Why Buffalo Bills OC Nate Hackett Isn’t To Blame For Team’s Inconsistent Offense

Through the first eight games of the Buffalo Bills 2014 season, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has emerged as the whipping boy of fans looking to place blame for the team’s inconsistent offense. From vague spews of rage regarding play-calling to play-design, whenever things don’t go Buffalo’s way, Nathaniel Hackett has somehow been at fault in the minds of fans.

Now, this column isn’t intended to pin Hackett as some outstanding coordinator that’s getting the shaft from fans, because that’s not the case. But, I do think that the second-year coordinator deserves quite a bit more credit than he’s received, specifically for the passing game that he’s installed.

Heading into this season, the Bills made it clear that they wanted to be a run-first team, in order to ease the development of EJ Manuel, who was entering his second year in the NFL. The team added Chris Williams and Anthony Dixon in free agency, while trading for Bryce Brown and selecting Cyrus Kouandjio, Cyril Richardson and Seantrel Henderson in the 2014 NFL Draft.

It didn’t take long to realize that Manuel would be unable to take a step forward in his development behind a young, inexperienced and ineffective offensive line, so the team went to Kyle Orton after the Houston Texans loss.

Orton is a veteran quarterback that can read coverages and get the ball out quickly with a collapsing pocket. While the lack of production from the rushing attack has been an issue, the guard play seems to be more at fault than when the plays have been called. What Hackett does have control over is play-design and when to call those plays. When the offensive line has held up, Hackett’s design in the passing game has almost always gotten a receiver open, particularly in the middle of the field.

watkins under bunch

Here, the Bills come out in a tight formation, with Sammy Watkins and C.J. Spiller to the bottom of the screen, and Robert Woods, Chris Hogan and Scott Chandler to the top. The Vikings are showing a Cover 3 look, meaning that the two boundary cornerbacks and the single-high safety are each responsible for a deep 1/3 of the field.

The concept of this route design takes the two defensive backs over Woods and Hogan deep while forcing the safety to freeze while Chandler’s route develops. At the bottom of the screen, Spiller runs vertical, taking the cornerback with him.

watkins under bunch2

This leaves Sammy Watkins, who’s running an underneath crossing route in a one-on-one matchup with a linebacker. Watkins gets across the face of the defender, catching a pass from Orton in stride. Due to the vertical routes from Woods and Hogan, Watkins was able to gain about 10 yards after the catch for a first down.

In this play against the Detroit Lions, the Bills are in their “11” personnel package- one back, one tight end, three wide receivers. Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams are the boundary wideouts, with Chris Hogan in the slot.


The Lions are showing a Cover-2 look, with two deep safeties responsible for ½ of the field. Watkins, who is the split end, is essentially a decoy on this play, as he’s talented enough to require the free safety to provide help over the top of the cornerback from his vertical stem.

At the bottom of the screen, Mike Williams runs a deep curl route, while Chris Hogan runs an inside post. Scott Chandler takes the flat as part of the curl-flat concept. In this concept, Williams is the first read, and if he’s covered, Chandler would be the No. 2.


As the play develops, the “Mike’ linebacker stays in coverage with Fred Jackson, while the key defender—the strong safety is forced to decide between a. providing help over Mike Williams or b. taking Chris Hogan’s inside release. Chandler is covered by Deandre Levy in the flat, and Orton goes deep to Mike Williams, due to the safety biting down on Hogan. The pass falls incomplete, but the route design is magnificent, essentially creating a 3 vs. 2 matchup in favor of the Bills.

While the Bills’ offense has been frustrating to watch at times and it’s easy to point fingers, Nate Hackett has done an adequate job, considering the situation the team is in. A weak offensive line isn’t conducive to running the ball, but he’s using the short passing game as an extension of the run, and he’s calling plays that test defenses both vertically and horizontally.

As the year wears on and the offensive line continues to gel, we should see a bit more production out of the rushing attack, but for now, let’s judge players and coaches on things that they control.

8 Replies to “Why Buffalo Bills OC Nate Hackett Isn’t To Blame For Team’s Inconsistent Offense”

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  3. 7 Straight Drives where we ran the ball on 1st and 2nd down. Not 1 play action pass was called. Yes he is to blame!

