FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — It’s midway through his first season as the New York Jets’ offensive coordinator, and this is what we know about Nathaniel Hackett:
He’s a friend of Aaron Rodgers, but not a friend of Denver Broncos coach Sean Payton. He’s an eternally upbeat guy who loves coaching so much that he took the Jets job even though he could’ve been getting paid the same for sitting at home after the Broncos fired him as head coach in December with three years left on his contract.
Last but not least: He’s presiding over one of the worst offenses in recent NFL history, with no answers for a post-Rodgers slump that’s threatening to destroy the season.
“It’s one helluva slump,” tight end Tyler Conklin said. “That’s one way to describe it.”
Hackett said it’s “unbelievably frustrating,” but he refuses to cast blame. He fires off coaching platitudes, sounding like he believes the next play will be the one that triggers an avalanche of touchdowns. He’s not a yeller, but he’s coaching with a greater sense of urgency this week as they prepare for the Las Vegas Raiders (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC), according to players. There’s an added “sternness,” one player said.
“That dude is relentless,” quarterback Zach Wilson said. “He wants to be great just like everybody else we have in the room.”
When it comes to offense, the Jets are on the other side of the world from great — 30th in scoring and 31st in total yards. After eight games, the Jets have no identity. Asked to name the strength of his unit, Hackett said, “I think all of us are trying to find out what we can do best and consistently.”
Going forward, look for them to put more of an emphasis on the run game. They got pass-happy in Monday night’s 27-6 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, resulting in eight sacks. Hackett acknowledged he can “push on (the rushing attack) a little bit more” to create balance. He also could try to quicken the tempo; they dabbled with that against Los Angeles, with the hope of generating some easy completions for Wilson.
To be fair, Hackett was put in a tough spot when Rodgers tore his left Achilles on the fourth play of the season, forcing the Jets to put Wilson — the previous starter who was benched the season before — back in the lineup. They had to reinvent the offense. After four months of building around Rodgers, who essentially had carte blanche, they had to scale it back for Wilson.
Wilson, the second overall pick in the 2021 draft, said he has some flexibility at the line of scrimmage, but he doesn’t have nearly as much freedom as Rodgers. And he’s OK with that, claiming, “We had packages with Aaron where he’s doing his own thing, he’s calling his own plays. And, obviously, I don’t think there’s another quarterback that’s doing that. I wouldn’t expect that, I wouldn’t want that.”
The Jets knew it would be tough when Rodgers went down, but they couldn’t have imagined it would be like this: six games with under 21 points. If this keeps up, they will need a passport to get into the end zone.
For Hackett, it’s a continuation of his brief head-coaching tenure with the Broncos, who fired him after 15 games. All told, in his last 23 games as the top offensive coach in the building, his units have managed two touchdowns or more in only six of those games.
Coach Robert Saleh said he didn’t hire Hackett because of his connection to Rodgers, who was still with the Green Bay Packers at the time, but there’s no doubt that factored into the decision. Hackett helped land Rodgers in a trade. But now his QB1 is back home in California, rehabbing his surgically repaired Achilles. Hackett is learning that it’s a lot harder to call plays without a future Hall of Fame quarterback.
• The offense has produced only eight touchdowns in 98 drives. The 8.2% success rate is the NFL’s worst since 2011, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. Only two offenses in Jets history had fewer touchdowns after eight games (1976 and 2020). The Jets have been outscored by two individual players — running backs Christian McCaffrey (San Francisco 49ers) and Raheem Mostert (Miami Dolphins), both of whom have 13.
“Eight touchdowns in eight games is pretty damn bad,” Conklin said.
• The Jets can’t sustain drives, as only four of the eight touchdown drives had more than one play. The other four were one-play lightning strikes — a 68-yard reception by Garrett Wilson, a 72-yard run by Breece Hall, an 8-yard run by Hall (which came after a takeaway and on a play in which the defense appeared to let him score) and a 50-yard reception by Hall (on a 1-yard checkdown pass).
“It’s the self-inflicted wounds,” Hackett said, explaining the lack of consistency. “It’s just the simple things.”
• One of the reasons they can’t generate long drives is their inability to convert on third down. Their success rate is 22% (23 for 104) — the worst in modern NFL history, according to Elias Sports Bureau, which has third-down stats dating to the merger in 1970.
• Hackett refers to the red zone as the “gold” zone. For the Jets, it’s fool’s gold. They have only five touchdowns in 21 trips inside the 20 — a 24% rate. This is the worst since 1978, when Elias started tracking red-zone performance.
• Like most offensive playcallers, Hackett scripts the first dozen or so plays each week. These are often the plays playcallers believe will work the best against that week’s opponent, the plays they fine-tune in a walk-through. Well, it’s not helping at all.
The Jets have yet to score on their first series of the game. In fact, they have seven punts, five three-and-outs, only four first downs and only 40 net yards. Hall broke a 26-yard run on the first play of the season. Since then, they’ve run 28 plays for a net of 14 yards on opening drives.
“Not to make excuses or to defend anyone, but of course it can always be better from a coaching-staff standpoint,” Saleh said of the slow starts.
Saleh said he has no plans to remove Hackett as the playcaller even though he has a viable alternative on staff — passing-game coordinator Todd Downing, a former Tennessee Titans coordinator. Demoting Hackett wouldn’t likely sit well with Rodgers, and the Jets are all about keeping Rodgers happy.
So they will press on with Hackett calling plays for Wilson, trying to end the badness.
“I don’t necessarily have an answer for you on why it’s like this,” Conklin said, “but it’s obviously something that we’re trying to figure the hell out.”