What We Learned from Jets QB Geno Smith's 2013 Season

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What We Learned from Jets QB Geno Smith's 2013 Season
Alan Diaz/Associated Press
Jets QB Geno Smith (above) hopes to build off a hot finish to his rookie season.

The New York Jets' 2013 season often took on the personality of its quarterback: flashing brilliance at times, mired with inconsistency at other times. 

In the NFL, it's never about what you did last year. It's about what you do this year and in future years; However, players must learn from the past in order to succeed in the future.

Geno Smith showed the ability to lead an offense at times in 2013, and he has warranted continued (if temporary) faith as the future of the franchise. He must build off last year, improving in key areas that held him back as a rookie. 

In order to paint the most accurate picture possible, I reviewed each of Geno Smith's throws from the 2013 season. Here's a link to the raw data. Now, let's get a closer look at where Geno excelled and where he struggled in 2013.

 

Route

Raw statistics measure only the result, providing a context-free, process-free look at completions, attempts and completion percentage. The process is an important factor in the result, and the route being run by the receiver is one of the keys in the process of a pass attempt being completed or falling harmlessly to the turf.

Here's a look at each of Smith's aimed passes, broken down by the route run by Smith's intended target.

Geno Smith throws, by route (aimed passes only)
Route Comp Att Comp % Yds YPA TD INT Drop Rate
Checkdown 5 15 33.3 46 3.07 0 1 3 14.86
Circle 5 9 55.5 34 3.78 0 0 1 64.12
Comeback 9 16 56.3 110 6.88 0 2 0 38.02
Corner 7 20 35 167 8.35 1 0 3 82.71
Cross 12 17 70.6 188 11.06 0 1 2 82.48
Drag 8 10 80 80 8 0 0 1 100
Fade 9 24 37.5 287 11.96 3 2 0 88.02
Flare 25 31 80.6 188 6.06 0 0 2 91.94
Freelance (scramble) 1 2 50 18 9 0 0 1 81.25
Go 7 10 70 166 16.6 2 1 1 112.5
Hitch 25 40 62.5 267 6.68 0 1 4 71.56
In 15 20 75 142 7.1 0 1 1 73.3
Out 17 29 58.6 195 6.72 1 2 3 61.71
Out-and-up 1 4 25 40 10 0 0 1 68.75
Pivot 9 14 64.3 71 5.07 2 0 1 116.37
Post 5 12 41.7 111 9.25 0 2 0 35.76
Screen 34 38 89.5 230 6.05 0 1 1 80.92
Seam 2 6 33.3 38 6.33 1 2 0 56.25
Shovel pass 2 2 100 4 2 0 0 0 79.17
Skinny post 5 15 33.3 155 10.33 1 3 0 55.56
Slant 17 40 42.5 178 4.45 1 2 7 43.54
Sluggo 1 2 50 38 19 0 0 0 95.83
Stick 15 21 71.4 187 8.9 0 0 3 98.71
Swing 10 15 66.6 60 4 0 0 2 74.31
Wheel 2 3 66.6 28 9.33 0 0 0 96.53

Source: Bleacher Report research

Screens were a big part of the Jets offense in 2013, and they did a good job of being balanced in the screen game. Smith completed 15 screens to wide receivers, 16 to running backs and three to tight ends.

That's a testament to Marty Mornhinweg for tailoring the offense to Smith without becoming predictable. As a senior at West Virginia, Smith may have padded his stats a bit with screens, completing 112 of them, according to Sharon Katz of ESPN Stats & Information. They also accumulated 2,459 yards after the catch (4,292 total passing yards). 

Of course, the Jets had to scale the screen game back a bit, but they will have to be more effective if they want to continue to implement it—only 10 of their screens gained 10 or more yards. 

They found other ways to give Smith some easy reads.

Source: NFL Game Rewind

Here is one particular route combination that appeared frequently. The "X" receiver on the far side of the field runs a vertical route and one or two receivers on the inside (sometimes a slot receiver, sometimes a tight end, sometimes one of each and sometimes two slot receivers) run a five-yard out route toward the sideline.

This combination is designed to free up the sideline to complete one of the two out routes. 

One surprising area of struggle for Smith was on slants. It is supposed to be a high-percentage throw, but Smith completed only 17 of 40 attempted slants (42.5 percent). If Jets receivers had hung onto their seven drops (the most of any route), Smith would have completed 24 of 40 slants (60 percent). Some of those could have been put in a better spot (two were ahead of the receiver, one was behind) but four of the seven drops were perfectly placed passes.

 

Formations

Another interesting tidbit to come from the ESPN Stats & Info article linked above:

"Smith attempted over 96 percent of his passes out of a shotgun or pistol formation in his career [at West Virginia]. The NFL is trending towards more spread tendencies, but the average NFL quarterback still attempted over a third of his passes after taking a snap from under center."

