How Marty Mornhinweg Can Protect Geno Smith In His NFL Debut

How New York Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg can protect rookie quarterback Geno Smith in his first NFL start

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.

Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the VP of Social Media at Whistle Sports

  • Landon

    Geno has the arm strength to throw the ball down the sideline. The Jets need to use a lot of Play Actions to draw the LBs/ Safeties into the box so the WR can have 1 on 1 match ups and Geno can have easier reads.

    I have a feeling they are going to blitz the hell out of Geno so he can’t be afraid to throw the ball away, or take off and run with it. Rollouts and bootlegs to stay away from the pressure and allow him to use his legs to make some plays when needed

    I think a quick temp / no huddle offense might be the right way to go.

  • KAsh

    I am finally back in New York and will have a stable internet connection to watch the Giants game (but thank you LGA for the 6 hour-plus layover in Chicago!) so I cannot say what worked for Geno in the preseason. But I do remember from his college games that his accuracy suffered due to nervousness. Marty needs to get him at least one or two consecutive successful drives before he can really start to air the ball out. The more parts of the game break down, the worse he operates what remains.

    So I would say that the line and the RBs need to come up big. And the passes Geno does throw need to be dead on and draw the coverage closer to the LoS before Geno can start showing off his arm strength.

  • joeydefiant

    Tampa Bay is going to be game planning for screen passes and short dump offs. If thats the best Marty can come up with we arre doomed. Geno needs to come out firing with the deep passes to make some room for the short game to work. You cant go into the game scaed he is going to throw some picks. Even if he throws some picks on deep passes so what. It will stop them from loading the box and the center of the field.

  • John C

    I agree that Tampa will be geared to stop the run and screens. They will have to run them, but the Jets should also open it up on the sidelines, or deep posts, and limit the 15-20 yard crossing patterns, where Geno had trouble.

  • David J.

    I say send Hill deep often against Revis. Even a healthy Revis could not keep up with burners like Moss in their prime. Revis can defend just about any pass unless you throw it where he can’t get it. He may even blow a hamstring like he did in 2010 due to being out of “game shape”.

  • The dude abides

    Problem with screens is the O-line needs to be solid though. Im not sold on that. I agree bucs will be coming with pressure and trying to confuse Geno too. Quick slants, and draws. play action will be the go to play. I like the idea of shotgun but its not used by the NFL for a reason. The best for geno is protection.

  • John C

    I noticed in the Giants game that the Jets did run the majority of their plays with Geno from the shotgun. I’d assume they may do the same this week. When Geno did take the snap from under Center, he looked very “mechanical> on his fropback, almost like you might when learning to dance.

  • Mark Phelan

    I have a lot of confidence in MM! Can’t remember last time I said that about a Jets OC.