Despite Inconsistency, Geno Smith Beginning to Take Hold of Jets' QB Job
Yes, even though Sanchez is unable to compete until at least Week 11, he is still somehow a part of the competition.
While Smith has plenty of work to do, he has shown his potential through his performance in key moments and an ability to bounce back from bad situations.
There couldn't possibly be much worse of a situation than Smith's fourth-quarter meltdown against the Patriots. Up to that point, Smith had done enough to not lose the game for his team. In the span of 15 minutes, though, he planted and fertilized the seed of doubt.
On Sunday, he bounced back in a big way by becoming the first rookie quarterback in Jets history to throw for over 300 yards in a game, flashing all the big-play ability that made him one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2013 draft.
Even in a bounce-back performance, we were still treated to a sampling of both good Geno and bad Geno.
The Jets showed explosive potential in the passing game by picking up five pass plays of 20 or more yards and two of 18 yards. Four of those five explosive plays went for 40 or more yards.
All four of those plays were deep and to Smith's right.
The first of the day came on the Jets' opening drive, with wide receiver Stephen Hill (circled in blue) running a corner route toward the right sideline.
The Jets came out with their 20 personnel grouping (two backs, no tight end, three receivers) and the Bills responded with the nickel defense.
With just a four-man rush, the Bills didn't get any pressure on Smith and he had all day to make his read.
Hill did a great job of selling the post pattern over the middle before cutting back across the safety and toward the sideline. Because Smith started throwing before Hill came out of his break, the safety came up to defend the post pattern without knowing that Hill was cutting in the other direction.
With a hole that big in the secondary, this was probably the easiest throw Smith made on the day.
There were plenty of difficult throws to follow.
Take his 51-yard touchdown to Hill later in the first half. The Jets came out in the 21 personnel grouping, with two backs, a tight end and two wide receivers. The Bills matched with the base 4-3 defense.
Hill (circled in blue) ran a go route down the right sideline and broke past the coverage of cornerback Justin Rogers—who had a bull's-eye on his back throughout the day.
Rogers was caught in trail technique and unable to get his head around quickly enough. Couple that with a small shove from Hill and the obvious touchdown was obvious.
The Jets clearly saw a weakness in Rogers, and their game plan aimed to expose that weakness as much as possible. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Smith went 6-of-8 for 247 yards and two touchdowns on the day when targeting Rogers in coverage.
Will they continue to be successful in the vertical passing game against different defenses? Time will tell.
If Geno keeps delivering strikes like he did on his second touchdown against Rogers, though, it'll make their lives a lot easier.
The Jets certainly didn't make it easy on themselves, allowing the Bills to climb back from 14 points down five minutes into the third quarter. Luckily for Smith, Rogers was still in coverage and wide receiver Santonio Holmes can still go long and make an impressive effort catch.
The receiving corps sure looks a lot better with Holmes in the picture, doesn't it?
That said, a talented receiving corps is nothing if Smith is not putting the ball in the right spot. For the most part, he did that against the Bills.
There are at least two throws he'd probably like to have back, though.
On 1st-and-10 in the second quarter, the Jets came out with the 12 personnel grouping—one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers. The Bills matched with their base 4-3 defensive personnel with a single high safety, Jim Leonhard.
Off the play-action fake, the Jets were looking to test the Bills deep once again, with Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill both running deep routes.
Going deep down the middle against Cover 1 is a risky proposition—especially against a ball-hawking safety like Leonhard.
The Jets saw Leonhard in the prime of his career in that role, and although he's struggled since battling multiple injuries from 2010-2012, he had no trouble getting underneath this pass from Smith and picking it off.
If Smith had simply read Cover 1 pre-snap, he would have known to go over the middle to Winslow (circled in yellow), who was coming open over the middle just as Geno set up for the throw.
On his second interception, Smith once again simply made a bad decision with the ball.
The Jets came out with the 11 personnel grouping—one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers. The Bills matched with their nickel defense, once again in Cover 1 with the linebackers dropping into zone coverage over the middle.
Geno stared down his first read, which is a cardinal sin against zone coverage, as it allows the defenders to get a jump on the ball once it's released.
That's exactly what happened here, with Bills middle linebacker Kiko Alonso intercepting the slant to wide receiver Clyde Gates and nearly running it back for a touchdown.
Smith can clearly make all the throws, he just needs to work on the mental aspect of diagnosing coverages pre-snap and making sure not to stare down his receivers.
So, while Smith has made more than his share of mistakes early on—his six interceptions rank second in the NFL behind Giants quarterback Eli Manning's eight—the best that the Jets can ask for is that he continues to grow from those mistakes and doesn't let them ruin his confidence like they did to another Jets quarterback—Sanchez, the man with whom Geno is still in competition.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.
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