Return to 7: vs Denver, 2014

The expected starter for the Jets is currently Geno Smith. There’s a lot of fans out there wincing at that name but are they right to? I’m looking back at Geno Smith’s performances from the moment he started to the end. Each post will focus more-so on the game at hand rather than the full picture of Geno Smith’s play but still keep the full picture in mind. All videos are posted on twitter in these two threads for Geno Smith’s 2013 and 2014.

The first thing to note is who’s playing on the Jets offense. By understanding the cast surrounding a player, you can start to take in what they are being dealt and how much of the responsibility falls on them.

The team’s main actors this week consist of Eric Decker, Greg Salas, Jeremy Kerley, Jeff Cumberland, and a Chris Ivory/Chris Johnson split. You’ll be reading this a lot if you go through this series but that’s an awful cast to try to pass the ball to. There’s no one denying that Decker is a great player however placed into the #1 role he’s a bit miscast. A teams #1 has to be an incredible athlete, dynamic, and technically skilled player. Decker fits one of those roles but the other two not as much. Beyond him isn’t much.

Greg Salas is a mess. He’s a great YAC threat who has trouble adjusting to throws and can’t run routes very well. Jeremy Kerley is a tiny 5’9 receiver who struggles to create separation. That combination of lacking size and a lack of route running to cover his athletic woes lead to more stress on the QB. Jeff Cumberland isn’t really good at anything. Athletic, sure; but his actual skillset is barely there. These players stress the QB by requiring high placement skills and not providing easy open targets to hit.

Outside of Decker, the best player in this offense is Jace Amaro. That even includes Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson, yes. Ivory in his 2013/2014 years isn’t the same player he became in 2015. He couldn’t keep his speed while cutting and he was unable to provide a consistent target in the passing game. Or consistent blocking. He was generally a liability if the ball would be in the air at any point while he was on the field.

Amaro isn’t an amazing player but unlike most of the others here, he at least tries. He’s got a huge catch radius and is willing to adjust for the ball. His size creates a mismatch for most players trying to stop him and it also provides a big body that bounces hits off of it. He gets YAC simply by being big. However, he also has the occasional untimely drop. You deal with the drops though, they’re overrated.

Beyond the receivers are the offensive line. D’Brickashaw Ferguson is already two years into his decline at this point. Brian Winters is taking time off his job as post #2 on the third turnstyle at the north entrance of Union Square station to volunteer as a Jets lineman. Nick Mangold is a great player, with a great beard, who unfortunately plays on the least impactful OL position in this game. Then you’ve got Willie Colon, holding machine, who continuously gets pushed around; which is better than Winters who just gets thrown aside often. Finally, Breno Giacomini, who just like Colon gets easily moved off his spot but unlike him also has to deal with speed rushers to make him look silly.

With this kind of team that lacks separation, that lacks blocking, that lacks talent, you would imagine that the gameplan would be to ease the OL’s burden and provide easy-win plays for the Jets receivers. I mean the Broncos have Demarcus Ware, Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson, and Von Miller all playing in this game. But no, that was not the Jets plan. Instead, the only quick passing game was a screen game that was easily blown up after the first quarter. Players were then left on their own to get open and Geno was left on his own to beat the oncoming rush and tight coverage. The Broncos have an all-star coverage unit containing Chris Harris Jr, Aqib Talib, Brandon Marshall, and TJ Ward playing behind that line of rabid dogs.

The Jets offense is out coached, out rostered, out played; out-matched. But somehow this game doesn’t turn into a blowout.

Let’s look at it.

The first play shows exactly what you’d expect to come out of this game. Players covered, Cumberland open but a player right behind him ready to tackle, and Von Miller removing Giacomini from the equation. On 3rd and 11, after two runs gaining a total of -1 yards, the starting drive ends.

The next drive is much different as Jace Amaro is brought in and featured. Gains of 15, 13, and a 2 yard touchdown cap off a long drive that’s made entirely off of Geno Smith’s arm and Jace Amaro’s ability to be big and catch.

The next drive shows the opposite, an issue i’ve seen from Geno Smith occasionally but one i’m not entirely sure is really there.

Every now and then Geno Smith will have moments of hesitation. Many people who are vehemently against him will say this is evidence of why he can’t be an NFL quarterback, but those people can’t prove that other young QBs don’t hesitate (they do) and that players in a situation with questionable talents don’t hesitate either (they do). However, because he does show this trait we can’t just assume it won’t be there when the talent improves or as he gets experienced. In the play above, Geno has a chance to take Jace Amaro up the seam but isn’t confident enough to throw the ball into it causing him to miss his shot. The end result is a deflection, probably out of his control, but the first part is the issue.

However, here’s an issue that is definitely part of Geno.

One of the biggest problems Geno has to deal with is the way he moves in the pocket. It’s like the visual representation of a Death Grips track, jumpy and unorganized. When its on it looks (sounds) great and when it’s not it looks (sounds) like a mess. His base is regularly without foundation and it hurts his ability to play in rhythm. On this play, as soon as the edge defender pressures Geno Smith, he begins to hop around. You can see his stance switch to a hop and then bounce back into another off-balance posture, neither of which he can throw out of. That’s damaging the offense. You need to constantly be under control of your own body in the pocket in order to always be ready to throw. Geno isn’t here, and thats why this happens.

The next play however, shows him doing everything right.

The introduction to this game already told you about the lacking separation Jeremy Kerley gets. This play shows that by example. It also shows how his size hinders his abilities. Smith has no choice but to leave this pocket after pressure flies up the middle and he immediately resets and throws. That throw is nearly perfect, but it’s not perfect enough to beat the coverage. That’s a normal part of Geno Smith’s first two years, throws that would be good enough to hit good talent but not good enough to help this talent.

Not long after, we get our third example of Smith’s hesitation. There’s an underlying issue here but finding the root is difficult because Smith has regularly shown the ability to hit plays on time- he’s just not doing it all the time. The problem is that he’s now failed to do it three times in the same area. One of those is not linked in this post, but available on the twitter thread.

Geno is strong at doing things like this though. Many people seem to hate his ability to rollout but I appreciate it even more after re-watching these seasons. The offense would’ve been significantly worse had Geno been a traditional pocket passer, since it’s rare that there’s a pocket at all in these two years. His ability to recognize movement in the defense has also been a subtle strength that hasn’t been taken advantage of because plays generally don’t last long enough for him to get the chance to. Between dying pockets and lack of separation, opportunities are uncommon.

It’s like the tweet says, Denver makes every play difficult. Nothing is given against this defense, and YAC is hard to find. They have an immense talent advantage and Geno isn’t a Rodgers level talent who can match it. That’s not a fault, just a fact. He’s barely able to fit this ball in there.

Again, many fans have disliked Geno Smith for his rollouts but the rollout isn’t the issue here. The ball security is concerning, especially since he knocks it out himself, but his elusiveness gives a dead play a shot. Geno’s extremely elusive in the pocket, stemming back from his first start, and even though he is at fault for some of his own sacks; he’s the savior of many more would-be sacks just through his legs. Most fans don’t look anywhere outside of the QB during games (I sure don’t, until I re-watch a game I can almost concede I have no idea what actually happened), so they’ve always attributed his rollouts as being unnecessary and overdoing it. But they’ve been one of the few things keeping this team functional since the OC has refused to help the short passing game, something Chan Gailey immediately worked on when he arrived to NYJ.

One of his final drives, a precise Geno makes an appearance here and turns the game into a match. He’s doing most of the heavy lifting and luckily Greg Salas is able to use his YAC magic (that’s really the only thing you can call it) to get the Jets near the goal line. A rare pick play makes an appearance in the Jets Morwhinweg offense, and Geno executes. A good sign for the Gailey offense, which utilizes them often near the redzone.

I don’t know what Geno sees here, but this last three play from the Jets own endzone isn’t the right set of plays to judge him on for this game. If that sounds like an excuse to you, then consider this: how likely is it for a player to ever drive 80 yards down the field? How about 90 yards, which is where this drive starts from? What about 90 yards from your own EZ with 45 seconds left in the game? Yeah, it’s very unlikely. At this point, the game is over but this throw also makes no sense. He’s likely expecting the WR to try to back-shoulder this but it doesn’t seem like that’s even possible to hit. This was a no win situation that Geno made a desperate and bad throw on but its not the point to focus on.

The thing is, this is a bad game for Geno overall. Compared to his other games from the 2014 season (including the Chargers one that came before this) you’d be unable to point to Geno as one of the players holding back the offense. He did make errors and miss plays, but generally he’s keeping it afloat. This was a horribly difficult situation against one of the leagues most stacked defenses but he was playing poorly even within his own abilities. It’s the first game where I can say: outside of two or three drives, Geno generally didn’t help the offense. He didn’t hinder it much either, but he wasn’t helping.

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