Geno Smith turned in another solid performance yesterday, accounting for 262 yards and three touchdowns through the air and on the ground. The biggest difference, something which I pointed out following the Oakland game where his fortunes started to change, is that he’s getting the ball out on time. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this three game run and his willingness to trust his receivers to make their break as the ball is in the air has corresponded with the return of his top three targets.
It looks like Smith will make it to 16 starts, making him the first quarterback in Jets history to start every game in his rookie season. That’s an impressive achievement, even though there were people calling for him to be replaced at one stage. He’s done well to push through since then.
Smith still had some inaccurate throws and questionable decisions, but the Jets converted 12-of-18 third downs and he strung together three touchdown drives, finishing each of them off himself, with two touchdown passes to David Nelson and the game-clinching 17-yard run with just over three minutes remaining.
While two of the three games were against poor teams at home, I’d still suggest that this is the best three-game stretch of his rookie season. Statistically, the Bills/Titans/Falcons stretch earlier in the year was better, but the Titans performance was misleading because he padded his stats late in the game and did lose a fumble for a touchdown.
Smith’s ball protection has been one area where he has unquestionably improved. He’s lost just one fumble since that Titans game in week four. Aside from the getting the ball out on time which I mentioned, I’ve also been increasingly impressed by his willingness to trust his protection and sit in the pocket, giving routes sufficient time to develop.
Smith did make some good downfield reads (and throws) yesterday and did a good job of smartly throwing the ball away when nothing was on, instead of trying to force it. However, there was one play where he may have missed an opportunity. Yet again, this came on a play where Rich Gannon told the viewing audience that nobody was open and actually criticized the Jets’ skill position players for their inability to win one-on-one matchups. And, yet, here’s the image he was basing that on:
At the top of the screen, Santonio Holmes blew by Joe Haden with an inside release and the Jets drew the deep safety far enough out of the middle of the field that Holmes was wide open. As you can see, he has a step on Haden and an accurate throw over the top would have been a touchdown. Maybe Smith was reluctant to test Haden – one of the league’s better quarterbacks – or lacked confidence in himself to make that deep throw. Maybe he just saw it too late and knew he didn’t have time to plant and get enough on the throw. (As you can see, he seems to be staring down his targets to the left). As for other options, the underneath checkdown was smartly doubled by the Browns, illustrating the kind of thing teams have been doing to try and force Smith to take risks. However, towards the bottom of the screen, Jeff Cumberland would get enough separation from TJ Ward that he could have been a potential target too.
I’m criticizing Gannon here more than Smith though. There weren’t many other opportunities I saw that Smith missed and it’s yet another example of someone in the media saying something (eg Dierdorf’s “Look at Ed Reed taking a bad angle”) and everyone else taking it at face value. Gannon is just wrong here – and he’s done this several times over the past two seasons in an effort to confirm some preconceived notion which obviously isn’t as clear-cut as everyone thinks.
I know it’s sacrilege to compare Smith to Mark Sanchez, but I’m going to anyway because their rookie season numbers make for a pretty interesting comparison. They’re two different players, whose careers might go in different directions, but this is still informative in terms of putting into context how well Smith has performed as a rookie.
Obviously Smith has one game to go, but Sanchez did miss a game (and half of another game) through injury. Of course, Smith was benched a couple of times too. Ultimately, Geno has played 935 snaps and Sanchez played 960 (in the regular season), so it more or less washes out.
So, let’s compare:
Completion percentage – Smith 55%, Sanchez 54%
Yardage – Smith 2856, Sanchez 2444
TD/INT – Smith 12/21, Sanchez 12/20
Yards per attempt – Smith 6.9, Sanchez 6.7
Sacked – Smith 43 times, Sanchez 26 times
Fumbles – Smith 8 (lost 4), Sanchez 10 (lost 3)
Rushing – Smith 62-322-5TD, Sanchez 36-106-3TD
The passing numbers are more or less the same and each of them had a strong start, an extended midseason slump and then an end of season resurgence. One difference is that Smith was sacked a lot more often. Another difference is that Smith was more productive as a runner (which we said he would be all year, although many people are still operating on the “not a running QB because of his college stats” fallacy, which fails to take into account that college rushing stats deduct negative yardage from sacks). This was true again yesterday, with Smith smartly making some key first downs and the clinching touchdown with his legs.
When Smith rushes for over 20 yards, the Jets are 5-1 and it’s no coincidence that Smith’s QB rating in those six games is much higher (89.3) because when he runs, he isn’t forcing throws and making mistakes. He’s done that three games in a row now and has just two interceptions in that three game stretch, the first time he’s managed that all season. Smith averages 33 rushing yards when the Jets win and 11 when they lose. I’m not saying they should introduce more designed runs for him – this has more to do with him taking what the defense gives him instead of taking undue chances. The fact he’s started to do that remains encouraging, because it’s integral to his potential effectiveness and continuing development.
Next up…the running backs run angry.