Written By: David Connors @connors_david
Through the first two games of the season, Memphis Express have mustered 458 yards, while the league-wide average is 613 yards. The Express have only been able to put up 18 points, and those who have watched the game will tell you, 12 of those points came off of incredible defensive plays. The Express average just over 2.5 yards per pass, and through two games have shown very little ability to move the ball. What is the cause of the Memphis Express offensive woes? Is it Hackenberg? Is it play calling? Can it be fixed?
In week 2 against the Arizona Hotshots, Christian Hackenberg took a lot of flack from the game commentators for his refusal to throw the ball downfield. He has taken flack for being inaccurate, and he has taken flack for being the majority shareholder of the blame for the Express offensive struggles. So how bad was Hackenberg? In 29 dropbacks, he had 5 plays disrupted by poor O-Line play, 4 passes dropped, 7 poor throws, 3 passes that were completed but resulted in negative yards, and 11 successful plays (by successful play I am referring to the plays Hackenberg dropped back and completed a pass to his receiver that resulted in positive yards). He averaged 4.2 yards per attempt and only 2.4 yards per throw.
So what do all these numbers mean? Let’s break them down. Hackenberg completed 14 passes in 25 attempts (56%) for 102 yards. Of his 14 completions, 7 of them were caught behind the line of scrimmage (LOS), 4 of them in were caught within 5 yards of the LOS and the other 2 were caught within 10 yards of the LOS. Of his 25 attempts, 5 of them were in between 10 and 20 yards downfield (there were 0 passes further than 20 yards), furthermore, of those 5 passes, 3 of them were poor throw. Not only did Hackenberg not go downfield, but he was also missing the mid-range throws. Drops from his receivers were also halting offensive drives. If the 4 passes that were dropped, caught instead, Hackenberg would have completed 72% of his passes. If the Express is going to win with Hackenberg, they need to clean up their many silly mistakes. Hackenberg cannot be missing his deep throws and the receivers need to catch the ball before trying to turn upfield.
The Offensive Line
Was Hackenberg given enough time? Did he have clean pockets? He was sacked 4 times and hit 7 times. Anthony Morris looked overmatched at times on the left side of the offensive line. Hackenberg used his athleticism to compensate, but he was under duress for most of the game. However, even when he had a clean pocket, Hackenberg’s completion percentage was just over 53%. The offensive line was not doing Christian any favors, but it did not seem to make a difference. The offensive line did show some great plays as they lead Zac Stacy to become the first 100-yard rusher in the AAF. Even though Hackenberg did get a hit a few times, the offensive line did give him some time. He had a clean pocket 74% of his dropbacks.
The Play Calling
One word...obvious. The jet sweep is only a trick play the first few times. It cannot be the only WR motion play the Express have in their arsenal if they expect to surprises defenses. They staff instilled no urgency in their team at the end of the 1st half, resulting on the Memphis Express missing out a great opportunity to get an additional 3 points. Coach Lee clearly look content to run the ball, run the ball, then when that does not work, run the ball. Are they afraid to put the game in Hackenberg’s hands? No. In 14 years as a play caller, David Lee averages 199.3 rushing yards per game and only 127.3 passing yards per game. David Lee has a long career of grinding the rock. During his time in the NFL, he spent a lot of his time in Rex Ryan’s staff, who is famous for “winning ugly” the lack of downfield throws are not only a deficiency in Hackenberg’s game, it is a functionality of David Lee’s gameplan.
Can the Memphis Express win with Christian Hackenberg?
Hackenberg is not the sole reason the Memphis Express are losing games. He is not even the biggest problem on their offense. The first drive was destroyed by poor O-Line play. Anthony Morris missed a block, and Rhaney rolled a snap. A couple of different drives were debilitated by drops. It is mental mistakes like these that need to be cleaned up if the Express want to grind out close games, but it can win. In fact, if the Express have a chance to leave Orlando with a W, they need to keep the ball out of Gilbert’s hands. If they can dominate the time of possession, avoid silly mistakes, and contain the Orlando offense, Express will significantly increase their chances of winning. Hackenberg probably is not the main reason for the offensive woes in Memphis, but with all that said, in my opinion, l would like to see if they fare better with a different quarterback under center. He was still inaccurate, and he did not look like a leader on the field.