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Biggest ways in which Nathaniel Hackett is crushing the NY Jets

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

New York Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is a legitimate liability and the film proves it

When NFL fans blame their favorite team’s offensive coordinator, the criticism is often misguided. Offensive coordinators are frequently scapegoated when the real reason for the team’s struggles is the execution of the players.

While the New York Jets certainly have their fair share of execution issues, the criticism of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is still warranted. The film shows numerous examples of the Jets offense being hamstrung by Hackett’s decisions. He is contributing to the Jets’ scoring woes just as much as the players.

Let’s take a look at a few ways in which Hackett is making life tougher for the Jets.

Uncreative third-and-long designs

The Jets remain 32nd in third-down conversion rate at 25%. One of the main reasons is their complete inability to escape third-and-long situations. While third-and-long is a difficult situation for any team, most NFL offenses are capable of pulling off the occasional conversion. But when the Jets get into third-and-long, fans know the drive is already over.

New York has converted only 7.8% of its third downs with 10+ yards to go, the worst rate in football. They have faced 51 of these plays and moved the chains four times. No other team is below 10%, and the league average is 17.7%.

I place a lot of blame on Hackett for this. When analyzing the Jets’ third-and-long plays, I’ve noticed that Hackett consistently calls stagnant, uncreative play designs that yield little chance of getting a receiver open.

Oftentimes, Hackett simply sends all of his receivers on vertical routes with no semblance of creativity. No rubs. No route combinations to put defenders in conflict. No creative motions. Just straight-up “Four Verticals” from Madden.

In today’s NFL, defenses are playing softer and safer than ever before in hopes of preventing deep passes. It’s working, as in 2023, NFL offenses are averaging just 10.8 yards per completion, which is on pace to be the lowest mark in league history. This is largely because of the league-wide conservative mentality that defenses are using on third down. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, when it’s third down with at least seven yards to go, defenses have called zone coverage 68% of the time.

Creativity is required to open up downfield passes against conservative zone-coverage calls on third-and-long. Simply dialing up vertical routes across the board is rarely going to work; you’re just playing right into the defense’s hands. The Jets’ third-and-long conversion rate speaks for itself.

Hackett needs to get more creative when attacking downfield on third-and-long.

Stubbornly calling consecutive run plays when passing is more ideal

While you can hardly argue the Jets run the football too much – they’re 30th in rush attempts per game at 22.0 – it’s the timing of their run plays that needs correcting.

Hackett has a tendency to run the ball on consecutive plays too often. We see a lot of run-run-pass sequences that set up a third-and-long – which, as we know, is a situation the Jets must avoid at all costs due to their struggles there.

The Jets will often have an unsuccessful run on first down and then run the ball again on second down to try and set up a shorter third down instead of trying to pass the ball and avoid third down entirely. It’s a defeatist mentality. You don’t have to face third down. It’s okay to get first downs on first or second down!

Against the Raiders, the Jets faced 15 second down plays with at least seven yards to go, and they ran the ball on seven of those (47%). Those plays netted a grand total of -8 yards (5 carries for 12 yards plus two carries that resulted in 10-yard holding penalties). None of them resulted in a first down. At best, the Jets created a third-and-4 situation. Their average to-go distance on third down after a second-and-7+ run (counting out the two holds) was 9.6 yards.

Here are the Jets’ second-and-7+ plays against the Raiders, with the run plays highlighted.

Jets-Second-Down-Long-Raiders

When Hackett calls a second-and-long run, he is basically signing up for a third and medium-to-long situation while completely giving up on moving the chains before third down. This isn’t to say that no team should run on second-and-long. Running on second-and-long is justifiable if you are a good rushing team, but with their onslaught of offensive line injuries (especially Alijah Vera-Tucker), the Jets are not that kind of team.

While those run-run-pass sequences are frustrating, I think the bigger issue is Hackett’s tendency to waste advantageous passing opportunities in short-distance situations. With their limitations at quarterback wide receiver, and the offensive line, the Jets need to maximize every advantage they can get in the passing game. Hackett is not doing that.

When the Jets have a successful play on first down to set up a second-and-short situation, Hackett rarely maximizes the situation by taking a shot. He usually just tries to run the ball and take the easy first down. The Jets have run the ball on 10 of their 17 second-down plays with 1-2 yards to go (59%).

