While nothing is official yet, it appears the New York Jets will start Geno Smith 6 days from now in their regular season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If the pre-season was any indication, Smith isn’t quite ready to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. Regardless, the Jets are going to need to roll with him. How can Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg protect his rookie quarterback and maximize the Jets’ chances for offensive success against a rebuilt Tampa defense?
1. Comfort in Familiarity – In time, Smith needs to become more adept at working directly under center. However, as of right now, he is much more comfortable in the shotgun. Morhinweg needs to cater to this and keep Smith in the gun as much as possible. Let him execute some of the drops and reads that he succeeded with at West Virginia. There is no shame in playing to young player’s strengths, particularly a young quarterback.
2. Screen – Screen – Screen – Part of playing to Smith’s strengths that matches up well with something Mornhinweg loves to do anyway is a heavy usage of the screen game. It is smart to have Smith throwing high percentage passes and there should be nothing that is higher percentage than screens (unless the quarterback is Mark Sanchez).
3. Appropriate Targeting – When focusing on the screen game, Chris Ivory can provide an explosive element out of the backfield. The book on Ivory is that he isn’t a factor in the passing game but he was never really given the chance in New Orleans. He received some looks in the pre-season and caught the ball fine. Bilal Powell will get his looks on screens and checkdowns but Ivory is the guy who can rip off a 20-30 yard play if the screen is executed properly. Wide receiver screens, smoke screens and quick hitches should be heavily used as well. Both Santonio Holmes (who is expected to play) and Jeremy Kerley can make people miss in space and one of them will be free of Darrelle Revis at all times. Clyde Gates also has terrific speed and may be able to turn a simple screen into a big play. Finally, don’t be hesitant to incorporate Kellen Winslow Jr into the screen game as both a tight end or H-Back.
4. Outside The Numbers – Smith’s three interceptions against the Giants all came when attacking the middle of the field. You can’t ignore this area of the field entirely but there will be less congestion if Smith is pushing the ball down the field outside of the numbers, which he has the arm strength for. Mornhinweg will inevitably take some shots and when he does, it needs to be down the sideline where hopefully the Jets can target away from Darrelle Revis. Stephen Hill will likely be the primary deep threat but after hitting Holmes or Kerley on a few quick hitters, they may be able to sneak one over the top.
5. Balance – The Jets need to rely on their running game, everybody knows that. Tampa is going to stack the box and the Jets weren’t that effective running the football in the pre-season. They need to find the balance of protecting Smith with an active running game but not stubbornly running the football too much and being too conservative if it is ineffective. Mornhinweg will need to get creative. The Wildcat still remains a part of the Jets offense (last team standing in the NFL, seemingly) and I’m sure Powell will get a handful of snaps in it. There wasn’t much shown out of the formation in the pre-season, just straight ahead dives off the fake Jet-Sweep handoffs, hopefully a few more wrinkles will be worked in and the Jets can pop a big play or two. They will need both Powell and Ivory to get at least 12-18 total touches and keep the chains moving. The more 3rd and manageable situations Smith is in, the better.