rivka…welcome to my world. Zach is not the problem with this offense. He may not be where he’ll likely end up, but he appears on his way there to me. I was off the bandwagon after the Jags game last year. But my eye test shows a noticeably improved player. The real problem is Hackett’s abysmal play calling. I lived through his dad and he’s similar…though not quite yet as infuriating. This team can’t get to where their talent suggests (O-Line notwithstanding) without a drastic change in play calling.

Robert Papalia
7 months ago

Wilson did have a touchdown in the Giants game.

7 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

Here we go. It’s a TD pass but it’s not good enough. Even though Wilson drops back, makes his reads, nobody there, and finds the outlet receiver BEFORE the pass rush gets there. This is a GOOD PLAY! But… it’s Zach so it really doesn’t count. It’s a TOUCHDOWN PASS, plain and simple. Again, all the good stuff gets wiped out because…he wasn’t perfect.

7 months ago
Reply to  Jets71

If ANY QB in the league was scrutinized to the level that Wilson is, they’d all suck to some extent. They ALL miss reads, occasionally hold the ball too long, or bail out vs. step into the pocket, or take bad sacks, etc. Can’t figure out if it’s Jets fans just sick of losing for so long or if the guy is really that polarizing…

7 months ago
Reply to  vnick12

You are sooooo right. Personally, I believe it’s just a lazy narrative that’s easy to cling to, and I’m no longer accepting “the team lost so Zach stinks.” The standard of expectation from Zach is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

7 months ago
Reply to  Jets71

Bingo…for a large enough group of fans, that is exactly where things stand with this QB. It’s a really interesting phenomena to observe.