It has been a roller coaster season for Geno Smith. He’s had several strong performances against the Buccaneers, Bills, Falcons, Patriots and Browns but also showed his inexperience and inconsistency with a clunker against the Patriots in Week 2, a bad game against the Titans in Week 4, and probably his worst performance of the year against the Bengals in week 8, when he threw two "pick-sixes" and the Jets were routed 49-9. I think it’s safe to say that most NFL pundits and a large majority of New York Jets fans are unsure if the Jets should commit to Geno as their starting QB for next year. I’m here to make the argument that Geno Smith has been relatively successful in difficult circumstances and has shown enough development for the Jets to commit to him for another year.
Let’s first think about the injury and suspension to the skill players of the Jets that Geno has had to endure throughout the year. Santonio Holmes has missed several games with that lingering foot injury, Kellen Winslow was suspended for 4 games, and Jeremy Kerley – Geno’s favorite target – missed 3 games due to a concussion. As a result, Geno has had very little continuity on the offensive side of the ball. At one point in the season, David Nelson, Greg Salas, and Jeff Cumberland were the Jets starting receivers (yes I know Cumberland is a TE, I’m lumping him in as a receiver in this situation). They may be decent role players, but they are obviously not starting caliber receivers in the NFL. This is not a good situation for any QB, let alone a rookie QB.
Furthermore, even when all the Jets skill players are healthy, they are not a very good group. Santonio Holmes is a shell of himself, Stephen Hill is just not good (in my opinion), and David Nelson is a WR3 at best (prob a WR4). The only real talent the Jets have is Kerley (excluding Ivory and Powell who I’m relatively impressed with). Despite this lack of talent at the WR & TE positions, Geno still has had several good performances and impressive wins, leading this team to a 7-8 record so far, and I think if we draft or acquire through free agency 2 or 3 skill players, Geno will only get better (please Sammy Watkins!).
Geno also has shown that he has the physical ability and maturity to excel in this league. He can make every throw on the field, he stands in the pocket unafraid to take a hit if necessary - this is something that is good to see and is a stark difference from Mark Sanchez -, and he has the athleticism to avoid pressure and to extend plays with his feet. Regarding his maturity, he seems to really be a team player and not a "me – first" person (just listen to his interviews) which is extremely important for a leader on a team. Another important quality of Geno, is that that he doesn't let his poor play or poor decisions affect him for too long. For example, in week 8 against the Patriots, Geno threw a "pick 6" in the 1st half that would rattle some QBs and affect their performance the rest of the game. Not Geno. He bounced back from this poor throw and was able to lead the Jets to an improbable win against a good team. I think the ability to overcome poor play or poor decisions is extremely important in the NFL. Mistakes are going to be made, it’s how you respond to those mistakes that can be the difference between being a successful QB and being a failure, and so far Geno has shown he responds well to adversity. He has impressed me so far with the physical ability and maturity he as shown over the first 15 weeks of his NFL career.
The counter argument to giving Geno another year as the Jets starting QB was his play during weeks 11-13, but I believe his poor play during these three weeks should not completely fall on Geno for his poor performances. The Jets coaching staff was as responsible, if not more responsible, for his struggles. After the Jets beat the Saints, to earn a 5-4 record, Rex and Marty (although my gut says this mostly is down to Rex) became much more conservative on offense to attempt to limit the potential for Geno to turn the ball over. They seemed to be of the mentality, "just don’t lose it for us" and reverted back to the "Ground and Pound" offense which Rex loves so much. The offense leaned more heavily on the run, called a lot more 3 step drops & 5-10 yard routes (when they threw the ball), and the Wildcat was used a lot more - which obviously wasn’t successful putting up points of 14, 3, and 0 in consecutive weeks. I particularly remember the Ravens game, where in the 1st half, it seemed like Geno was split out wide in the Wildcat almost as much as he was lined up under center. Not only is it difficult to gain any rhythm as a QB when the team is running the ball so often and when you are split out wide in the Wildcat, but the short passing routes that were being called do not play to Genos strengths.
As we’ve seen, Geno is a much better passer when downfield passing plays are called. He has a strong arm and throws the ball downfield well. The dink and dunk offense which Tom Brady (I know, I don’t like him either) has been so good at over the years, is not Geno’s strong suit. These last three weeks, against the Raiders, Panthers, and Browns, when the Jets have again started to call these downfield passing plays, Geno has played much better. The coaching staff was too conservative during this 3 week stretch and they are mainly responsible for Geno’s performances during this period.
Geno has played well enough and shown enough potential to be given another year as the Jets starting QB. With 2 or 3 top skill position acquisitions (I think we need 2 top WRs – Kerley would be in the Slot - and a TE), more aggressive playcalling focused on throwing the ball downfield, and another year working with Offensive Coordinator Marty Morningwhig and Head Coach Rex Ryan I think Geno can be a successful quarterback in this league. He deserves another year to prove that.
(Article written last week on December 23rd 2013. Due to holidays I was unable to post until today.)