As much praise that was showered on Smith after last week's comeback win over the Falcons, rookie quarterback Geno Smith is sure to get just as much blame for engineering an offense that produced a measly six points in front of their home crowd.
The quarterback will always get the bulk of the blame for a loss, but there are a few built-in excuses for Smith that would help explain why he was so ineffective this week. He was without two of his favorite receiving options in Santonio Holmes and Kellen Winslow. His usually solid pass protection allowed three sacks and forced Smith to hurry several other throws.
Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that he was facing Dick LeBeau-coached defense that has had tremendous success against rookie quarterbacks:
While all of these factors certainly played a part in the Jets' offensive woes, how much does it absolve Geno Smith from his crucial errors in critical situations that ultimately cost the Jets the game?
Surface-level analysis suggests that the Jets missed out on their chance to win the game because of two poorly timed interceptions, such as this one into triple coverage near the end zone:
As costly as those interceptions were, to say that the Jets lost the game simply because of those two throws would be inaccurate. The truth is, the game was lost in the failed drives that never allowed the Jets to get near the end zone in the first place.
While the depleted wide receiving corps is an easy target for blame as to why Smith's play declined so much after one week, the fully healthy, veteran offensive line had as much to do with Smith's struggles as the receivers getting open.
Through the first five games, the Jets have been rather solid in pass protection, making up for Geno's tendency to take a bit too long to get rid of the ball.
However, their performance picking up blitzes and stunts was a major factor in the Jets inability to sustain drives.
On this first-quarter play on a third down, the Steelers are set to bring five rushers. Rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones is standing up over center, but he will stunt outside to try and get pressure into the "B" gap between the guard (Willie Colon) and the tackle (Austin Howard).
The ball is snapped, and the Jets are actually able to get Jeff Cumberland matched up with a linebacker in coverage. He has a step of separation with a wide-open field to work with after the catch.
All that needs to happen is for Smith to have just enough time to deliver an accurate pass—which does not happen.
Instead, the stunting Jones is able to run right by Willie Colon, who is slow in his reaction to the stunt.
As a result, Smith never sees the wide-open Cumberland as he drops his eyes to look at the oncoming pressure.
This forces Smith to run outside of the pocket and throw the ball away to avoid a sack.
Had the protection been able to hold up for another second longer, this could have resulted in a huge play for the Jets that would have given them another scoring opportunity. Instead, they are forced to waste a drive.
No One's Open
The Jets' pass protection was less than stellar on the majority of the failed passing attempts, but the fact that the Jets did not have the personnel at the receiver position to make up for Smith's shortened time in the pocked only compounded their issues.
Here, the Jets are just looking to pick up the first down with the use of crossing patters to beat man coverage.
The pass protection is adequate, but not a single receiver is able to get open without a defender nearby ready to make a play on the ball:
Geno could have thrown a risky pass to Mike Goodson, but he would have been immediately surrounded by one of the three nearby Pittsburgh defenders before he would have been near the first-down marker.
Some of this can be based on play design—after all, the Jets did not send anyone deep to stretch out the defense. Still, the Jets needed just one man to beat their coverage, and none of them were able to do it.
When is it Geno Fault?
While Smith was hardly in the best position to succeed thanks to breakdowns with his supporting cast, he missed plenty of chances to make plays down the field when he was given the opportunity beyond the two obvious interceptions.
Here, he misses a chance to hit Cumberland over the middle with the linebacker moving in the opposite direction in coverage:
Cumberland was bracketed but Williams underneath wasn't in position to make the play if Geno throws it on target. pic.twitter.com/wMHlKl06Xz— Gonzalo Estrade (@PFF_Gonzalo) October 15, 2013
While Cumberland being open here was not the most obvious throw in the world to make, as there were two defenders in the vicinity, this is a prime example of the Jets suffering from the lack of a veteran mind at the quarterback position.
A rookie quarterback, like Smith, sees the two defenders and immediately looks away. A veteran quarterback would have seen the play developing based on how the players were moving, and likely would have taken a chance on getting a big play.
The good news is, all of these mistakes will likely get better over the coming weeks. Soon enough, the Jets will get Santonio Holmes back to help out their receiving corps. The personnel along the offensive line will not change, but based on their performance over the past five weeks, this week was more of an anomaly than a trend of decreasing production.
Most importantly, Geno Smith will continue to get experience that cannot be manufactured with any kind of scheme. With time, he will begin to make throws that hide mistakes that his teammates are making rather than create more problems with poor decisions.
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