Allen Park — After 10 days of silence, we finally have a pair of names attached to the Detroit Lions’ offensive coordinator search.
According to SiriusXM’s Alex Marvez, Nathaniel Hackett and Steve Sarkisian are in the mix for Detroit’s coaching vacancy. Marvez’s track record with coaching information is strong. He’s broken several Lions-related stories in that realm over the year, including a trio of additions to Matt Patricia’s staff last offseason.
So it’s worth exploring what Hackett and Sarkisian bring to the table, even if they don’t ultimately land the position.
We’ll start with Hackett, the son of former Pitt and USC coach Paul Hackett. Nathaniel Hackett has been coaching 16 years, including 10 in the NFL. He’s previously held two coordinator positions, in Buffalo from 2013-14, and most recently in Jacksonville (2016-18). He was fired 11 games into last season, when the Jaguars started 3-8.
In 2017, Hackett led one of the league’s best offenses. The Jaguars finished sixth in yardage and fifth in points, led by the NFL's most productive rushing attack.
There are plenty of built-in excuses for the Jaguars’ collapse in 2018. Star running back Leonard Fournette, the team’s first-round draft pick the previous year, suffered a hamstring injury in Week 1, missed two games, aggravated the injury in his return to the lineup and was sidelined another four games. The team went 1-5 in his absence.
In the passing game, Hackett was saddled with the perennially subpar Blake Bortles at quarterback, and a receiver corps that lost Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns in free agency. That combination resulted in a bottom-five passing offense last season, low-lighted by 15 touchdown passes, 13 interceptions and a 79.1 passer rating.
Hackett has never led an above-average passing game, but he’s also never had an above-average quarterback. Before working with Bortles in Jacksonville, Hackett’s leading passers his two years in Buffalo were E.J. Manuel and Kyle Orton.
The 39-year-old coordinator runs a variation of the Air Coryell offense, a vertical passing attack which could help Detroit better utilize quarterback Matthew Stafford’s strong arm, as well as the deep-threat skill sets of wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. And Hackett’s clear commitment to the run is sure to meet Patricia’s expectations in that department.
Like Hackett, Sarkisian also served as an NFL offensive coordinator last season. He was also fired, let go by the Atlanta Falcons at season’s end.
A former college quarterback with seven years of head-coaching experience at the University of Washington and USC, Sarkisian spent the past two seasons orchestrating the Atlanta offense.
After an initially rocky transition, the Falcons produced with Sarkisian at the helm. After a dip in his performance in 2017, quarterback Matt Ryan had his second-best year of his career last season, completing 69.4 percent of his passes with a hearty 35 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.
On the ground, the Falcons were near the bottom of the league in rushing yards — in part a result of needing to throw more to compensate for one of the league's worst scoring defenses. Still, Atlanta managed to average 4.5 yards per carry, tied for 12th in the NFL, despite starter Devonta Freeman missing 14 games.
That fed into Atlanta’s high usage of play-action passing. Pro Football Focus notes Ryan ran play-action on 26 percent of his dropbacks, posting a 110.3 passer rating in those situation. Stafford also thrived running play-action last season, but only ran it 16.8 percent of the time, among the lowest rates in the NFL.
According to DVOA metrics from Football Outsiders, which measures a unit’s success based on the down-and-distance of each play throughout the season, the Falcons were a top-10 offense each of Sarkisian’s two seasons.
Sarkisian has a reputation for taking player input and incorporating what they like and feel most comfortable with into his scheme. He showed significant improvement in his personnel usage and play-calling his second season, but that leaves lingering concerns he could struggle through a similar adjustment period with his next job, something Patricia can’t afford after going 6-10 in his inaugural season with the Lions.
There remains no timetable on adding a new coordinator. General manager Bob Quinn, who is acting in a supporting role in what will ultimately be Patricia's hire, would only note the team was working with a wide candidate pool when speaking with media last week.