It may have just seemed like an insignificant nine-yard completion on second and long, but there was an identifiable “Eureka” moment for Geno Smith in the second quarter.
After a shaky start, Smith had been more lucky than good in helping the Jets to build a 10-3 lead. His touchdown pass to Jeremy Kerley was lofted up for grabs with three defenders at the back of the end zone and he’d already been intercepted once (almost twice) and misfired on another potential touchdown pass with the receiver open. However, he took a three drop and threw a completion to David Nelson coming back to the ball.
The key here was that Nelson broke back for the ball and it was already on its way to him, as it has to be if you want to complete that throw in the NFL. Smith got his feet set, stepped into the throw and made it accurate but, more importantly, on time. We’ve all been waiting for that pass…not least the receivers.
By George, I think he’s got it.
Whether or not that ultimately proves to be the moment where the lightbulb went on for Smith, he was much more confident and decisive from that point on. In fact, on the very next play, he sat confidently in the pocket (something else we haven’t seen in recent games) and threw on time to Kerley to keep the chains moving. Earlier in the game, he had hit Santonio Holmes for a 32-yard catch-and-run where Holmes stopped his route and had time to hop up and down on the spot four times before the ball arrived, so the difference was striking. Maybe that long-overdue touchdown pass, fortunate though it was, snapped him out of his funk and he can progress over the remainder of the season. It will be interesting to see if he can follow this up against a top defense. Remember, he still hasn’t had two decent games in a row yet this year.
For the rest of the game, he was doing a much better job of getting the ball out on time, although to be hyper-critical the ball could still have been out a beat earlier on some of his throws and he did almost throw a redzone pick. Trusting your receivers to make the break as you’re already releasing the throw is a big hump to get over and it’s no coincidence that this would happen when he had most of the receivers he trusts back in the lineup. Kerley, Holmes and Kellen Winslow were out there for a combined 90 snaps whereas it was less than 20 last week. I just don’t think he trusts the likes of Stephen Hill (inactive due to a knee injury) and Jeff Cumberland (out there for 47 snaps, but not targeted) enough to throw it until he sees they’re open, which is invariably too late.
I’m sure the timing of his throws has been a point of emphasis and credit goes both to the player and the coaches for manufacturing some improvements there. On one play, he bobbled the snap, but still made an effort to get the ball out on time, although it was off-line. In previous games, that has happened and the throw has been delayed, allowing the cornerback to jump the route.
Those early struggles for Smith were all too familiar although pass protection was a factor. The offensive line did a great job of keeping Smith clean all day, but on a couple of the early throws he missed he was hit as he released the ball. One saw him miss Kellen Winslow open on a third down route to the pylon and another saw him overthrow the receiver and almost get picked off. He then was picked off on the very next play, but that was more of a bad read, as he stared down Kerley and Kevin Burnett made an athletic diving play.
Statistically, this was an enormous improvement on the last few weeks, as he completed 64% of his passes and averaged 8.8 yard per attempt. 42% and 6.1 has been his “best” performances over the previous four games and that’s the best yards per attempt average he’s had since the Falcons game in week five. Also, crucially, he contributed with his legs, picking up 50 yards and touchdown on five carries with some decisive running. His numbers could have been even better, but he didn’t attempt a pass or run in the last 10 minutes.
It’s baby steps for Smith at the moment, because many of these things I’m excited to see and praising him for are pretty routine and a notch below being able to read and pick apart an opposing defense which would be the ultimate goal for him. However, with the regression we’ve seen from him over the last month, it’s a big deal even for him just to stop the bleeding.
Next up…a change in approach on the offensive line – but did it work? Sort of…