    The excuse Marrone used for Hackette was to keep balance and to keep teams honest.

    When you run 7 straight drives on 1st and 2nd down your extremely predictable and team can key on the run and shut it down. That is not balance and keeping teams honest. That is clinically insane.

    The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results!

    Throwing some play action passes even if they are quick short passing routes would be creating balance and actually open up the run game he was so insanely trying to force when it just wasn’t working. That game should of been the biggest blow out of all time but because of predictable play calling actually kept the game close in the first half.

    No one has questioned Hackette’s passing scheme or Orton’s ability over Manuel’s. We are questioning his running scheme and how he feverishly continues to take the same approach game in and game out when it just simply isn’t working!

    This is the same line Gailey used to have one of the most potent rushing attacks in the NFL. The only difference is we no longer have Leivetre(However you spell it) and we have plugged in Henderson.

    Glenn, Urbik, Wood and Pears where all a part of Gailey’s line in his last year. His scheme and play calling allowed the run game to flourish.

    We now have a good passing attack with our Receiver Weapons and Orton playing the best football of his career in the last 4 games.

    If Hackette can’t see that and switch his play calling to a pass to open up the run of at least balance out his current scheme with some passes on 1st and 2nd down. I would hate to say it, but he would be the one holding this team back.

    Spread teams out with our WR’s and allow our speed backs to run through the lanes that open up in those formations. (Spiller thrived off that, so did Jackson(Had his best year under Gailey)). Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon albeit not the same backs, would also thrive in such a situation.

    Our line cannot move piles and run a smash mouth offense. Thus we need to spread teams out and get their LB’s off the field so our RB’s can’t take advantage of more space and DB’s that can’t tackle as well!

    and…. I’m done ;)

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  5. I agree with the previous poster. It’s not that the plays are necessarily bad, but the play calling is completely predictable. And if the play calling is completely predictable for the fans, how predictable is it for opposing defensive coordinators?

    It is not only predictable, but also seems limited. We rarely see draws or screens, more of which might help keep Orton upright more often. Most of our running plays seem to be behind our Center and Guards. How about running some powers behind the Tackles, or running some ‘stretch’ running plays that allow the backs to exploit creases that may develop?

    As the previous poster pointed out, our OL play was significantly better under Gailey. That points to scheme. The Bills OL tries to run a lot of zone blocking, but these guys aren’t physically ideal for that — you need more mobile O-linemen for that scheme — with the result that our run blocking is pretty ineffective.

    The field should be stretched horizontally as well as vertically to put maximum stress on a defense, but we don’t seem to do that. Have we ever seen any jet sweep action with Sammy (or with CJ or Goodwin when they were in the lineup?).

    It’s one thing to be predictable against a bunch of sad sacks like the Jets, but against better teams we will get stomped down!!

    If the Bills continue to win, I believe it will be in spite of Hackett, not because of him.

  6. good stuff. I would like to see more film evaluation. I can’t get enough of this. Looks like WR’s are getting open, its just getting the time to make the throws.

    • I have to agree with the first couple posts. The better offensive coordinators in the game keep you off balance. Hackett’s play calling is so predictable. Let’s be real! If not for our defense the Bills could easily be 1-6. I was a little worried when Mike Pettine left for the Browns but Jim Schwartz has this defense playing at a high level. I heard a caller on the John Murphy show say we need to keep Schwartz at any cost even if that means firing Doug Marrone. John Murphy totally disagreed but I agree with the caller. The Bills defense hasn’t been this good since 1995.The defense was responsible for the Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota and NY Jets wins. The odds of someone doing a better job than Schwartz next year are slim to none. If we make the playoffs with Hackett I will be shocked. It will be a result of the defense. Our offensive line is much better at pass protection than run blocking. They aren’t great at pass blocking but they are putrid at opening holes. Play your strengths. Open up the offense. You have a hot QB, a young talented receiver corps. I would love to see Chan Gailey hired as offensive coordinator. He had more success with less weapons. His big problem was our defense under Dave Wannstedt was ranked 31st his last year. If not Gailey then Frank Reich next year. Bottom line: Jim Schwartz is more valuable to this team then Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett combined. Tell me I’m wrong!