Why Matt Simms Deserves a Fair Shot at the New York Jets Starting QB Spot

Philip SchawillieContributor IIIFebruary 6, 2014

Matt Simms (left) and Geno Smith. Will Simms get a chance at the starting quarterback job?
Matt Simms (left) and Geno Smith. Will Simms get a chance at the starting quarterback job?Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

Geno Smith has yet to convince experts that he deserves the New York Jets' starting quarterback job. So says ESPN New York's Rich Cimini, who asked 10 ex-players, analysts and talent evaluators about Smith during interviews before the Super Bowl. Cimini writes:

Hoping to get a sense of how non-Jets personnel feel about Geno Smith, I interviewed 10 experts throughout the week -- talent evaluators, analysts and former players-turned-analysts. The overwhelming consensus: He hasn't done enough to be anointed the Jets' franchise quarterback although many believe he deserves another shot with a better supporting cast.

Smith hasn't officially convinced his coaches, either. So expect a quarterback competition in 2014 between Smith and contenders yet unknown. One of them is already on the roster, Matt Simms. His 2013 accomplishments aren't the only reasons why Simms should compete for the job. It's also because of the questions those accomplishments left unanswered.


What Simms Accomplished in 2013

Table 1: 2013 Preseason Passing Statistics
Matt Simms44/594781/0103.6
Greg McElroy11/191451/099.7
Mark Sanchez28/423662/290.0
Geno Smith22/372461/354.6

Table 1 would have you believe that Simms dominated the Jets' 2013 preseason. It's actually a tribute to his pursuit of opportunity.

Simms arrived in training camp fourth on the Jets depth chart behind Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith and Greg McElroy. He reputedly had the strongest strongest arm in camp, but his weakness was accuracy. His place on the depth chart made it unlikely he'd get enough snaps to prove otherwise.

Ankle injuries to Geno Smith and Greg McElroy in the Jets' preseason opener changed that. Simms saw action in the Jets' final three preseason games. His most dramatic moment came against the Giants when he relieved an injured Mark Sanchez, who had himself relieved an ineffective Smith, and led the Jets to a comeback win. That earned him the start against Philadelphia, where he went the distance and won, 27-20.

In that game, Simms completed 33 of 44 passes (75.0 percent) for 285 yards. His 19 rushing yards on three carries put him over 300 yards in total offense. That performance earned him a 91.6 passer rating. It's only that low because Simms threw no touchdown passes and executed a conservative game plan, averaging 6.5 yards per pass attempt.

ESPN New York's Ian Begley called Simms' performance "arguably the best performance by a Jet quarterback this preseason." The Associated Press (h/t ESPN) raved, "Matt Simms might have answered at least one part of the New York Jets' quarterback question."

Simms' preseason completion percentage was 74.6, sufficient to dispel concerns about his accuracy. He became Smith's backup after McElroy's release. The camp body had made the team.


The Questions That Remain

Table 2: 2013 Regular-season Passing Statistics
Geno Smith247/4433,04612/2166.5
Matt Simms16/311561/163.4

Despite their sparkle, Simms' preseason numbers aroused skepticism. He compiled them against players who were fighting for jobs, not against starters. It's also true that he was throwing to the same caliber of player, to receivers like Ryan Spadola and Michael Campbell instead of Jeremy Kerley and Santonio Holmes. Could Simms maintain his preseason performance level against NFL starters?

During the regular season, Simms got three chances to answer that question. The results were inconclusive. 

Table 2 shows Simms' regular-season numbers. They seem to show that Simms regressed. He seems to have resumed his inaccurate ways.

He barely eclipsed a 50 percent completion rate, hitting 16 of 31 passes. He threw for one touchdown and one interception, modest results but superior to Smith's 12 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions. His 63.4 passer rating fell short of Smith's rating of 66.5.

Mobility was the one aspect of Simms' game that showed improvement. During preseason, Simms ran five times for 17 yards, averaging 3.4 yards per carry. His regular-season rushing numbers were five carries for 37 yards, 7.4 yards per carry. Smith averaged 5.1 yards per carry, running 72 times for 366 yards.

Simms had opportunities to make us forget about Geno Smith. His appearance at Buffalo, where he went 4-for-6 for 60 yards and a touchdown, came closest to his preseason form. In appearances against Cincinnati and Miami, he fell short.

Simms has since signed a new one-year contract. The Jets behave like they want him around but won't make a long-term commitment. Maybe his 2013 performance left them wondering which Matt Simms was closer to the genuine article: the dazzling Simms from the preseason or the so-so Simms from the regular season.

Maybe Simms showed the coaches that he doesn't have what it takes to be an NFL starter. He still should get the chance to show a wider audience on a more level playing field.

Simms' appearances in 2013 were strictly mop-up duty. He was there to kill time and save Geno Smith from risking injury in lost causes. That's not how to evaluate a potential starting quarterback.

A proper evaluation calls for several things that Simms did not get:

  • Game plans that assume he is starting: Simms only got that in 2013's fourth preseason game. In 2014, he should start either the first game or second game, with a game plan that suits his skills. He'll get at least one or two series against opponents' starters.
  • Repetitions with the first team: One reason for Simms' preseason success may have been working with players with whom he was comfortable. His regular-season stints did not give him that comfort. He must gain as much familiarity with the starters during practice as any other competitor for the starting quarterback job.
  • An equal playing field: All contenders for the Jets starting quarterback job need the same quantity and quality of preseason snaps, both in practices and in games.

If fans and media don't believe that Simms got a fair shot this preseason and Simms repeats last preseason's performance, whoever wins the starting job had better have a good year. Should the Jets not make the playoffs, it had better not be the quarterback's fault. Otherwise, there will be another outcry for Simms to get the starting job for which he did not compete.

Making Simms an equal contender for the Jets starting quarterback job isn't primarily for his benefit. It's for the team's. If Simms wins the battle, he deserves congratulations. He will have demonstrated his capacity for self-improvement once again. If someone else wins, that's all right too. Matt Simms' admirers will know that he had a fair shot, left all he had on the field and lost to a better man.

Source for statistics unless otherwise cited: NewYorkJets.com

Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid.