BGA: Quarterbacks – Down the plughole

Thinking back to preseason, it was obvious that Geno Smith wasn’t ready to be a full-time starter. He threw three interceptions in one half against the Giants and the new car smell generated by him not being Mark Sanchez soon wore off.

With no other real options following the Sanchez and David Garrard injuries in preseason, the Jets had to proceed with Smith and, while it would seemingly have made sense to simplify things so that Smith could focus on the short passing game — his bread and butter in college — it was actually his success throwing downfield which enabled him to play well enough to win some games in the first half of the year.

Bizarrely, the Jets reacted by making their offense even more conservative and one-dimensional and Smith has been regressing every week since midseason.

I wrote in the offseason that the downside of playing to Smith’s strengths was that it could undermine Marty Mornhinweg’s ability to create a vertical offense, but they seem to have given up on that, even though it was working better than what’s going on now. This is yet another example of the disconnect among the powers-that-be.

You have to wonder if Mornhinweg is going to be one-and-done as offensive coordinator. Here’s a depressing statistic: Since Charlie Weis left the Jets in 1999, the only offensive coordinators that the Jets have had that weren’t one-and-done are Paul Hackett and Brian Schottenheimer. Ouch.

Smith was actually only in the game for 18 snaps and only really made one bad mistake — throwing an interception to a heavily-covered receiver late in the first half. He may have already realized he was getting replaced at half time anyway, so had to try and force something to happen. Of course, that snap count was only so low because he was unable to move the chains and he was hesitant with poor timing and/or accuracy on virtually all of his dropbacks.

Once again, the announcers tried to excuse his struggles by showing a wide shot and claiming that nobody was getting open, only for the image on screen to clearly show Smith looking down the middle at Stephen Hill running a post pattern with two steps on his man and failing to pull the trigger. And even if the problem is the receivers, then why would the team keep their two best (available) pass catchers on the bench for the majority of the game, unless already looking towards next year? More disconnect and it’s only creating a situation where it’s extremely difficult for players to develop and for the team to assess them fairly. Surely that has to be more important than getting a slightly better first round pick.

So, how about Matt Simms? History will probably remember this game as one where Simms entered the game long after it was settled, but the Jets were still in with a chance, having advanced to midfield where they had a first down with 10 minutes to go in the third quarter, down just six points. Unfortunately, that’s where things unravelled, as Simms’ handoff was fumbled by Bilal Powell. On the next play, a couple of missed tackles led to a 17-yard-run, and on the play after that, a couple more missed tackles led to a touchdown. A classic snowball special, as the defense is demoralized and the game spirals out of reach.

To Simms’ credit, he drove the Jets for a field goal and got them back within 13-3, but then another one-off mistake led directly to another touchdown and that was the game. The fumble didn’t appear to be his fault, although he and Powell were arguing about it after the play was over. Powell didn’t seem to be expecting to get the ball, but everyone else did seem to be run blocking, so it seems unlikely that was supposed to be a play-action fake.

Simms actually started off completing 2-of-8 passes for 18 yards (after Smith had opened up 2-of-7 for 18 yards), but then went on to complete five passes in a row against a backed-off defense in the fourth quarter. That drive still stalled, as the Dolphins tightened things up in the red zone and Simms threw two more incompletions and then a pick.

It wasn’t a particularly impressive performance by any means, and he did throw into tight coverage several times, but he did more positive things than Smith. Considering he had to enter halfway through the game, with many of his teammates demoralized and some of the better ones on the bench, it wasn’t an ideal situation. Perhaps they don’t have anything to lose by giving him a more extended look. He also has the benefit of that new car smell generated by not being Geno Smith, which at least will make for a more positive atmosphere at home next week.

I can’t see Smith starting the next game, but then again, I said the same thing a few times in the midst of Mark Sanchez’s struggles last year and Sanchez did start every game but one. Having said that, we don’t necessarily know who’s pulling the strings this year.

I know there are those that will disagree but I still believe that there could be value in David Garrard starting. Whether or not you believe he gives them the best chance to win (which is practically irrelevant now that they’re more or less out of the playoff race), just having a guy who can command an offense, read a defense, get the ball to an open man and arrange protections correctly gives the team their best opportunity to assess what they’ve got in terms of linemen and skill position players. If potentially winning a few too many games is the “downside,” then it’s still worth it.

Next up…we look at the running backs and the Jets’ counter-intuitive approach…