Jets vs. Giants: What to Make of the Quarterback Situation?

USA TODAY Sports

I think there are a few things to keep in mind tonight regarding Geno Smith's play.

Don't take reports too literally.

Manish Mehta reported this week that Geno is likely to win the starting job if he avoids turnovers. I think some people took that to mean that if Geno went 0 for 20 but didn't throw any interceptions he would win the job. Don't fall into that trap.

I don't take that report to mean as a get out of jail card if Geno fails to move the team. I take it more to mean he would likely have outplayed Mark Sanchez if he can move the ball a little bit and avoid turnovers. Sanchez's turnovers have been killers. When you throw a pick six like he did against the Lions, it negates the touchdown drive he led the team on. The net total is zero points. When you throw interceptions deep in opponent territory and waste scoring drives by losing track of the time, you are essentially handing the other team points. So far in preseason, Sanchez has moved the team but negated most of that with his mistakes.

Geno does have to move the team, but they don't have to look like the 1999 Rams. If he puts together the same drives as Sanchez and simply protects the ball, the Jets will end up much, much better. Geno will have outplayed Sanchez.

Don't read too much into stats.

Stats are important, but they can mislead, particularly with a small sample size. Remember how Mark Sanchez completed 10 of 13 in the first preseason game? That looked great in the box score, but it didn't really describe how he killed the team with a pick six on a screen and really should have had a second interception on a screen.

Geno might be able to put up great stats tonight if he checks down a bunch, but that will not be an indicator of success in 2013. Our own Crackback today put up a good checklist of things to watch tonight. If Geno does most of or all of these things, he is probably ready. If he seems incapable, it will be a warning sign.

  • Look for whether or not the ball comes out on the 3rd step of a 3-step drop, and if it goes where its supposed to.
  • Look for him to come off his primary read quickly when necessary.
  • Look to see if he’s comfortable calling audibles; particularly checking TO a running play (something that seems to get coaches giddy for some reason).
  • Can he move the offense down the field?
  • Can he identify and capitalize on shot plays?
  • Can he beat blitzes (a huge flaw in Sanchez’s game)?
  • Is he comfortable in the pocket and stepping up to avoid pressure?
  • Can he get the team out of the huddle quickly?
  • Can he no-huddle and two-minute drill?
  • Does he allow his receivers to run after the catch (huge flaw in Sanchez’s game)?
  • Can he anticipate throws (huge flaw in Sanchez’s game)?

The coaching staff must find a happy medium.

There might be a temptation to totally open up the offense and see how much Geno can handle to get a read on him, but this must be avoided. This game should be viewed as an audition. If Geno starts Week 1, the playbook will likely be limited to some extent. The question is whether he can execute enough to be effective.

A limited playbook isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you only have 20 plays and can execute them all, that is better than having 50 plays and only being able to execute 15. There are only a handful of quarterbacks in the NFL capable of succeeding when the offense is based solely around making reads from the pocket, and even the great ones typically cannot do that off the bat. It takes at least five years. At the start, an offense need to help a quarterback out. That can happen in any number of ways. With the Jets, it is probably going to have to be through the run game. The Jets need to establish the run, slow down the pass rush, set up play action, and give Geno open lanes to throw.

Geno cannot be asked to carry the offense. What he can be asked is to make the big play once everything is set up for it to be made. That is what he will have to do if he starts in the regular season. That is what the Jets should do tonight. The offense seemed too simplistic in the Lions game, but the other extreme would not be better.

The Jets are in good shape if Geno doesn't take reports too literally.

Back to the Mehta report, I saw some people fret when they heard Geno just had to avoid turnovers. Some people took that to mean the team never wants him to stretch the field. There was also some concern expressed that the team did something similar with Mark Sanchez, and this helped his downfall. I'm not sure I agree.

When Sanchez was a rookie, the Jets gave him the entire playbook. He was allowed to go out and sling it. Only when he killed the team with a staggering turnover rate did the Jets scale it back. Sanchez and the Jets were always at their best when he was asked to do the least. He showed that he could handle things if he had a light load and just played caretaker.

That is probably the best way with a rookie quarterback. If Geno takes it to an extreme, it could be a problem. You don't want his eyes to avoid looking down the field. You do not want him to make a checkdown his primary read. Keeping things relatively simple for him, though, is smart. Throwing lanes that result in big completions in college result in interceptions in the NFL. Geno has to get used to the speed of the game.  Once he feels more comfortable, you can add a little more. Again, even today's elite quarterbacks took years to get to a point where they could carry everything. You don't want to take away his aggressiveness entirely, but you don't want him to have everything on his plate. A punt is better than making a risky throw for an interception. He needs to pick his spots. This does not however, mean he can just never try to make plays.

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