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Jets vs. Ravens: Shots Down the Field Must Return

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes teams have trouble identifying what constitutes low risk. We saw this trap appear with the Jets late in the Mark Sanchez Era where it seemed like the team abandoned taking shots down the field at points. Part of the issue might have been Sanchez not having enough vision to identify a deep passing window, but it also felt like the Jets viewed short passes as safer for a mistake-prone quarterback. As anybody who watched the team knows, that simply was not the case.

It is too early to say whether the team is falling into the same trap with Geno Smith, but there might be some reason for concern. Geno is in a slump. Has this coincided with the Jets throwing it deep less? In a word, yes.

Through their first seven games, Geno threw a deep pass (defined as a ball traveling 20 yards or more in the air) on 17.4% of their passing attempts. That number has fallen to 5.5% in the last three games. It might be by design. It might be due to a leaky offensive line not allowing plays to develop. It might be due to bad receiving play. Probably these are all factors. It has resulted in a less productive passing game.

As we have seen, the decrease in deep balls has not made the offense safer. Geno's interception rate in the last three games is in the stratosphere at 6.9%. Geno is mistake-prone. Any ball he throws has a high inherent risk. All that has happened is the reward for a successful play has gone down.

Geno's stats are not pretty, but throwing deep is one of the few things he seems to do pretty well at this point. Take a look at the chart. I used Pro Football Focus' stats on deep attempts and yardage as a result and then crunched the numbers further to show how many yards Geno averages on a deep throw.

Rank Player Team Deep Passes Yards Average
1 Aaron Rodgers GB 32 596 18.625
2 Russell Wilson SEA 39 702 18
3 Drew Brees NO 50 803 16.06
4 Geno Smith NYJ 43 672 15.62791
5 Peyton Manning DEN 51 730 14.31373
6 Jay Cutler CHI 42 566 13.47619
7 Tony Romo DAL 37 486 13.13514
8 Philip Rivers SD 38 480 12.63158
9 Andy Dalton CIN 58 730 12.58621
10 Andrew Luck IND 38 476 12.52632
11 Ben Roethlisberger PIT 54 653 12.09259
12 Colin Kaepernick SF 38 434 11.42105
13 Matthew Stafford DET 51 538 10.54902
14 Eli Manning NYG 45 461 10.24444
15 Tom Brady NE 46 450 9.782609
16 Robert Griffin III WAS 39 379 9.717949
17 Ryan Tannehill MIA 34 314 9.235294
18 E.J. Manuel BUF 30 246 8.2
19 Cam Newton CAR 39 316 8.102564
20 Joe Flacco BLT 53 429 8.09434
21 Carson Palmer ARZ 45 349 7.755556
22 Jake Locker TEN 30 199 6.633333

You might say, "Come on, John. The game against Buffalo where Geno torched Justin Rogers skews the stats." I have two replies for you. First, all good quarterbacks pad their stats by exploiting a weak link when they find it. That might not do it for you so let's take that game out. Geno still comes in at 12.3. That's middle of the pack instead of the best in the league, but you still would be hard-pressed to find many other things Geno does at a middle of the pack rate right now. The bottom line is that's what he does best.

That's what the eyeball test says too. If Geno does develop the way we want him to, it seems like his career is going to walk the fine line guys like Tony Romo, Eli Manning, and Joe Flacco walk. He doesn't look like a pinpoint passer. He doesn't look like a guy who protects the football. There probably aren't going to be loads of drives where he surgically dissects a defense over ten straight plays. He is probably going to be the kind of guy who makes up for it by producing chunk plays.

The Jets also need big plays since this is not an offense loaded with talent that can execute ten straight plays itself.

This is all easier said than done. The Jets do not have a ton of receiving talent even when healthy. This week's matchup with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil flying off the edge and Haloti Ngata probably having a three hour date with Brian Winters will probably make protection for long-developing plays difficult. It is also true that 43 passes is a small sample size. It might be that Geno is not really a strong deep passer, and this is statistical noise. Taking a steady diet of shots just feels like the least bad option for the Jets and the one most likely to produce positive results.

Some people say the Jets shouldn't focus on the run game. I'm not sure I disagree. I think the run game has to be the basis of this offense. Geno simply cannot be asked to carry the load. The passing game does have to force the defense to defend the entire field, though. The idea has to be that a strong running game forces the defense to drop defenders who would otherwise be deep. This opens things up downfield and leaves openings to take advantage of Geno's deep ball. Keeping the passing game limited to short stuff plays into the defense's hands. The defense can congest the short area to stop the run and be in position to clog passing lanes.