What Went Wrong on Each of Geno Smith's 10 Interceptions
It seems that interceptionitis is a disease passed on from one Jets quarterback to another.
The New York Jets need to find a cure, but the first step is diagnosing the nature of the affliction, which has lingered since 2011; since then, Jets quarterbacks have thrown 47 combined interceptions, tied for second-most in the NFL.
The primary source of those interceptions was quarterback Mark Sanchez, but the issues have persisted with rookie Geno Smith at the helm in 2013. What causes the illness seems to always change, even if it always has the same symptoms.
Whether it's a bad read, a bad route by the receiver, bad blocking by the line, a poor play call, or simply solid play from the defense, there's something to be learned from every interception.
So let's take a look back at all 10 of them.
First interception: Week 1 vs. Buccaneers
Cause: Split—bad pass protection from the offensive line, bad throw from the quarterback
The Jets had the ball in enemy territory and were moving thanks to a big play by wide receiver Jeremy Kerley and a big penalty by Buccaneers safety Dashon Goldson.
It's tough to tell exactly who Smith was trying to get the ball to on this particular play.
Smith's first career pick was a confluence of circumstances, but ultimately, he didn't have enough time in the pocket and didn't have enough of a window to fit the pass through.
He's being pressured fairly quickly off the snap, given just 2.33 seconds to get the pass off, and had to deliver it off his back foot to his checkdown, running back Chris Ivory. However, while he had one defensive lineman breathing down his neck, another was waiting patiently for Smith to throw the ball to stick his hand up.
Smith tried to fit the ball over the head of the defensive lineman, but the ball sailed a bit too high and allowed linebacker Lavonte David to make the interception.
With more time, a better pocket to set his feet, and/or no defensive linemen lifting their arms up, this ball may have been on target.
Second interception: Week 2 vs. New England Patriots
Cause: bad decision from the quarterback
Smith's second pick of the season didn't come until the fourth quarter of the next game, against the Patriots.
The Jets came out in the 11 personnel grouping, with one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers. With Geno Smith in the shotgun, the pass was supposed to be a rhythm throw, likely to receiver Santonio Holmes on the slant.
That ended up being Smith's target, anyway, but it took him awhile to make the throw.
With a clean pocket, he scrambled to his left roughly 2.5 seconds after the snap. He had the right idea, as he saw green spaces out to his left. He could probably have gained a few yards on the scramble if he had just tucked it and ran. He might have even been able to run for the first down.
Instead, he tried to force it in to Holmes, who was crossing the field with cornerback Kyle Arrington covering him in the slot. Smith threw the ball slightly behind Holmes, but the receiver didn't do him any favors by drifting away from the throw, not toward it.
You could say this is a bad throw, since he didn't put it out in front of his receiver, but it started with the decision to throw in the first place; without it, there would be no interception to speak of.
Third interception: Week 2 vs. New England Patriots
Cause: bad throw from the quarterback
Geno Smith had the right idea on his next interception, but he didn't get enough on the ball.
The Jets came out in the 20 personnel package (two running backs, three wide receivers), with two routes being run to the left and backs flanking Smith on either side. Their responsibility was to pick up a blitz if need be, or leak into the flat after getting a chip on the rushers. Either way, they were in max protection to help buy Smith as much time as he needed to make his read and to let the routes develop.
It only took Smith 2.39 seconds to make a decision, and he made the right one, given the coverage.
The Patriots were in Cover 1 Robber, as they were for most of the game, with safety Steve Gregory underneath and Devin McCourty deep. McCourty's job was to roll into deep coverage from the right side of the field, but he couldn't get across the whole field in time to help on the deep route by wide receiver Clyde Gates on the opposite side.
Gates quickly got inside position on cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and had his man beat by a step and was pulling away. If Smith had put this ball over the top, it would have at least been a big play, if not a score.
Instead, he delivered it a bit short and allowed Dennard to get back inside to make the pick.
