The spotlight was on Eric Smith in Week 13 since he took Jim Leonhard's spot in the starting lineup along with the responsibility of making the calls. Smith drew a big pass interference penalty in the end zone defending Rob Gronkowski to set up a Pats touchdown. It was not Smith's best performance.
Against a high octane passing game with athletic tight ends, the Jets would be well served to use their safety combination that plays best against the pass. That combination would be Dwight Lowery and Brodney Pool. Smith will still have a big role in the game plan no matter what, though.
I liked the way the Jets moved him around against the Colts. He saw time lining up all over the field. While I retain my preference for some guys like Darrelle Revis staying on the same guy, the Jets can use other guys to show a bit of variety to try and shake things up a bit on Tom Brady. Smith is one of them. He can line up at some different safety spots in subpackages and take on different responsibilities.
I also hope the Jets will drop Smith to linebacker at times like they did against the Colts. Smith is what they would call in basketball a "tweener." In other words, he has some attributes that successful guys have at more than one position, but he does not have enough attributes that would make him succeed full time as a player at any of them. He is not good enough in coverage to be a great safety but too small to play linebacker.
Against a team like New England, Smith can be of help seeing time at linebacker. The Patriots love to throw it. For a safety, Smith's cover skills are below average. They are above average, though for a linebacker. He is more athletic, faster, and has better ball skills. He would also have to cover in a shorter space since he would not be the last line of defense and have safety help over the top.
Moving him up would also dare the Patriots to run the ball, much like it did the Colts. That is something the Jets should keep in mind. The Patriots have a better offensive line and better backs than the Colts do. They will get theirs sometimes when they run it if they Jets give them numbers and what appears to be a matchup edge. New England running it, though, means Benjarvis Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead have to make plays instead of Tom Brady. That is a good thing for the Jets. I'll take my chances with that. It will eat more clock, shortening the game and leaving New England's offense with less time to gain extra possessions. It is also more difficult to make huge gains on the run than the pass. The Jets can appear to give them numbers with Smith up there, which will entice more of these runs.
Just because the Pats appear to have numbers does not mean they will always be successful. The Jets have a number of excellent run stoppers up the middle capable of winning matchups and getting through blocks to make stops. That is what happened frequently against the Colts. Smith is a good run stopper. He did good work finding lanes even at linebacker. Even if they find success, though, taking the ball out of Brady's hands would be something of a plus.
Moving Smith down in some packages will make the Jets smaller up front. Another move in this mold I would like to see is adding extra defensive backs. They will help in coverage. Rex Ryan also loves to use defensive backs in blitz packages, which will give the team a chance to be more unpredictable attacking Brady.
I would like to see Smith continue to work all over the place. He played well against the Colts. Another big game with proper use could go a long way to delivering another road win.