To start the season, the New York Jets were a high-flying offense that put up a lot of big plays. We consistently saw the offense under Marty Mornhinweg and Geno Smith stretch the defense and throw multiple 20+ yard pass plays per game, looking for those big chunks of yardage. Lately, the team has gone away from this approach. In the first five games, Smith averaged 8.54 yards/attempt. In the five since, Smith has averaged 5.78 yards/attempt. That's a stark difference in strategy and execution.
So what changed? To start the season, it was considered by most to be purely "developmental." The team wanted to see what Smith and the others had to offer so they could evaluate them for the future. As it's often called, it was a "rebuilding" year. However, once the wins started to pile up, it seems the team got caught up in the playoff potential. The offense, which was once fun and free-wheeling, appears to have tensed up and begun to play "not to lose." As often happens in the National Football League, teams that play not to lose often do end up losing.
There have been other struggles as well, including pass protection issues and wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs being injured. Smith has seen a regression in his fundamentals not too dissimilar to what happened to him in his senior year at West Virginia University. There, Smith tried to put the team on his back as his defense was giving up 49.6 yards per game, and his fundamentals fell apart as a result. His footwork and his reading of the defense became iffy as he was forced to make something big happen every play. Although the defense in New York isn't struggling, each possession, each pass attempt, has become more important for Smith to produce a play. He's struggled with this, and perhaps it's the fault of his weak supporting cast, perhaps it's his own fault, but nevertheless, it's worrisome.
What needs to happen now is the team needs to revert back to the developmental side we saw earlier in the season. Forget the playoffs. If they happen, they happen. If not, nobody expected it anyway. Mornhinweg, David Lee, and David Garrard need to get in Smith's ear and simplify things for him and help him return to basics. Enough playing not to lose. Let the boys be boys and let them just play ball.