Smith had a perfectly clean pocket to step into but still couldn't get enough on the ball. Perhaps the driving rain had an impact, but regardless, Smith had a big opportunity here and let it get away with a bad throw.
Fourth interception: Week 2 vs. New England Patriots
Cause: bad throw from the quarterback
The rain was still coming down pretty hard, even late in the fourth quarter of this game, but the Jets kept throwing the ball.
And Geno Smith kept making them pay with bad throws.
The Jets once again came out in the shotgun with the 20 personnel grouping. Second-year wideout Stephen Hill (circled in yellow) ran a deep pattern on the right, with Gates running the same pattern on the opposite side of the field and Holmes running a route over the middle from the slot. The Patriots responded with the nickel defense and were in a Cover 2 shell to keep everything in front of the safeties.
As it turns out, they didn't need to.
Smith had a pretty big window to complete the pass, but Smith put the pass way too far behind Hill, and cornerback Aqib Talib was climbing in their windows and snatching their passes up.
There was no disruption in the pocket, and Smith got the pass off in 2.47 seconds.
Good decision, just a bad throw.
Fifth interception: Week 3 vs. Buffalo Bills
Cause: bad decision from the quarterback
Smith has been asked to throw deep as frequently as almost any other quarterback—15.8 percent of his aimed pass attempts have traveled 20 yards or more through the air. Sometimes, though, he just needs to take what the defense gives him.
The Jets came out in the 12 personnel grouping—one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers—with Smith in the shotgun. The Bills responded with their base defense.
The route combination on the left side is intended to attack the deep safety on that side. Whichever way the safety goes, the throw goes the opposite.
Geno had plenty of time in the pocket, with 3.02 seconds before he released the pass. The problem, however, came in his progressions. Tight end Kellen Winslow came open over the middle of the field right as Smith pulled the trigger on the throw into double coverage. Kellen Winslow is a mismatch for linebackers, and with safety Jim Leonhard so deep in coverage, there was no way anyone would make a play on the ball.
If he was going to throw to Holmes, he should have either thrown it much earlier or much deeper than he did. He waited until Holmes ran into the coverage of Leonhard, but there was a small window to complete the pass if he had released it half a second earlier. Having waited, he should have thrown it longer so that, at the worst, it would sail over everyone and fall incomplete.
Sixth interception: Week 3 vs. Buffalo Bills
Cause: bad read by the quarterback, great play by the defense (coverage)
One common problem a rookie quarterback runs into is staring down his first read, which allows defenders to cheat by breaking toward the play early. That's what happened on the sixth interception of Geno Smith's career.
The Jets came out in the shotgun with the 11 personnel grouping, and the Bills matched with a nickel defense. The throw was intended to be a quick hit to Gates (circled in yellow), running a five-yard slant route on the left side.
Smith took the snap and dropped back, looking at Gates the whole time. This allowed linebacker Kiko Alonso (circled in red) to get a jump on the ball.
Smith made Alonso's job easy by staying on his first and only read. Alonso may also be a rookie, but he has sharp instincts in coverage and made the right decision by breaking on the pass as Gates broke across the field behind him.
Smith got the pass off in just 1.99 seconds, and there was no pressure in his face. He had enough time and protection to go through his progressions. This is a rookie mistake.
Seventh interception: Week 4 vs. Tennessee Titans
Cause: bad throw and decision by the quarterback
Smith nearly got his receiver killed on his first interception against the Tennessee Titans, in what would amount to a four-turnover game.
The Jets set up play action with the 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end, two wide receivers) with the two backs lined up behind Smith in the I-formation.
Both backs were in protection after the play fake, as was the tight end, as the Jets tried to set up a big play to either Stephen Hill (circled in yellow) or Santonio Holmes. They only had the two receivers running routes, though, and Smith had no outlet if neither of them were open—which ended up being the case.
The Titans sent five defenders on the initial rush, with a sixth joining the fray once the backs stayed in the backfield. Even with so many players in protection, Smith still ended up feeling the pressure from the backside. That being said, Smith still had 3.01 seconds to get this pass away.
