Smith played most of the first half in the Jets' 25-17 win against the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday night. The Jets offense wasn't getting much help from the line, with two penalties each on guards Willie Colon and Brian Winters and tackle Breno Giacomini in the first half.
Smith also got a raw deal on his interception, when his receiver ran his route the wrong way and allowed cornerback Terence Newman to break on the pass.
Despite that, Smith led the Jets to three scoring drives on six possessions.
Some context is needed: Smith got some help from his defense and from the Bengals defense as well.
That said, it's impossible to ignore the progress Smith showed.
He was efficient in the pocket and deadly outside of it. He finished 10-of-13 passing (76.9 percent) for 98 yards (7.5 yards per attempt) and an interception. He added four carries for 20 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Mike Vick went 5-of-9 for 70 yards and a touchdown, adding 16 rushing yards on two attempts. Rookie Tajh Boyd managed just six yards passing on 1-of-5.
Smith's dual-threat ability could be crucial to his development as an NFL quarterback.
From the Pocket
Job description No. 1 for any quarterback is to be efficient as a passer.
In 2013, Smith fell short in that respect on several occasions, and the Jets suffered as a result. It wasn't a perfect night for Smith, but he showed an ability to not only go through his progressions and find an open receiver but also to fit the ball into small spaces.
Smith took too many chances like that as a rookie, which led to his 21 interceptions, but not every receiver is going to be wide open. Sometimes a quarterback has to fit the pass into a tight window.
A younger quarterback may have been afraid to take the chance on this pass over the middle (above) to rookie tight end Jace Amaro, but Smith was able to get the ball to his big-bodied target on a stick route. The tight end then turned toward the pass and caught it in stride, then fought through traffic to pick up some extra yards.
A needle-threading throw over the middle is certainly impressive, but just as noteworthy was Smith's patience to find open receivers.
He hit Jeremy Kerley on a post pattern over the middle for a 21-yard pickup after the diminutive slot receiver dusted the Bengals cornerback at the line of scrimmage. Smith also hit wide receiver Greg Salas on a short pass over the middle that gained 20 yards.
Let's not forget, while Smith did some of his best work against some members of the Bengals' second-team defense, he also didn't have a few of his top offensive weapons in Eric Decker, Chris Ivory and Jeff Cumberland.
With Smith playing this efficiently from the pocket, the offense should continue to improve as those players return from injury. Of course, they'll get help from Smith for more than just his abilities as a passer.
Knowing When to Tuck It and Run
There's a right way and a wrong way to use your athleticism as a quarterback.
Scrambling should not be the first choice, and it usually won't be the second or third option, either.
Some young and athletic quarterbacks don't have the patience to go through their progressions—Jake Locker and EJ Manuel come to mind. Time after time, Smith showed the ability to go through his progressions and either find the open receiver or scramble if none were available.
One play that stuck out was when the Jets converted a 3rd-and-4 inside the red zone with an 11-yard run by Smith. But that was only after the second-year passer had already checked two reads.
Head coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg would have probably preferred Smith to slide in that situation rather than taking a big hit in the open field in the preseason, but he made the right decision to tuck it and run.
On the read-option run that gave New York its second touchdown of the night, the Jets should never be wary to run such a play as long as Smith keeps making the right read.
With the entire defense following running back Chris Johnson, Smith kept the ball for himself and ran off the left side. With no one in his way, he was able to walk in for the touchdown.
The Jets should not be afraid to let Smith carry the ball a bit more this season, but he must show an ability to slide and avoid the big hit.
The ground-and-pound mentality has defined the Jets offense in years past, as Ryan has preferred to base his unit around a consistent rushing attack rather than a high-flying aerial threat. Quite frankly, the Jets haven't had the quality under center to do things any differently than they've done them since Ryan took over in 2009.
With a three-headed backfield comprised of Johnson, Ivory and Bilal Powell, it's unlikely the offense will suddenly shift away from its tendency toward balance, and that's for the best. Even if Smith continues to build on the progress he showed against the Bengals, the Jets should still keep things balanced on offense.
They may not have to go to the extreme they went to last year when they ran the ball 493 times and threw it 480 times, but the less pressure that's on Smith, the better the offense will be.
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