Friday Faceoff: How do you grade Nathaniel Hackett so far?
Vinny Benedetto, Denver Nuggets beat writer
Nathaniel Hackett looked like the kid who got called on in a class discussion without completing the reading.
The seconds ticking away before Hackett came up with his answer – a 64-yard field goal attempt - blew his cover. The Broncos started their final drive with four minutes to go and all three of their timeouts, plenty of time to come up with a better plan. The Broncos didn’t take a timeout until the play clock was expiring, a common theme on the night, with 20 seconds left. You could almost hear the other coaches in the class snickering when Brandon McManus’s kick sailed wide.
The decision to try a 64-yard field goal instead of going for a manageable fourth-down conversion on the game’s decisive play was the most puzzling part of the plan, but there were signs the preparation was insufficient. Delay-of-game and false-start penalties were the most avoidable of Denver’s 12 flags, which cost the Broncos 106 precious yards. When the offense, Hackett’s specialty, wasn’t flagged, it was far too timid. Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton showed what they could do with the ball, but combined for just 14 targets, while 15 passes were thrown to the running backs.
More inventive play calling, especially around the goal line, earlier in the game could have prevented Hackett from failing the first test of his freshman year.
George Stoia, Denver Broncos beat writer
Every game in the NFL is like a test. And for Nathaniel Hackett, his first test wasn't the result he had hoped for, but there are some signs he will improve.
He aced the multiple choice -- the Broncos offense moved the ball better than it has in seven years. Sure, there were some bumps here and there that need to be cleaned up. But overall, the offense looked competent and clearly had a good game plan.
But he failed the essay portion of the exam, which was worth far more than multiple choice. His offense didn't capitalize when it needed to, going 0 for 4 in the red zone. And, of course, he failed at time management at the end of the game and decision-making, opting to take the ball out of his best player's hands. That decision is the equivalent to forgetting to put your name on your homework. Next time he needs to make sure to study a little harder -- like how a field goal longer than 56 yards has never been made at Lumen Field.
Still, there should be reason for optimism. Hackett is a first-year student in the NFL's head coaching school. Mistakes are going to be made. And while he may have struggled on his first test, he has 16 more to make up for it.