Nathaniel Hackett’s playoff play-callling hints at Broncos offense

The previous week, in his NFL playoff play-calling debut, Nathaniel Hackett saw his Jacksonville Jaguars offense gain only 230 yards, convert only two of 12 third-down plays and have only one receiver with a reception.

Still, the Jaguars defeated the Buffalo Bills 10-3 in a January 2018 AFC wild card round snooze-fest.

But knowing more offense was required for the Jaguars to win at Pittsburgh as 7 1/2-point underdogs in the divisional round, Hackett went into the tool box … and emptied it.

He used five personnel groups on the first drive. He prioritized a short passing game to set up post-catch yards. And he called a play that resulted in the second and final touchdown reception of fullback Tommy Bohannon’s career.

The Jaguars rolled up 378 yards, didn’t commit a turnover or allow a sack, went 8 of 14 on third down and upset the Steelers, 45-42.

“He was incredible in that Pittsburgh game,” former Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles said in a phone interview. “Start to finish, for me, it was one of the better-called football games I’ve been a part of and maybe even watched.”

Was that Hackett’s play-calling masterpiece?

“I hope not,” he told The Denver Post with a laugh. “I hope there are more to come.”

The Broncos hope so, too, and Hackett’s offensive background and success was a main reason he emerged as Vic Fangio’s replacement in January, tasked with ending the franchise’s six-season malaise in which they have failed to finish higher than 22nd in scoring.

How Hackett will call the plays when the Broncos open next Monday night is Seattle is cloaked in mystery. The starters, led by quarterback Russell Wilson, didn’t play in the preseason and Hackett hasn’t called plays in a regular season game since November 2018, so we’re in wait-and-see mode as to what ideas he absorbed in Green Bay the last three years and brought with him to Denver.

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