A lot of yardage is left on the table when you choose to continuously run on second-and-short, as it is one of the most pass-friendly situations in the game. In 2023, the league-average passer rating on second down with 1-2 yards to go is 103.6.

The “free” first down is enticing – although it’s not actually free, as the Jets rank 20th with a 70% conversion rate when running on second down with 1-2 yards to go – but it’s wise to take high-upside shots in these situations knowing you can still fall back on a favorable third-and-1 if you fail.

One sequence in the Raiders game perfectly exemplified this issue. Dalvin Cook (finally) chained together back-to-back successful plays, rushing for 10 yards to move the chains on first-and-10 before following it up with nine yards on the following first down. This put the Jets in second-and-1.

After back-to-back chunk gains on the ground, the Jets were in a perfect spot to call play action and catch the defense biting down on the run. Instead, Hackett ran the ball for a third consecutive play, and this time, Cook got stuffed for no gain. Why? Because the defense went all-out to stop the run as a reaction to how the last two plays turned out. Eight defenders were near the line of scrimmage and all of them bit hard on the run post-snap. If Hackett called play action here, the middle of the field would have been wide open.

To be fair, it looks like Zach Wilson may have checked into this play. If that’s the case, Wilson deserves some blame. Either way, this is Hackett’s offense and he needs to ensure the Jets seize these opportunities more often.

After Cook got stuffed on second-and-1, the Jets called another run with Breece Hall on third-and-1 and got stuffed again, leading to a punt. The Jets wasted their advantageous passing opportunity in favor of the “safe” call and still didn’t convert. The run game is no sure thing for this Jets team with their patchwork offensive line, which further emphasizes that New York should start taking more risks and chasing high-reward outcomes instead of playing it safe.

It feels as if whenever the Jets get into a groove on the ground, Hackett decides to keep running until they get stopped. That’s not the right mentality for any team in the 2023 NFL, but it’s especially faulty for a limited team that needs to maximize advantageous situations in the passing game to make up for a lack of talent.

Hackett must use the leverage when he has it. Throw before they finally stop you, because once they do stop you, then you lose the advantage created by the rushing success because now you’re back in an obvious passing situation anyway.

Not playing to the opponent’s weaknesses

Over two decades of dominance in the AFC East, Bill Belichick developed a reputation for expertly eliminating the opponent’s strengths and exploiting their weaknesses. Pulling this off is the hallmark of a great coach.

With Hackett, it does not feel like the Jets’ game plan is built around the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. There are many instances where the Jets are playing right into the hands of the opponent.

This second-and-goal run from the 12 (one of those bad second-and-long runs we discussed earlier) is doomed from the start because Hackett puts his players in an incredibly disadvantageous position. Not only do the Jets run to the side of Maxx Crosby, but they try to block him with Allen Lazard. In addition, the Jets have 5-foot-9 Xavier Gipson as a lead blocker in the open field. On top of it all, the numbers game just isn’t in the Jets’ favor – the Raiders defense is loaded with reinforcements on that side.

Similar to the Cook run on second-and-1, maybe this is another play where Aaron Rodgers would have gotten to the line, seen the disadvantage, and changed to a better play. Still, it’s Week 10. We’ve known for more than two months that Zach Wilson is the Jets’ quarterback. While he surely has some degree of control at the line, we are all aware he’s no Rodgers. Hackett must adjust accordingly if he has not done so.

It’s on Hackett to understand Wilson’s limitations at the line and take it upon himself to dial up plays that put his players in position to succeed. He can’t ride the quarterback’s coattails like he did in Green Bay. Now that he doesn’t have a quarterback capable of fixing his mistakes at the line of scrimmage, we’re seeing the chronic flaws in Hackett’s play-design skills.

Not understanding the game situation

Hackett often displays a lack of awareness of the game situation. He’ll call plays that make no sense considering the circumstances.

Against the Raiders, the Jets got the ball back at their own 20-yard line with 53 seconds and one timeout to drive 80 yards and overcome a four-point deficit. On the first play of the drive, Hackett dialed up three quick slants with no options to throw downfield.

