Geno Smith’s numbers have settled down over the last couple of games. He’s now achieving mediocrity, which was all the Jets really needed from him all season if they were to remain competitive. Unfortunately, he had fallen well short of that too many times over the past few months. Smith was extremely inconsistent, but strung together some good scoring drives against an upper echelon defense. In fact, if you factor in strength of opponent, this was arguably one of his better performances of the year. Still, when mediocrity represents a high-water mark, you’re in a battle just to prove you’re not out of your depth.
It’s been apparent for a long time, possibly even since preseason, that Smith wasn’t ready to start at this level and I don’t think there’s any chance he’d have started every game if Mark Sanchez had been healthy. Maybe we saw enough positive flashes earlier in the season to be in denial about that for a while, but it’s telling that those positive signs started to dry up once teams had enough film on Smith and the Jets’ system to identify any weak points. However, as we enter the part of the season where offensive coordinators are prepared to throw the kitchen sink at their opponents, Smith has at least helped keep them in the last few games.
So, we look for positives, like, for example, some of the first down throws Smith made from the pocket, his eagerness to pick up safe yardage on the ground when nothing else was on and the fact he displayed enough consistency to lead two 70+ yard touchdown drives in the second half.
However, it’s the negatives that stick out. The most egregious of all was that he had no business trying to force the throw that was intercepted and returned for the game clinching touchdown, when he perhaps should have checked down to Bilal Powell, who at least would have had a chance of making a first down on third and long. There were several other bad misses though, as he threw behind a couple of receivers and showed some poor awareness in the pocket at times. He’s still not seeing the whole field as he continues to have a tendency to stare down his primary target too.
I’ll give Smith credit for one other thing: I was surprised to note that he’s only lost four fumbles all year. That’s not a number I was expecting to remain so low with the way he was protecting the ball earlier in the year. Having said that, he did almost lose one on one of the sacks yesterday.
The pocket presence is a major issue though. Defensive backs blitzing off the edge caused him problems all day and he seems to have issues both in terms of the pre-snap identification and recognition while actually in the pocket.
On Captain Munnerlyn’s sack that ended the Jets’ first drive, the Panthers had 11 players within eight yards of the line of scrimmage on 3rd and 7, but only three guys outside the tackle box on the left side to match up with the three Jets receivers bunched on that side. So when Munnerlyn blitzes from the slot, you should have an ideal hot-read situation.
The outside receiver, Santonio Holmes, ran a square-in just in front of the marker. The outside slot guy, Jeremy Kerley, ran a go-route and Jeff Cumberland started to break to the outside and then planted and ran a post pattern. The outside cornerback dropped off Holmes and picked up and ran with Kerley, so Holmes probably would have had an easy first down if Smith threw it to him as soon as he made his break. However, since he hesitated, that meant Holmes was breaking to the inside with a linebacker dropping off into that area from the right side. At the same time, the inside slot guy saw the danger and tried to jump that route, which effectively left Cumberland uncovered down the seam, although there was a safety dropping deep from the opposite side of the formation. That should have been an easy first down throw to either Holmes or Cumberland, but Cumberland didn’t look back for the ball early enough and Smith has been reluctant to make the throw in that situation all year. By hesitating and missing the chance to hit Holmes, Smith wasn’t ready to make that throw to Cumberland in time and he couldn’t evade Munnerlyn. Maybe Cumberland should have looked back for the ball sooner, but Smith still should have been able to lead him with a pass that would be on its way as Cumberland turned to look to the ball.
One other play underlined the fact that Smith sees things too late and then has to rush his throw, which causes his technique to let him down. Smith rolled out and threw deep to Saalim Hakim, who had a couple of steps on Munnerlyn down the right sideline. Unfortunately, the pass was wayward and sailed out of bounds, whereas an on-target throw would have produced a 63-yard touchdown. As Smith rolled out, he should have been able to get his eyes downfield earlier and set his feet or step into the throw. However, he saw the opportunity too late and his throw was off-balance on the run.
These small moments of indecision are things that could have been coached into him as the season was going along, but unfortunately, since he’s been prematurely forced into a starting role, he’s had too much on his plate just learning and operating the offensive scheme. Jets fans just have to hope this hasn’t stunted his overall development.
Let’s hope for more signs of mediocrity over the next few games. I think it would be optimistic to expect more than that.
Next up…the running backs, featuring an unlikely guest star rack up plenty of yards.