Geno Smith threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter of a 13-10 defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots, but all is not lost. Really, we should never bury a rookie quarterback after two games, regardless of his performance.
Run The Football
While running the football may seem counterproductive to the development of a quarterback, it actually can be a young signal-caller's best friend.
Nothing against the individual talents of Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III—they were all magnificent in their first year as starters in 2012. However, they were all aided by highly efficient running attacks.
Here's a look at how the feature backs on their respective teams fared last season:
Sure, many factors played into those fine running back statistics, many of which were out of Kaepernick, Wilson and Griffin III's hands. But there's no doubt that a strong running game can be ease the tension on a young quarterback.
Through two games, Jets running backs Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory have combined to receive 47 carries and have totaled 154 yards for a paltry 3.06 yards-per-carry average.
Against the Patriots in Week 2, Ivory toted the rock 12 times for 52 yards, while Powell added 48 yards on 13 carries. Certainly not an explosive evening from either, but it's respectable enough that New York should have continued to pound the football.
Ivory's last carry, almost inexplicably, came early in the fourth quarter.
It's important to remember that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished with the lowest yards-per-carry average allowed (3.5), and the Patriots held the opposition to 3.9 yards per rush in 2012.
Rex Ryan's defense should keep Gang Green in more games than expected. Because of that, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg must stay dedicated to the run to get Smith into 3rd-and-short situations. It makes perfect sense for the Jets to feature the run during the early stages of Smith's maturation process due to the lack of skill-position talent out wide and a solid offensive line.
Play To Smith's Strengths
In Smith's final year at West Virginia, he completed 71.2 percent of his passes for 4,205 yards and had 42 touchdowns to only six interceptions.
According to Bill Connelly of FootballStudyHall.com, 71 percent of Smith's attempts were thrown no further than nine yards down the field.
Now, having Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey allowed the Mountaineers to successfully run such a high-percentage, yards-after-the-catch-predicated offense. Unfortunately, Smith doesn't have that type of talent collection at his disposal on the Jets right now.
But that doesn't mean the Jets should force their young quarterback to push the ball vertically just yet, although he's been far from dreadful down the field.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), 25 of Smith's 73 attempts on the season have been thrown beyond 10 yards. Not surprisingly, Smith has completed only 12 passes of those passes. Though he's managed to accumulate 269 yards on those 12 downfield connections, downfield attempts accounted for all three of his interceptions against New England.
Smith appears to be more ready to stretch the field than many thought he would be, but prominently featuring the short passing game will likely lead to a higher completion percentage, fewer picks and more confidence.
Smith Needs To Learn What "Open" Looks Like
Smith's impending acclimation process isn't all on his coaches, obviously. Through two games, the Jets signal-caller leads the NFL with an average of 3.45 seconds in the pocket until a throw is made, per Pro Football Focus. (He and Brady are the only two quarterbacks two games into the 2013 season, but currently, Smith leads the league in that statistical category.)
While that may speak to the stoutness of New York's offensive line, it also says that Smith is holding onto the football for quite a while.
After a quarterback is snapped the football, it's difficult to decipher whether he's prudently reading through his progressions or simply exhibiting indecisiveness if his first read is covered. Either way—and this is nitpicking—on a few occasions, Smith has had receivers "open" by NFL standards but has held onto the football.
On a Chandler Jones sack in Week 2, Smith left the pocket a split second before Stephen Hill was wide open on a slant.
Earlier in the game, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock pointed out that Smith missed Hill in the red zone down the seam. Smith needed to realize his wideout was even with the defender and that there was space behind him in end zone.
While it's easy to get on a quarterback for missing an open receiver from a bird's-eye vantage point, Mayock astutely said, "He's getting out of the pocket more quickly than he needs to."
Pocket presence or the courage to hang in and calmly drift away from pressure will likely allow Smith to notice receivers as they're about to come open, a skill just about all of the elite quarterbacks possess.