Geno Smith throws, by alignment
QB alignment Comp Att Comp % Yds YPA TD INT Drop Rate
Center 34 68 50 224 3.29 1 2 4 50.1
Shotgun 204 358 56.9 2605 7.27 11 19 31 68
Pistol 9 16 56.25 112 7 0 0 1 78.1
Wide receiver (Wildcat) 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 39.6

Source: Bleacher Report research

As a rookie, only 68 of Smith's 443 pass attempts (15.3 percent) came from under center. The rest were from either a shotgun or pistol formation (with one exception, on a reverse to Smith, who lined up at receiver before taking a handoff from Bilal Powell in the Wildcat).

One concern with Smith coming out of West Virginia was his lack of experience taking snaps from center. As a result, he does not have a lot of practice with his footwork, which is sloppy at times.

Source: NFL Game Rewind

Notice here, he doesn't take steps so much as he bounces back in the pocket. 

Shotgun and pistol formations can mask some footwork issues, since the quarterback can simply take the snap and already be in position to read the defense. In order for the Jets to open up the whole offense, Smith will have to improve his footwork and his ability to read a defense while dropping back to throw. That being said, the Jets can't expect Smith to get better in those areas unless he has real-time practice in games.

 

Under Pressure

Sometimes, Smith's poor footwork was a result of pressure around him. It negatively impacted his performance.

Geno Smith under pressure
Pressure Comp Att Comp % Yds YPA TD INT Drop Rate
Yes 95 207 45.9 1172 5.66 3 7 16 54.7
No 152 235 64.7 1856 7.9 9 14 20 76.8

Source: Bleacher Report research

It can be difficult to get a pass in the right place when there's a defender standing in your way when trying to step into a throw.

Source: NFL Game Rewind

That's what happened here against the Miami Dolphins

Right guard Willie Colon got bull rushed back into Smith's lap, diminishing his ability to step into the throw. Notice how Smith's front foot takes a short step before he can release the pass. That results in him getting less than the ideal amount of arm behind the throw. 

He was still able to complete the pass, but the effects are clear.

Sometimes, it's a matter of holding onto the ball too long.

Source: NFL Game Rewind

If he had gotten the ball out quicker on this play, the pressure may have not had a chance to close in on him and bring him down for the sack. 

When he held the ball for more than 2.5 seconds, he was under pressure 196 of 281 times he dropped back to throw (69.8 percent), and he completed 52.6 percent of his passes when holding the ball that long. When he held the ball for 2.5 seconds or fewer, he was pressured 80 of 234 drop-backs (34.1 percent), completing 59.1 percent of his passes.

When Smith can throw in rhythm, he is very effective. When things start to break down, that's where he needs to improve. 

 

Play action

One theme I kept noticing was Geno Smith's play-action. It's not very misleading—that is to say, he has to work on being more convincing with the fake in order for it to be effective.

Here's an example of one of Smith's early-season play-action fakes. 

Source: NFL Game Rewind

Notice that the ball doesn't stay extended very long, and he's holding it out with both hands. The play-action fake should look identical to a hand-off until the very moment at which the ball is supposed to be nestled in the arms of the running back.

For comparison, here's an example of a handoff from the same game.

Source: NFL Game Rewind

To be fair, Smith's play-action fakes got better over the course of the season. Here's an example of an effective play-action.

Source: NFL Game Rewind

Notice how the linebackers are frozen, forced to come up to defend the run in case the running back gets the ball. They are caught out of position by the apparent run, and Smith buys himself some room to make the throw.

By the numbers, Smith was not very good on play-action passes.

Geno Smith throws, by play action
Play action? Comp Att Comp % Yds YPA TD INT Drop Rate
Yes 51 95 53.7 631 6.64 1 4 5 60.5
No 196 348 56.3 2404 6.91 11 17 31 67.9

Source: Bleacher Report research

In fact, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Smith's passer rating ranked 39th out of 41 qualifying quarterbacks. His completion percentage ranked 37th.

As a team, the Jets had the league's fifth-most rush attempts. Some of those were Wildcat runs, some were read-option runs by Smith, but as a running football team, the Jets should have been much more effective in the play-action passing game.

This is easily correctable. Smith just has to concentrate on "selling" the fake in a more convincing manner—by making it look like an actual handoff, instead of just something he's doing instead of handing it off—and he could improve dramatically in this area.

 

Distance

Geno Smith throws, by distance traveled
Yards downfield Comp Att Comp % Yds YPA TD INT Drop Rate
Behind LOS 42 53 79.2 260 4.9 0 0 6 87.1
0-9 130 213 61 1118 5.2 6 9 23 66.6
10-19 48 91 52.7 798 8.8 2 5 5 67
20+ 27 58 46.6 852 14.7 4 7 2 76.4

Source: Bleacher Report research

Smith helped pad his stats with good numbers throwing short and behind the line of scrimmage. 

However, some of his most impressive work came on deep passes. 

We've mentioned play action passing and footwork as areas where Smith needs work. It all came together on this play against the Buffalo Bills in Week 11.

Source: NFL Game Rewind

Smith drives the ball to Santonio Holmes on the sluggo (slant-and-go) route, hitting the receiver in stride despite a little pressure in his face.

A subtle play action, solid footwork to get back in the pocket and a beautiful throw downfield.

These are the kinds of flashes we saw from Smith on a semi-regular basis. With an increased attention to detail, better chemistry with his receivers and a better understanding of the offense, Smith could soar in 2014. 

 

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