It’s officially Week 2 of the 2023 NFL season, and the Jets are coming to town for the Cowboys’ home opener. The offense for the Jets features more than a few familiar faces to Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, even with Aaron Rodgers out for the year after tearing his Achilles on the fourth play of the game last week.
It really all starts with the man in charge of the offense, Nathaniel Hackett. A year ago, Hackett had just finished his first game as the head coach of the Broncos. By all accounts, Denver hired him away from his role as the non-playcalling offensive coordinator of the Packers in an effort to entice Rodgers to come play in Denver, but it didn’t work out. Now, a year later, Hackett is calling plays for Gang Green and Rodgers actually came with, even though it was very short-lived.
However, while everyone would’ve inevitably talked about the relationship between McCarthy and Rodgers, there is actually a longer lasting relationship between McCarthy and Hackett. For those unfamiliar, Hackett is the son of legendary coach Paul Hackett, who had one of his early coaching stints on the Bill Walsh 49ers, where the West Coast offense took the NFL by storm.
The elder Hackett eventually left the 49ers for the Cowboys, bringing his West Coast offense with him in an attempt to revive America’s Team in what proved to be the final three seasons of the Tom Landry regime. Coincidentally, the assistant offensive line coach for the Cowboys at the time was their new offensive line coach, Mike Solari.
After Landry was fired, though, Paul Hackett became the offensive coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh. In his first year there, Hackett met a young graduate assistant in just his third year as a coach, a local kid named Mike McCarthy. The next year, Hackett became the head coach at Pitt, and McCarthy eventually got promoted to wide receivers coach. A few years later, Hackett returned to the NFL as the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs, and he brought McCarthy along with him, first as a quality control coach and later a quarterbacks coach.
That relationship jumpstarted McCarthy’s coaching career and, were it not for the elder Hackett, he may not have reached the NFL at all. It also established his relationship with Nathaniel Hackett, who McCarthy actually babysat when he was a GA at Pitt. McCarthy has often cited Paul Hackett as one of his most influential mentors, and that led to a continued relationship with both coaches that most recently manifested with joint practices between the Cowboys and Broncos last year.
Now, they’ll meet as regular season foes with both coaches calling plays for their respective offenses. Hackett has the harder job, of course, as he’ll have to navigate the loss of Rodgers and prepare Zach Wilson - a former second overall pick two years ago who the Jets benched twice last year before trading away picks and spending a lot of money to replace - to start a game against Micah Parsons and the vaunted Cowboys defense.
Philosophically speaking, Hackett is a West Coast practitioner like his father before him. In previous stints calling plays for the Bills and Jaguars, Hackett took advantage of the quarterback-friendly tenets of the system to produce adequate offensive results with below-average talent under center in E.J. Manuel and Blake Bortles, among others. And while Hackett didn’t call the plays in Green Bay, he picked up a lot of the details from head coach Matt LaFleur’s West Coast variation, which is itself a variation of the Shanahan style of offense that makes heavy use of wide zone running plays and play-action.
In a touch of irony, Hackett came to New York to replace the Packers coach’s brother, Mike, who had initially been hired to implement the same scheme. So it’s not really any different going to Hackett, at least in terms of the bones of the offense. The biggest change was getting Rodgers in town.
At the end of the day, the Jets offense is built around the run game and play-action passing. The Jets were forced to get away from that in Week 1 after trailing early, but it is their identity. They’re likely to go back to it against the Cowboys in an effort to limit Wilson’s exposure, but the bad news is their run game looked uneven against the Bills. Breece Hall had a huge 83-yard run but other than that the Jets struggled to run the ball, ranking 21st in run DVOA after one week.
The Jets offense will be playing at a huge disadvantage this week, but Hackett does have extensive experience drawing up a game plan with lesser talent at quarterback. He’s got decent weapons to work with too, as Hall is splitting carries with Dalvin Cook while the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson is flanked by former Packers receivers Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard.
Dan Quinn’s defense won’t make it easy for them, though, and McCarthy is sure to have plenty of pointers for Quinn on how this offense operates and the best ways to disrupt it. If anything, this game will offer a good look at the Cowboys’ run defense after adding Mazi Smith alongside Johnathan Hankins. All in all, though, things are lining up very well for another dominant outing from the defense.