BGA: Quarterbacks – Excuses and the Inexcusable

Yes, it was windy. Yes, he was under pressure. Yes, he had one or two passes go off his receiver’s hands. Yes, he got banged up early on and that may have affected him later. Yes, he’s still “only a rookie.” Yes, he was under pressure quite a bit. Yes, some of his returning receivers may have been rusty. And, yes, Jeremy Kerley – his favorite target and leading receiver – was out with an elbow injury.

However, at some point you have to stop making excuses, because some of the mistakes Geno Smith is making right now go beyond what’s acceptable at this level.

He knows it. He called himself “awful” after the game and that’s probably not an unfair assessment. This isn’t just a spotty performance blighted by a couple of bad errors, he was inconsistent throughout and has displayed an alarming lack of statistical productivity over the past month or so.

Timing, touch, accuracy, reading of the field and ball security were all issues for Smith at points during this game. Without dwelling on all his bad throws, he had three interceptions and it could have been more. On one of the interceptions, he seemed to be indicating that Jeff Cumberland should have run his route differently somehow, but I can’t really see how it would have made a difference. Even if Cumberland rounded off his route more sharply, the ball seemed to be too far out in front of him and it didn’t look like Smith saw Jairus Byrd lurking. He certainly didn’t see Byrd on his second interception and his third — caused because he bobbled the snap and had to look down momentarily, rendering him unable to see Da’Norris Searcy dropping off into the flat — made it four pick-sixes in four games. He’s only thrown one touchdown to a Jets player in that span.

This was the first time the Jets have lost when Smith has completed his first pass of the day. In their five wins, he is 5-for-5 for 106 yards and four first downs, but in their five losses, he is 1-for-5 for four yards with one interception. Getting him off to a good start was unsuccessful though, because although he was 3-for-4 early on, he went 0-for-5 over the last 23-plus minutes on the first half.

Smith did make a couple of good throws, gunning one down the middle to Kellen Winslow and hitting Santonio Holmes in stride downfield for a big play to set up a touchdown, but at the same time he got lucky on his first deep completion to Holmes, which got caught up in the wind.

I wanted to take a more detailed look at the read-option play where Smith fumbled and fell on the loose ball.

It’s Smith’s job here to read the defensive end. Mario Williams hasn’t committed himself yet, but Smith will need to get around him to gain positive yardage on the left side. As you can see, the right side of the line has done a good job of leveraging their men to the outside and Brian Winters is able to block his man with Nick Mangold’s help. Mangold is literally just using his upper body strength to help Winters sustain that block with his left hand. On the outside, D’Brickashaw Ferguson’s job is to let Williams go, in hopes that he commits himself to the inside or stays at home leaving a gap up the middle. Then Ferguson has to block Kiko Alonso at the second level.

This is the point at which Smith has to decide once and for all whether he’s going to pull it out and run it himself. Williams starts to shift his weight across and Smith makes the decision here that he can beat him to the edge. Upfront, Winters is still being helped by Mangold, who is about to peel off to stop the man at the second level from being able to get over. However, what Smith fails to read is that Alonso has gained outside leverage on Ferguson and will be in position to limit any gain Smith can make running left.

So, Smith pulls it out at the last minute and obviously leaves it too late because the ball comes loose as Powell presumably starts to secure it. You can see that Powell would have been able to avoid Williams and then cut back into that lane between Ferguson and Winters and also that Alonso would be in prime position to stop Smith if he doesn’t fumble the ball. Alonso (how good was he, by the way? – Wow) literally jumped to his right to get outside Ferguson, but had Smith been able to read that, Alonso would have taken himself out of the play.

Typically on a read-option play such as this, the quarterback will option off of the defensive end only and might not see the whole field. Maybe Smith saw that at the last minute and tried to change what he was doing and that’s what caused the fumble. Either way, he has to read how the play is developing and try to be one step ahead.

As we’ve established last year, the one thing NFL quarterbacks cannot afford to be is indecisive. Evidently that’s not just when throwing the ball…

On to Matt Simms, who for the second time this season got a chance to mop-up with Smith benched for the latter stages. While we shouldn’t get too caught up in the fact he drove them downfield for a score, because the game was already over and the Bills were playing passively with many of their starters being rested, it was a nice drive that he put together. His first throw, to Greg Salas, was accurate and had plenty on it in the blustery conditions and his second found Cumberland just coming out of his break. His timing on that completion was better than Smith’s usually was on similar passes throughout the game. On the touchdown, a defender slipped, so Cumberland was all alone. Simms saw him perhaps a beat late, but compensated for that by getting the ball out quickly and accurately.

On the second drive, he had a throw on the move that got caught up in the wind and really should have been intercepted and two other throws to the end zone were just offline and tipped at the line. It’s too small of a sample size to know whether or not he’s a viable option to start, but you have to wonder how many reps he’s getting in practice and whether his performances in practice have been good enough to pile any pressure on Smith.

Of course, they also have David Garrard on the roster as well. Could he factor into the discussion too?

Up next … We’ve gone from the Summer of Vlad to the Fall of Winters…but should that be “falls of Winters”?