Film Review: Christian Hackenberg (Team Failure): Preseason Week 1 (Titans)
As with any team sport, sometimes you can do everything right and still be let down on the play. In this article, we examine the instances where Hackenberg’s teammates failed to execute properly, or if the coaches dialed up a bad play.
This is a terrible drop by Jalin Marshall, as Hackenberg throws a dart right to his hands. The mechanics aren’t perfect for Hackenberg, as the hips fly open a bit quickly, but it’s not horrible as Hackenberg manages to get the lead foot pointed in the vicinity of the receiver. While this looks like Hackenberg is staring down the receiver, his read on this zone defense (as mentioned in the article before, with the lack of coach’s film, all defensive looks are merely guesswork) is the outside linebacker. If the linebacker follows Marshall outside, then the TE is open for a check down throw. Since the LB did not follow Marshall to the outside, the throw was open and Hackenberg makes the throw. Unfortunately, Marshall drops the ball, which he has shown a tendency to do in the past. Another thing to notice on this play is the arm strength on this pass because Hackenberg is throwing the ball from the far hash mark to the sideline with laser precision. The trajectory of the ball is important, because a QB like Fitzpatrick would need to put loft on the ball, which would allow more time for defenders to make a play.
The read on this play would be familiar to most people that read this series last year. Considering the number of defenders on screen, the Titans are most likely showing single high safety with press man cover, except for Anthony Firkser (the receiver at the bottom of the screen), so Hackenberg makes the correct read to look at him with the first option. Since his man is playing off the ball, and it’s a short route, the percentages say that the receiver should have an opening. Hackenberg makes a great throw with good mechanics, but it’s flat out dropped by the receiver. There is no excuse for this drop.
This play is on the borderline of team failure and Hackenberg’s failure. The blame falls somewhere in the middle, but since Frankie Hammond (14) got a penalty on this play, it’s in this section. The major problem with the play is Hammond, who does a horrendous job of blocking for this screen pass. His main assignment on this play is to cause disruption between the two defenders, which would slow them down, and give enough time for the screen pass to take effect. However, Hammond doesn’t anticipate the LB to move laterally as quickly, which forces him to try and block his own defender into the path of the LB, which gets called for a penalty. Another version of this play is pretty famous from the college football national championship game, where Clemson scored the last touchdown on a rub/pick play. One receiver runs into the path of another defender, forcing the defense to go around him, causing the other receiver to be open. The Jets are trying the same time here for a screen pass, but fail miserably. Penalties are rarely called on this type of play (New England runs a fair share of them) unless it’s blatant that the receiver is just trying to block before the pass is thrown (as was the case here). Hackenberg’s failure on this play is two fold. One, he makes a terrible read at the line, because the Titans have two defenders to the left of the formation to account for Hammond and the running back out of the backfield. The defender on Hammond is playing press cover, and he is not the intended receiver to this side, thus he’s just a blocker on this play to the left side. On the other side of the formation, the Jets are in a stack formation with three options, while the Titans cover this three options with defenders at three different levels. The pre-snap read should have gone to the left side first, which would have revealed two receivers open (somewhat open) for a quick pass. It would still be a risky pass, but a better option than the screen pass. Two, Hackenberg takes some zip off the screen pass (you can see that he’s reading Hammond on the block first) which allows the defenders to circle the receiver. This is just a bad read and execution from the team all around, but since Hammond got the penalty to negate everything, it goes under Team Failure. However, this could very well be deemed a failure by Hackenberg.
The biggest culprit on this play is Jordan Todman, the running back. The Titans bring a blitz, but the Jets are set up with max protection, but still end up letting a guy get a free run. Todman absolutely misses his block, which allows the defender to get a free run at the QB. Hackenberg does a good job of avoiding the sack, only to realize that the fullback missed his block as well. On a play where the Jets have seven blockers to five defenders crossing the line, it’s an atrocity to have a defender hit the QB before he’s even at the top of his drop back.
This play is here because it seems extremely conservative. Considering how the line and receivers moved to block down the field, the screen pass was the intended play all along. 3rd and 18 is not a high percentage down for a conversion, but the Jets should use these opportunities to see what they can do with Hackenberg, instead of playing it safe. This is a coaching failure, as there should have been a more aggressive call to test out the QB, since the results hardly matter. The Jets gain absolutely nothing by having a safe pass here. There may be a psychological argument that the safe pass prevents the occurrence of a negative play, helping the confidence of a young QB. However, the counter argument would be that, playing it safe should translate to the QB that his own coaching staff has no faith in him converting this down, which should hurt him psychologically.
Marquess Wilson (10) runs a bad route on this play, which partially leads to an incomplete pass from Hackenberg. The QB does a good job of going through his progression (left side of the formation), and then shows good pocket awareness by stepping up. By moving up in the pocket, Hackenberg is reading the LB on this play. If the LB stays back to be in the passing lane, then Hackenberg can possibly run for the first down. Once the LB engages towards Hackenberg, it opens up a passing lane for Wilson running the crossing route. Unfortunately in this case, Wilson runs a horrible route and you can clearly see it in this angle. If Wilson runs straight across, as he’s already past the first down marker, then his body acts as the shield towards the ball and prevent the defender from making a play on the ball. Notice the defender run a straight line for the final five or six steps because he’s aiming for horizontal protection, and cutting off Hackenberg’s angle. Wilson slants up field, which reduces the safety net for Hackenberg, and allows the defender back in the play. If Wilson runs a straight route, this most likely would have been a completed pass for a first down. While this is a small misstep from Wilson, a relative veteran trying to latch onto the team should be able to do the small things to put his QB in a better position, and Wilson fails to do so on this play.
The last play for Hackenberg in this game, and it’s a botched snap. It’s a terrible snap and the ball is immediately kicked away, which means Hackenberg can’t fall on it.
While Hackenberg had his good moments (as you already read in the earlier article) and his bad moments (as you will read in the upcoming article), there were a few instances where his teammates let him down. Keep in mind that this is a pre-season game with vanilla play calling all around, and half of these guys won’t even make a roster. It would be interesting to see Hackenberg play more with the first team, and see how he reacts.
A. The Jets receivers have been dropping a lot of passes (in this game and practice), so what do you think is the root cause of it? Is it just lack of inherent talent? Or are they so worried about learning a new system and routes that they lose focus?