Let’s take a look at Jets quarterback Christian Hackenberg’s performance in the preseason opener against the Titans.
In truth, it is a bit difficult to draw many conclusions from what Hackenberg did. The Jets didn’t put much on his plate at all. With an opportunity to cut him loose near the end of the first half, the Jets took a very conservative approach rather than let Hackenberg run the 2:00 drill. Similarly, a third and 18 in the third quarter led the Jets call a screen pass rather than let Hackenberg try to make a play down the field.
There were a lot of simple reads. When your first option is running a route at a shorter depth than the cornerback is giving a cushion, virtually any quarterback is going to be able to hit a completion.
What can we take away from his performance? Let’s examine below.
What was good?
Even though a number of Hackenberg’s throws came when the first option was open, there were quite a few instances where a completion required an accurate, on time throw that he was able to deliver.
You got me. The second one was an incompletion. But it was only an incompletion because Jalin Marshall dropped the ball. If we were grading Hackenberg for it, he would get a plus grade. He threw that ball before Marshall broke to the sideline. He saw that the Titans were not covering the area where Marshall was running before Marshall got there. That’s anticipation.
There are throws that separate the good quarterbacks from the bad ones in the NFL. I don’t think these throws would fit that category. These are more NFL quarterbacking 101. Still, I’m not sure Hackenberg would have hit these passes a year ago so there is some progress to be claimed.
Now let’s talk about what I consider Hackenberg’s most impressive play of the night. The reason I say it is impressive is that his first option is actually open, but he doesn’t go there with the ball.
ArDarius Stewart is open, but his route is taking him inside. This is a third down play. The first down marker is the orange line. If Hackenberg goes to Stewart here, what are the odds Stewart gets through that traffic and to the sticks? I say not good.
Instead he goes to Jason Vander Laan, whose route is taking him deeper and is going to the sideline with the defender trailing him.
Vander Laan doesn’t really look open on this play, but this is what frequently qualifies for oepn in the NFL. Hackenberg puts the ball on the money.
I thought this was an impressive play by Hackenberg. It isn’t just that he had the patience to wait for Vander Laan to break open. It’s that he wasn’t too patient. If that throw is early, Vander Laan isn’t open. If it is late, Vander Laan is going to catch it without enough space between him and the sideline to turn up the field and get the first down.
This was a nice display of understanding the game situation and making a throw to a receiver who was open but not obviously so.
When I talked earlier about the throws that make the difference between good and bad NFL quarterbacks, this comes to mind. Yes, it is important to take what the defense gives you. The good quarterbacks in this league are able to take even more for themselves than what the defense gives them.
This was really the only throw I felt where Hackenberg did that. I’m not knocking Hackenberg. The Jets didn’t give Hackenberg many opportunities to do this. Now that he has gotten his feet wet in this preseason and has some success to build upon, I hope they give him more opportunities.
What wasn’t good?
I think 18 completions in a preseason game is too small of a sample size to definitely declare Hackenberg’s accuracy concerns gone. And I thought there were a few gimmes he left on the table.
There is a difference between a completed pass and an accurate pass.
Hackenberg completed these two passes to targets out of the backfield, but he didn’t give his receiver much of a chance of gaining a first down. Because the throws were off target, the receivers had to adjust, which gave the defense time to get to the ball. Accurate throws that hit the receiver in stride would have at least given the pass catchers a fighting chance to get upfield and pick up the first down.
Brian Winters could probably have done a better job holding his block, but you can see the Jets had this screen set up pretty well. McGuire probably would have blown by Winters’ guy had the throw been better and McGuire able to get up the field sooner.
He feels the pressure and unnecessarily backpedals even though he has plenty of room to stand in and float the pass in front of McGuire without getting hit.
The other issues with Hackenberg I would chalk up to inexperience. Timeouts are valuable. You never want to lose timeouts because the play clock is running out before the quarterback is ready to snap it. That happened twice.
In both instances, the Titans play cat and mouse with an inexperienced quarterback. Tennessee shows blitz, and Hackenberg is ready to reset his protection. The problem is he doesn’t have enough time to reset his protection and is forced to burn a timeout.
Hackenberg’s final snap on the night also wasn’t great. It was a fumbled exchange. Watching it live, I didn’t initially put it on him. When I slowed it down, however, I saw him as the likely culprit.
The way the offense fires off the ball in unison suggest Hackenberg mixed up the snap count and should have been ready.
I wouldn’t say this is a huge deal. It is to be expected when you have a cocktail of an inexperienced quarterback, a new offensive system, and preseason offensive line shuffling. You still would prefer not to see it.
Ultimately I thought Hackenberg performed his job more often than not. I’d say this was a success but a qualified success. The Jets kept the degree of difficulty low. I would need to see more success with more advanced concepts in the rest of the preseason before I would feel comfortable starting Hackenberg.