FLORHAM PARK — It’s easy to blame Nathan Hackett for the New York Jets’ run of offensive futility in 2023.
It just may not be entirely accurate.
New York’s offensive coordinator has taken the brunt of the blame with Gang Green dropping their fifth-straight game and going through four different quarterbacks. While his answers and ever-positive attitude may anger fans across the country, there are other reasons for the team’s struggles.
“Injuries never help a team,” recently signed quarterback Brett Rypien said of Hackett. “It’s extremely hard hearing how many different offensive linemen (they’ve gone through) when you have to play different units constantly.”
There have been few teams that have dealt with the rash of injuries the Jets have had in 2023 on offense. New York has played 13 different offensive linemen to this point and has played four different signal-callers. It’s at the quarterback position, though, where the frustration for fans is most prevalent.
Aaron Rodgers was lost for the season after four plays in Week 1. Zach Wilson has done as well as he can to mitigate the loss of the Hall-of-Fame quarterback, but he was benched just two weeks ago. After Tim Boyle and Trevor Siemian, both failed to provide a spark on the field, the Jets are prepared to go back to Wilson now for the final five games of the season.
Hardly an easy proposition for any play-caller in the NFL.
“I think that he’s had the two weeks off to re-center himself and learn and continually grow,” Hackett said of Wilson and the reason the team went back to him. “I think that when we look at it, you know, from the very beginning of this season, the whole idea was for him to be able to sit back and learn from Aaron (Rodgers). I think that those two weeks are something that he was able to do.”
Despite the several quarterback and roster changes the Jets offense has gone through during their five-game losing streak, the one constant through all of the ineptitude has been at play-caller. The noise has gotten loud enough that following the team’s 13-8 loss to Atlanta – the third loss for the team when the defense allowed under 20 points – head coach Robert Saleh had to step in to defend Hackett.
“Watch the All-22,” Saleh stated when asked if he would change the play-calling duties.
It’s in the All-22 that tells the whole truth about the Jet’s offensive futility in 2023. In the loss to the Falcons, players were consistently running open all game. Reigning offensive rookie of the year Garrett Wilson in particular was open on several deep shots but the quarterback simply did not throw the ball his way. On the season, Wilson has the second-highest separation rate against single coverage. The quarterbacks just aren’t getting him the ball.
Managing quarterbacks that appear gun-shy to throw the ball downfield, and keeping top players like Wilson in check hasn’t always been easy for Hackett and the offensive staff.
“Every week we go into it,” Hackett explained. “We want to get our playmakers the ball. With Breece (Hall), with Garrett… There are always guys you want to try to get the ball and you design everything for that and as long as everybody’s communicating, talking about everybody understanding the intention, not just a quarterback, it’s everybody understanding that and giving more of those.”
The Jets appear to be in a no-win situation in 2023. Hackett’s intricate offense was devised for a quarterback with the experience of Rodgers, and they have unfortunately had to work on the fly to simplify it for young passers like Wilson.
Despite all the concerns that come from a team that hasn’t scored a touchdown in three of their last five games, or hasn’t scored over 14 points in their last seven games, there is still a positive outlook surrounding the offensive side of the ball. Developing young talents like rookie Joe Tippmann and Carter Warren, or trusting undrafted free agents like Xavier Gipson can have their perks years down the road.
And if there’s a calling card for Hackett in the Jets locker room, it’s his relationship with those exact young players.
“He shows all the players love,” Israel Abanikanda told AMNY. “He has a great connection off the field. On the field, he’s not just one of those coaches that always wants to pass or run. He tries to give every position love. I always love a coordinator like that.”
Every NFL team goes through injuries. Some teams can weather the storm better than others. Then some are completely bombarded by injuries at key positions that it’s hard to even field a competent group every week.
That’s where the 2023 Jets seem to be.
2024 may be clouded for the fate of many on the coaching staff next season, but the learning experiences gained by a lost year could be invaluable once players like Rodgers and Alijah Vera-Tucker return to the field next year for the Jets.
“With adversity brings growth,” Hackett concluded. “You always embrace the challenge of having people in and out of the lineup. You get so excited for people to have their opportunity to see where they’re going to go. When there are guys that get into the lineup and play for a while, you love watching them grow as a player.”
It might be easy to blame Hackett for the Jets’ offensive ineptitude, but the honest answer is more in line with the fact that there are much bigger issues that most coaching staffs wouldn’t be able to overcome.