Luckily, the Raiders had the play covered and Zach Wilson smartly chose to dirt the ball, but what in the world was Hackett thinking? If the Jets completed a pass in this concept, they would have gotten a minimal gain at best (not even enough for a first down) and completed the pass in-bounds, which would either milk a lot of clock or force them to burn a timeout. There is no justification for calling a play in this situation that includes zero downfield options and zero sideline options.

Even on his most creative and successful call of the game, Hackett displayed a lack of awareness. Hackett dialed up a pass from Garrett Wilson to Allen Lazard that ended up working perfectly, as Lazard broke wide open and was streaking uncovered toward the end zone, but Wilson badly flubbed the pass.

This result was no surprise, though. Earlier in the game, Wilson was seen getting checked out on the sideline with an apparent hand/wrist injury. Wilson returned to the game and seemed fine, but it’s easy to connect the dots. It would’ve been wise to adjust and have someone else throw this pass. Asking a wide receiver to pass the ball is risky enough; if you know he has a nicked-up hand, you shouldn’t be asking him to throw.

Ultimately, it’s clear that Nathaniel Hackett is a big part of the problem right now for the Jets. Injuries, penalties, and an overall lack of talent sure aren’t making his job easy, but Hackett isn’t making his players’ jobs easy, either.

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Psi
Psi
6 months ago

Unfortunately, been a Jets fan since 81 and boy have I seen a laundry list of ineffective OCs. Hackett’s just the latest. It is inexplicable to me how an organization can fail so consistently for so long. To be fair, Hackett was a means to an end and hopefully would not have been hired on his own merits. Absent Rodgers, the results are directionally consistent with his professional record. Zach’s improving, but is in a toxic fan base and needs every complimentary opportunity to overcome his environment. I’ll give Hackett the benefit of the doubt in contributing to Zach’s obvious improvement to my eyes, but amid the penalties, poor play design and results, this is abysmal. Unless someone above Hackett mandates changes, the on the field output will remain as is.

Jets71
Jets71
6 months ago
Reply to  Psi

I think that person is Saleh and I suspect there will be some changes.

Psi
Psi
6 months ago
Reply to  Jets71

I blame Saleh for typical first time defensive coaches mistakes. With a good D, they generally allow/mandate their OCs to play not to lose. They don’t give younger offensive players a chance when vets are on the team and are stubborn in insisting on changes on that side of the ball. Maybe it’s inexperience. Saleh has bought time with Rodgers as well as the D he’s built, but this year’s performance is a lot on him…even with Rodgers’ injury.

Jets71
Jets71
6 months ago
Reply to  Psi

Yes, I agree, Saleh is still a fairly new HC, and while he’s done a lot of good things, he has yet to fix this offense. Some is on him for sure, some impact by injuries, and some from his inexperience. I’m still all in on him, he took over one of the least talented rosters in NFL history, and here were are in year 3 respectable. His player development has been outstanding (Zach excluded, although he’s clearly better this year), he handles the team well, and to a man they say he’s a leader. The same goes for Joe. I believe these guys will “get it right.”

Jets71
Jets71
6 months ago

I’m on board with all of this but there are two things here that I think need considering. On the Hall stuffed run on 3rd and 1, after the Cook handoff, I don’t take issue. It was 3rd and 1, at some point you have to be able to put the ball in the hands of a top play making RB (and one of your top 2 playmakers), run behind the LEFT side and gain a yard. That’s the “healthy side” of the OL and there just has to be a time when you say: “yes, you know we are running we don’t care, we are gaining a yard.” I’m ok with that play call. You’re in real trouble if the OC needs to scheme to gain a yard.

That leads me to the ONE THING I have to be fair to Hackett on, and that’s the OL. Last week was the 5th different OL group in 5 games. That’s just hard on everybody, the play caller, QB, RB’s and makes it difficult to figure out what you “do best.”

Now, he HAS to be better, and do a better job creating some opportunities for his offense. Like you say, it’s very bland, which Rogers likes but doesn’t help the guys out there now. Todd Downing is in the building, he’s got plenty of experience, they should be able to mesh some things in there to help.

The reality is, until that OL gets better this isn’t changing.

vnick12
vnick12
6 months ago

You kind of get the feeling that Hackett and Gase are very similar. What success they’ve had comes on the back of coaching HOF quarterbacks…

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