It happens sometimes. A quarterback gets off to a solid start, but then gets rattled by a big hit and then struggles the rest of the way.
Jarret Johnson nailed Geno Smith in the first quarter, dislodging his helmet and rendering Smith a shadow of himself. Smith had been accurate, composed and faultless up to that point, but Johnson’s hit turned him into a quivering wreck who was hesitant and seemed unprepared for everything the Chargers threw at him. Yeah, so this happened on the second snap of the game but it’s not all Geno’s fault, okay? It was a pretty good handoff on first down…
(By the way – the Chargers have a Jarret, a Malcom and a Mathews on their roster. And a Jeromey on the PUP list. Do they have “badly spelled birth certificates” as a key identifiable scouting trait or something? That’s without even getting into the Philip or Phillip debate for their quarterback.)
Sorry, I lost focus for a minute there. HOW UNACCEPTABLE.
Back to Smith. (Maybe “back to Smith” is the last place we should be going, but let’s persevere). For the second game in a row, he was 4-for-12 in the first half. At last! Some consistency! Remember last year when at least he was good every other week? Memories…
Yes, Smith was under pressure a lot, but the fact is he brought most of this on himself. If your first option isn’t there, take off or get rid of the ball!
After the first series you could tell it was going to be a long day. On his first dropback, the Jets rolled him out, obviously hoping that Jeff Cumberland would be able to leak into the flat or Greg Salas would be open underneath. However, the Chargers played zone with a safety jumping Salas’ route and Johnson dropped rather than rushing upfield so he was not only covering Cumberland but also in perfect position to hit Smith as he threw the ball away. On the next play, Greg Salas was open underneath for an easy five yards with the potential for more if you hit him in stride. Everyone else was running a downfield route. Smith instead hesitated, the pocket eventually collapsed and he got nailed again as he threw at Salas’ feet. You have to be able to take what the defense gives you – all the good quarterbacks do. Finally on third and short, he overthrew David Nelson who had a step on Richard Marshall deep. No, this wasn’t an easy throw, but it’s one Rivers made every time.
There were three more plays where he essentially threw the ball away having delayed for too long. One of these saw him get folded in half by a big hit on an unblocked delayed blitz. That looked eerily reminiscent of two of his interceptions this year, but at least this time he threw it harmlessly out of bounds. Another saw him hesitate rather than take the easy checkdown option to Chris Ivory and then he had to spin away from pressure. At that point he had bought himself time and probably had room to run but instead he threw the ball away when he didn’t need to. One of these was a good scheme by the Chargers as they sent a blitz up the middle and dropped one of their linemen into coverage. Throwing the ball away is obviously preferable to throwing a pick, but Smith has to realize sooner when nothing is available and take what he can get rather than waiting for something to develop when it obviously isn’t going to.
You could say these plays are signs that the receivers aren’t getting open, but when we reviewed the all-22 footage last season in such situations, we could see that receivers were getting open, Smith just wasn’t anticipating it and delivering the ball on time. That same hesitant nature has crept back into his game and rendered him toothless.
On the final series, Smith made perhaps his best throw on a deep pass down the sideline that Jace Amaro couldn’t come up with. However, even this was flawed. Amaro was open much earlier with a clear step on his man, but instead of leading him with a downfield pass that probably would have gained 40+, Smith hesitated and then ended up throwing to his back shoulder by which time even if the pass was caught cleanly, the safety was coming over and Amaro’s momentum was carrying him out of bounds.
As it happens, the Jets were flagged for offensive pass interference on the play anyway as David Nelson’s subtle attempt to inadvertently get in the defender’s way didn’t fool the officials. I don’t doubt that was a deliberate attempt to see if they could get away with one late in the half where the upside is a big play and the downside is that the yards don’t matter too much if the penalty is called because you weren’t likely to score anyway. Nevertheless, the fact Smith saw this late, delivered it late and was inaccurate with the throw sums up how little progress he’s made since last season.
On his final play of the half, Smith threw an interception but this was little more than a Hail Mary pass. Again, you don’t have much to lose here, other than that if Smith wasn’t intercepted then it would have screwed up everybody’s “When Geno doesn’t throw an interception” numbers.
At halftime came the decision to go with Michael Vick and, if anything, he fared even worst than Smith. Smith was 4-for-12 whereas Vick only completed TWO of his first 12. I’m prepared to give him a pass though – wow, a Jets player actually receiving a pass from someone! – because entering a game without having had a chance to fully prepare is much different than just being told to play hurry-up and do what you can to get us back in the game. Especially when you’re three scores down and motivation is at a low.
I was watching the Bills game where Kyle Orton was struggling early, throwing a pick six with the announcers remarking that Orton’s inability to find downfield receivers was a sign that EJ Manuel’s reliance on checkdowns was more of a team issue than his fault. Vick struggling just as badly as Smith similarly shows how there is more to the offensive woes than just the quarterback. The difference is that Orton was able to settle down and – while the Bills required an absurd amount of luck to go their way – the end result was a 300-yard game from Orton and a win. The Bills definitely got more from their backup by having the balls to turn the team over to him, rather than just making a mid-game, too-late panic move.
I suspect Smith will start against the Broncos and probably get benched again if and when he struggles. This might be the wrong move, because Vick probably has a better chance of being successful if he prepares to be the starter.
Vick did pick up some cheap yardage (6-for-7 for 36 yards on the last drive) against a soft prevent style defense featuring a lot of backups later in the game. (Maybe he can carry that “momentum” over into next week!)
Ultimately though, Vick showed poor composure and awareness in the pocket and had a couple of inaccurate throws. He still might be an upgrade though. That’s depressing.
Next up…we move onto an analysis of the offensive line performance, which was confounding for a couple of reasons…