New York Jets vs Giants – Christian Hackenberg Film Room

Edward Gorelik breaks down the film on New York Jets quarterback Christian Hackenberg against the New York Giants

Was anyone expecting to see Christian Hackenberg play against the New York Giants? I wasn’t. The Jets offense was anemic until Hackenberg came in and gave it one jolt of life. Literally just a single jolt, because one good drive was all he had in him; but that was better than every other QB on Saturday. Seeing as Hackenberg may be the Jets starter as soon as next year, we may as well overanalyze his introduction…

Christian Hackenberg’s Touchdown Drive

The opening sentence of Hackenberg’s NFL story is bait for anyone looking to be optimistic about his future. Facing Cover-1 off man, Hackenberg looks towards the vertical stretch on the right side of the field. He sees both defenders are not giving any leverage to his receivers, so he turns towards the drag route in centerfield. He looks off of this route for reasons unknown (he didn’t like to checkdown at Penn State either) and continues to the left side where he has a curl. The ball forces an extreme adjustment by the receiver, but it’s what needs to happen in this situation. When it takes this much time for a play to reach the curl, a normal throw would allow the CB to play the ball. It’s good to see him go through his reads quickly here, but hitting the drag would’ve been a better decision.

On Hacks’ next three plays, he connected easily to deeper routes.

First, the Jets go all deep while the Giants show man coverage. The inside linebacker is too far inside before the pre-snap, so Hackenberg targets him. The linebackers momentum is against him as he crosses over to Sudfeld running a post. Hackenberg notices the leverage in his favor and throws the ball on time but it’s underthrown. Sudfeld has plenty of space ahead of him and instead he’s forced to go to the ground to make the catch.

On the next play, the Jets run a playaction and a sort-of designed read to the wide receiver. The playaction keeps the linebackers from dropping back and gives Hackenberg an easy lane to throw at Peake. On a play like this where much of the mental stress is removed from the QB, the ball should be expected to be optimally thrown ahead of the WR but that’s nitpicking.

The last play was his best from the first drive. Seeing Cover-1 man on the pre-snap, Hackenberg quickly sought out the corner route from Robby Anderson and hit him in stride near the sideline. Seeing Hackenberg’s footwork freeze at that moment is concerning , but he gets a pass this time since it didn’t affect his throw. Notice that on all three plays, Hack’s release is extremely quick.

The Giants are showing Cover-1 man again and a single high safety. The route combination on the right side has a pick play and a vertical stretch, so it’s the obvious go-to read regardless of defense. However, because of the single high safety, the Corner route takes precedent over the pick play. With a cornerback in off man against Robby Anderson, the receiver gets open easily. With no help over the top, Hack recognizes Anderson heading into space and gives him an easy lob with perfect timing. The quickness and touch is what you want to see on these easy designs.

The Rest of Christian Hackenberg’s Night

Another man look on the pre-snap, this time showing 2 safeties. Each one is heavily shaded over each group of WRs. That signals to Hack that the middle of the field will be open, since both linebackers are also over the receivers. After the snap, one of the Giants defensive linemen drop into coverage into the middle of the field. Hackenberg will never see that lineman and that’s okay. This isn’t an issue with his ability to read defenses, it’s a rarely used wrinkle that worked perfectly in a situation where the Giants baited him into it. Rookie QBs will get caught by tricks like these, and although it would’ve been great to see him beat it, this single blemish isn’t why he’s not in the running as a potential starter.

This was the only play where Hackenberg had to actually dissect the defense, and he didn’t disappoint. The pre-snap shows two safeties high, both corners on the trips side in off-coverage (which they haven’t done yet) and the single side corner in press. As Hack starts dropping back, he turns to his right to read the coverage before even finishing his steps. He’s able to quickly recognize the defense has dropped into a deep zone, and he turns left with the intention to take the vertical stretch between the WR and RB on the curl/flat. I want to repeat that, he read the entire defense before finishing his drop, found the open receiver, had the time to confirm his choice, and then threw it on time. It’s an impressive play.

However, that play got sandwiched between another bad play for Hackenberg. To be honest, after the first drive, Hack didn’t look dandy at all. His final (relevant) play showed a lot of things you don’t want to see. The motion before the snap suggests some kind of man coverage, and we see after the snap that the defense is able to easily swap the receivers as they release and get them covered. However, the outermost corner gets pulled back 5 yards by a vertical route, giving the flat receiver a generous amount of space. At any point Hack could, and should, pull the trigger; but he hesitates and hesitates as a blitzer comes in and the timer runs out. He turns and throws without looking, which is obviously reckless.

Overall, Hackenberg showed more good than bad. He showed competency against the 3rd stringers. But Bryce Petty was showing that too until Saturday night. Hack’s got plenty of reasons to sit, as his placement is still sub-optimal and it’s not entirely certain how well he can work without schematic help. Hackenberg’s a naturally aggressive player but that’s a trait he sometimes takes too far when he refuses to put the ball in the hands of shorter routes. I want to see more of Hack, but i want to see him have to do more where he faces resistance. The Giants defense didn’t give him enough and he didn’t do well the few times they did. None of that’s going to stop the hype from building but if you’re looking for a smoking gun to say that Hack’s going to be our definite future, it wasn’t in this game.

Either way, his quick release and ability to process information quickly are good starts.

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