Christian Hackenberg certainly had his moments in the pre-season game against the Titans, and there were instances when his teammates let him down, but he also did have a good amount of bad plays in this game. Developing a young QB is nerve wrecking because there are inevitable growing pains and Hackenberg certainly displayed a few in this game.
This play starts off well with Hackenberg going through progressions and trying to hold the defense as he looks at the middle of the field. The play completely unravels when he decides to go for the screen pass. The screen pass is delayed to an extent because Hackenberg needs to shift his feet to create an open lane, but he sidearms the ball, and throws while essentially jumping sideways. The ball sails on Hackenberg, which causes the running back to leap and turn to make the catch. Not only does the leap cause the receiver to lose momentum, it allows for extra time for defenders to surround the receiver. This is just bad mechanics as well as bad ball placement from Hackenberg, and he showed similar tendencies in college with screen passes. The Jets are actually set up well for this screen pass (Anderson presumably runs a clear out on the right side of the formation) as they have blockers set up to create openings. Unfortunately, the bad pass allows the defenders to close the gap and stop the play cold.
On a critical third down play for the Jets, Hackenberg gets “quick feet” in the pocket, and abandons the protection too early. He misses an open TE running a crossing route, as he’s escaping the pocket. Hackenberg did show on other plays that he will stand tall in the pocket, but on this play, he bails out too early. Another issue on this play is running back Elijah McGuire, because he doesn’t run a route on this play. He’s acting as the safety valve on this play for a screen pass, but as soon as he sees Hackenberg move out of the pocket, he runs up the field to block. If the RB slants to the inside, one of two things will happen. Either, the defender will stay and try to block Hackenberg, thus a passing option would be open (albeit, Hackenberg will have to throw across his body) and they could possibly get a first down. If the defender follows McGuire, then it achieves the same result as blocking, which would result in a running lane for Hackenberg. In a meaningless pre-season game, there is no need for Hackenberg to take a hit, so he runs out of bounds. The main fault on this play lays at the feet of Hackenberg, as he escapes the pocket too early, with a slight amount of blame falling towards McGuire.
This is a play that is very familiar to Jets fans, if you followed the Bryce Petty film breakdowns from last year. Single high safety with man coverage across the board? Take the deep pass down the sideline. The single high safety means that they aren’t going to be able to make a play on a pass down the sideline, thus giving the offense a one on one look for a large chunk of yards. Unfortunately, Hackenberg makes a terrible throw as it sails out of bounds. It doesn’t help that the receiver doesn’t get any separation whatsoever on this play. Frankie Hammond (the receiver) ran a 4.4 forty yard dash in college, so why can’t he get separation on this play? It’s his route running. Notice how Hammond tries to set up the CB on this play, as he gives away his route far too early. Hammond does a hop off the line, which doesn’t force the issue with the corner back, and then takes a big step with his left leg to plant, and then run the outside route. The lack of speed (lost momentum with the hop) and early indication of turning outside meant that the defender could turn around quickly and still keep pace. Hammond should not do the big hop because it forces him to lose momentum on a route where he has to rely on out-running his defender to a spot. If he’s running a slant or out route and wants the defender to guess, then a large hop step may become beneficial. Unfortunately, this meant that Hammond was just starting to gain speed again, which negated any advantage he’d gain by having the defender turn around. All of this does not matter because Hackenberg makes a horrible throw to begin with.
On the last play, you noticed how taking a large plant on a deep route hurt the receiver. On this play, Charone Peake takes a large plant step, which helps him create horizontal separation for the quick pass. He runs a crisp route, and is open for the easy first down, but Hackenberg has the ball batted down. It’s an unfortunate result, but the QB has to take the blame when a pass is batted down. The play is cut off for size purposes, and so you can avoid seeing the offensive lineman trying to catch the ball like kids in the outfield at the Home Run Derby.
Remember the play from “Team Failure” where the Jets ignored a triple receiver set on one side of the field, to set up a screen pass? Well this is the second time they couldn’t execute that play, and Hackenberg makes the wrong choice again. The Jets are playing it conservatively at the end of the first half, but Hackenberg has predetermined this screen pass from the start. This might bring shades of Ryan “One Read” Fitzpatrick, but Hackenberg just does not go through his progressions, and looks for the screen pass early. When Hackenberg turns for the screen pass, the LBs realize what is going on and move towards the receiver, shutting down this play. It doesn’t help that the running back decides to chip block a defender without any reason. On most screen passes, it’s advised to let the defenders move up into the pocket so they can’t turn around and be a part of the tackle. The running back not only makes a useless block, it throws off the timing of the play as well. Ultimately, this failure has to go to Hackenberg because he made the wrong read at the line. It also doesn’t help that he made a bad screen pass throw (low) again, causing further delay.
Good read, bad play scenario. The Jets need two yards to get a first down, and Hackenberg sees that the defender is playing off the receiver. This is the correct read for a quick pass, especially when the defense is expecting run. However, the defender makes a great play with the tackle. The throw is a bit up the field, but part of the blame has to go on Wilson because this is bad route set up again. Most receivers (even down in college) are taught to take a step or two up the field, and then bounce back for the screen pass. This forces the defender to freeze on the first two steps, and allows time for Hackenberg to start and complete the throwing windup. In this case, Wilson doesn’t take any steps forward, which causes the defender to realize it’s a wide receiver screen pass earlier in the process and make a play on it. If Wilson had taken a couple of steps forward, it would have allowed him space (upon jumping back) to possibly get around the defender. This is one of the downsides of taking young receivers and cast offs because they are not technically sound. In this game, Wilson displayed few scenarios where he showed a lack of refinement in route running.
Single high safety with press cover? Where are they going? Deep pass down the sideline. As with the last time, Hackenberg misses the pass. There is an argument to be made about this being pass interference but the contact seems to be going both ways. Hammond does a better job getting off the line this time, but still can’t achieve separation down the field. He’s tightly covered, and it’s possibly a good thing that Hackenberg’s throw wasn’t on target. Hackenberg also stares down his first read from the start, and doesn’t go through progressions once it was evident that Hammond was well covered. This is not only a bad throw by Hackenberg, it’s a terrible read on his progressions.
Christian Hackenberg certainly had his moments in the first game, but he showed that there is a lot of room for improvement. He needs to learn to go through his progressions better, and also read the defense better at the line. The times that he did take shots down the field, not only were the throws bad, but the receivers were well covered. This might change with better receivers, but also shows that Hackenberg as hesitant to go through progressions at times.
Overall Grade: B-
Hackenberg did not fall on his face, as many expected, and he was let down by some of his receivers. He showed markedly improved mechanics and limited his mistakes. The game plan seemed overly conservative at times, and included many short and safe passes. Hackenberg showed bad signs with screen passes and deep passes, which needs to be improved before he can even be considered a reliable starter. For a young developing QB, it’s a B-, but he has to show signs of improvement next week.
A. Assuming Anderson/Stewart/Hansen/Peake are safe for the roster, who are the others to make the roster? How many receivers will they carry?
B. How would you rate Hackenberg’s performance?