Many are assuming Mike Vick is going to waltz into the starting quarterback job for the New York Jets. However, if Geno Smith can replicate his play from the final month of the season and grow in the offseason the way he theoretically should, he is the frontrunner to start week 1.
The value of Smith’s final four games has been debated. There were home wins against the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns in there, which isn’t going to get a parade thrown. Regardless, the Browns had a top ten defense in the NFL last season and the other two games were on the road against a team playing for a playoff spot (Miami) and the #2 defense in the NFL (Carolina). Smith played Miami at home on December 1st, went 4/10 with 29 yards and a INT before being benched at halftime. 28 days later he faced the same Miami team, except in their building, and went 17/27 with 190 yards while adding 44 rushing yards and a touchdown.
In the final four games, Smith’s stat line was 68/116 (58%), 790 yards (197.5 per game), 4 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 186 rushing yards (46.5 per game) and 3 rushing touchdowns. For those who follow Pro Football Focus, they dropped this tidbit yesterday:
Just for fun – if Geno Smith played the first 3 months of the season the way he played the last his +28.8 PFF grade would trail only Manning
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) April 21, 2014
What was the primary difference between Smith in the final four weeks of the season and the previous four weeks before that? We touched on it an earlier article but having consistency and competent play at the wide receiver position was a big part of it. However, when focusing down on Smith specifically, a few things stand out:
Smith seemed hesitant to embrace his ability as a runner earlier in the year. He ran for more yards in the final four games combined and the same amount of touchdowns than he did in the previous twelve games combined. When the pocket broke down, Smith wouldn’t hesitate and take a sack or force the ball into coverage leading to a turnover, he would instead take off up-field for positive yardage. He had 29 rushing attempts in the final four games, compared to 30 in the previous eight games before that. It is always difficult for a defense to face a quarterback who can make something happen with his legs when the play breaks down. With six rushing touchdowns in 2013, Smith has already proven to be a valuable red-zone weapon as a runner.
Smith still has a ways to go here, yet there were signs of progress in the final four games. There was a better recognition of where pressure was coming from and finding the “hot” read or tweaking the play at the line to be ready for the blitz. Smith was only sacked five times over the course of the final four games and not once in the last two games. Part of that was better use of his legs but part of it was simply getting rid of the football quicker against the blitz. This is also a major reason Smith cut back on his turnovers, as he only had 2 interceptions in the final four games, after throwing 6 interceptions in the four games before that.
Playcalling and Tempo
Marty Mornhinweg did a nice job in the final four weeks of getting Geno Smith out of the pocket on rollouts, which also cut the field in half for his reads. He also let Smith pick up the tempo of the offense, as the team mixed in more no huddle and let Smith call plays from the line of scrimmage. Smith seemed more comfortable operating at the quicker pace and having less time to over-analyze things. He was very good in the two minute drill as a rookie and the Jets shouldn’t hesitate to mix in a few drives of up-tempo, no huddle each half.
Smith should take strides this offseason, He is now familiar with the offense and returns to work with the same offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. The weapons around him have already improved and we haven’t even hit the NFL Draft or training camp yet. There are no guarantees but being optimistic for Smith’s sophomore is reasonable.