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What Needs to Change for Geno Smith and the Jets Offense to Get It Together?

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What Needs to Change for Geno Smith and the Jets Offense to Get It Together?
USA Today

It really doesn't matter if the New York Jets give Geno Smith another opportunity to prove he's a viable quarterback, or at least that he has the potential to blossom into one. They're not going to get a real answer, anyway.

Without any weapons, and without a coaching staff that can help him manage the game, it's just not possible to fairly assess Smith.  

The good news for the Jets is that there's no shot clock on their decision; Smith has three years remaining on his rookie deal with an average salary of $1.25 million—a drop in the bucket of a yearly $123 million cap. They could easily move on from him tomorrow if they wanted to, but they don't have to, and they shouldn't.

He could be kept around as part of a quarterback competition—and after two years of half-competitions, here's hoping the Jets go into the competition without a predetermined winner this time.

The bad news for the Jets is that their problems run much deeper than the quarterback position alone.

Smith took blame for his performance against the Dolphins in the Jets' 23-3 loss on Sunday, but although he didn't throw his teammates under the bus, he managed to remind the world that he's not the only one struggling out there. 

"We had a tough loss today and it's a team game," he said. "My confidence in myself is always going to be sky-high. But at the same time, I've got to realize that as a team we didn't get it done today, so there's a lot of looking in the mirror we've got to do. Individually, I've got to look at myself in the mirror and figure out ways to get better."

Here's one way he could get better: How about the front office finding and developing some skill-position talent on offense?

The Jets haven't had a 1,000-yard receiver since Jerricho Cotchery in 2007. They haven't had the quarterback talent to maximize their receivers, but Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon (1,249 yards, seven touchdowns, league-leading 19.5 yards per reception) is just one example of a receiver emerging in spite of an abysmal quarterback situation around him.

Between Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill, Greg Salas and David Nelson, it might be hard to find a quarterback who could do better than Smith's 1-to-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio over the past seven games while throwing passes to the same receivers.

The offensive line isn't helping much, either.

New York Jets offensive line
Metric Value NFL Rank
Pass-blocking efficiency (PFF) 74.8 23
Pressure % (PFF) 43 27/30
Sack % (PFF) 23 27/30
Stuffed run % (FO) 17 6
2nd level yards (FO) 0.89 29
Open field yards (FO) 0.75 15
Adjusted sack rate (FO) 9.6 30

ProFootballFocus.com, FootballOutsiders.com

In fact, Smith has been one of the most frequently pressured quarterbacks in the league. Granted, Smith has held on to the ball longer than most other quarterbacks, and ranks among the five highest averages in time in the pocket whether he attempts a pass, is sacked or scrambles, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He might not hold on to the ball so long if his receivers were getting open on a consistent basis. 

It all connects.

The offensive line has even struggled in the running game. Don't be misled by the team's 10th overall ranking in rushing yards. They haven't been stuffed for a loss or no gain on many of their runs, but their running game has not been explosive, and their backs have not consistently been given an opportunity to get to the second level of the  defense.

In that respect, Chris Ivory may be the only true building block for the future on the Jets offense in terms of skill-position talent. He ranks second in yards after contact per rush attempt and is the seventh-most elusive back in the NFL, according to PFF.

On the offensive line, the list of building blocks took a slight hit this season. Center Nick Mangold and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson have both been knocked around more than usual. The two 2006 first-round picks are still just 29 years old, but they have been in the league for eight years. Each one has four years left on their contract and big money: Mangold at $7.15 million per year, Ferguson at $9.2 million per year.

The younger players are faring even worse. There is time for left guard Brian Winters to develop into a serviceable starter, but that ship has sailed on right guard Vladimir Ducasse. The Jets could be shopping for as many as three new linemen this offseason.

Clearly, the issues expand far beyond Geno's poor play at quarterback. The situation in New York is so dire, it would be tough to imagine any quarterback being successful. 

On that note, while Matt Simms is the only "real" alternative right now, he's not a viable one. Besides, until the Jets correct major issues across the board on offense, they will be putting their quarterback—whomever it may be—into an unfavorable situation that could stunt their growth.

Jets quarterbacks under Rex Ryan
Player Years Cmp % Rank YPA Rank Rate Rank
Mark Sanchez 2010-2011 55.81 33/35 6.44 32/35 76.8 29/35
Mark Sanchez 2012 54.3 30/32 6.4 30/32 66.9 31/32
Geno Smith 2013 54.7 33/35 6.9 26/35 60.4 35/35

Pro-Football-Reference.com

We've seen it from Mark Sanchez, and now, we're seeing it with Smith.

The one constant is Rex. He has somehow dodged the bullet twice, with his offensive coordinator taking the fall in both 2011 and 2012. Now, the Jets head coach is becoming synonymous with bad quarterback play in an era where no position is more important. That's a bad stigma, the fate of which no coach can survive for long.

Smith could very well develop into a good quarterback—less than 12 months ago, he was considered the best prospect in the 2013 draft class—but it's going to take a lot of effort from a lot of people. General manager John Idzik has a big job on his hands this offseason.

What needs to change?

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Smith's shortcomings can't simply be forgotten with a bunch of new shiny toys in the cabinet. There's no guarantee he'd do any better with an improved offensive line or receivers. That's why nothing should be guaranteed for Smith from here on out. He can't simply be inserted back into the lineup—not after being benched. His confidence has been taking hits to the rib cage for the past month-plus, and if benching him wasn't the haymaker that put him on the canvas, it certainly was a heavy enough blow to put him on the ropes.

It would be unfair to draw a final conclusion on Smith's viability as an NFL starter based on the 2013 season. He should get another shot at the quarterback job at some point, and whenever that happens, the circumstances must be significantly different than they are right now, or else the results will likely be the same.

 

 

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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