He threw for the post, but that's a hard throw to make with the safety in Cover 1, because he's right there to make a hit over the middle. That's exactly what happened, and Hill was hit hard as Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner jumped in front of the pass and made the interception. A deeper throw might have been complete, but at worst, it would have fallen to the turf.
Smith didn't have much to work with on this play, given the design leaving him only two options. With neither of them open upon initial read, he should probably have just taken the sack. The quarterback's job is to make the best play possible, even if that means eating the ball behind the line of scrimmage.
Eighth interception: Week 4 vs. Tennessee Titans
Cause: bad decision by the quarterback, great defensive play (coverage)
Geno had no business making this throw.
The Jets lined up in the 11 personnel grouping, with running back Bilal Powell flanking Smith to the left and three receivers out right.
Holmes (circled in yellow) ran a curl route on the offense's left and was well-covered by Verner.
Come to think of it, "well-covered" might be an understatement. "Blanketed" works better. There was no way this pass would be complete.
Smith got the ball off in 2.01 seconds after the snap and once again didn't come off his first read—despite that read being completely covered. There was no pressure, so Smith could have spent a bit more time in the pocket making his decision.
Instead, he hastily pulled the trigger and hoped his receiver could bail him out.
As the primary read, it's Holmes' responsibility to win this matchup. However, as the quarterback, it's Smith's job to make another read if the first one isn't open.
Ninth interception: Week 6 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Cause: bad decision by the quarterback
So many bad things happened on this play, it's impossible to assign blame to one player.
The Jets came out in the 12 personnel package with one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers. The Steelers matched with their base 3-4 defense and came out in a Cover 2 shell.
Jeremy Kerley was covered by a linebacker on the play , and ran straight downfield into double coverage. Hindsight is 20 -20, but perhaps Smith could have audibled Kerley into a different route to exploit the mismatch.
Tight end Konrad Reuland (circled in yellow) motioned from the left side of the formation to the right .
He ran down field while covered by cornerback William Gay, who held him up a bit outside of the five-yard window and through him off his route. Smith was likely expecting Reuland to be able to get past Gay, and threw the ball toward the pylon, where the tight end might have been had he been given a free release.
Instead, safety Ryan Clark was waiting right in the area of the pass and intercepted it.
There were three defenders in the vicinity of the pass as Smith was throwing it, and there was very little chance of Cumberland getting there before one of those three Steelers defenders.
Geno had 3.4 seconds in the pocket to make his decision. No one was open, so it's quite possible that any decision here would have been the wrong one.
10th interception: Week 6 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Cause: bad protection by the offensive line, great defensive play (pressure)
The Jets were still down by two possessions when Smith threw his second and final pick of the day against the Steelers.
The Jets came out with the 11 personnel, with three players running routes on the right. Three receivers ran a route that finished in the end zone. The Steelers played man coverage with a Cover 2 shell on the back end.
A lot went wrong on this play: No one got open, the offensive line let a defender break through and Geno threw the pass while being decked.
He had just shy of three seconds to make a decision, and with better protection, he might have been able to deliver the pass to Cumberland, who was coming open in the back of the end zone at the time.
Five bad decisions, four bad throws, one bad read, two bad protections, five great defensive plays (three pressure, two coverage)
That adds up to more than 10, but that's because sometimes, more than one person deserves credit, and more than one person deserves blame.
It's important that we remember, while these interceptions all look equal on the stat sheet, they are not equal in how to correct them.
Smith is guilty of some bad decisions, but sometimes, he just needs to trust his arm. We've seen him chuck the ball downfield with regularity this year, and he's been one of the NFL's most accurate quarterbacks in that sense (53.3 accuracy percentage on throws of 20 yards or more), but he still dramatically underthrows receivers at times. He has the arm talent, but sometimes, things just don't all click exactly as they should—that's to be expected for a rookie.
Even some of his bad throws were just a result of poor timing or bad decisions.
With time and experience, those should go away. Whether they do will decide whether Smith reaches his full potential as an NFL quarterback.
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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