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Geno Smith: Lost In Cincinnati

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Where oh where has our Good Geno gone? Where oh where can he be?

Andy Lyons

There was a time not too long ago when Geno Smith looked like he might develop into something pretty good for the New York Jets.  Over the first seven games of his career Geno was a dynamic presence, the Jets put a vertical offense on display, and despite too many turnovers, an unwelcome but predictable part of a rookie quarterback's growing pains, at times Smith and the offense were actually fun to watch.   It's easy to forget now, but very early in his career Geno had us hoping we had an answer at quarterback.  Consider these statistics from his first seven games:

Geno Smith Games 1-7 Statistics

Points

Yards

Yards/Attempt

TDs

INTs

Passer Rating

19.1

246

7.7

1.14

1.57

78

That doesn't look too bad.  The points per game is too low, the interceptions too high, but otherwise that quarterback looks pretty promising.  The 246 yards per game was just about league average, and put him on a pace to threaten the Jets franchise record for passing yards in a season.  The 7.7 yards per attempt was a very good mark, above league average, and reflects Geno's early success at going vertical.  The passer rating was a bit below league average, but certainly not alarmingly so for a rookie.  All in all, not a lot to be concerned about here, and quite a bit to be optimistic for the future about.

Then came the Cincinnati game.  Two turnovers, only 159 yards passing on 30 attempts, and a crushing 49-9 defeat for the Jets.  After that game it seemed Geno was increasingly under orders not to take any chances so as to rein in the turnovers.  The deep ball all but disappeared from his game.  And he has looked more or less incompetent ever since.

Consider Geno's numbers in the 16 games (one full season's worth of games) since the Cincinnati debacle.

Geno Smith Games 8-23 Statistics

Points

Yards

Yards/Attempt

TDs

INTs

Passer Rating

17.3

168

6.0

0.69

1.06

64

Take a good look at those statistics.  They are truly horrific.  Points down to 17.3 per game.  NFL average is around 23.5.  In his first 7 games Geno and the offense put up 27 or more points three out of the seven games.  In his last 16 games Geno has put up 27 or more points exactly once.  In his first seven games Geno put up more than 230 passing yards, a rather modest achievement, four out of seven games.  In his last 16 games Geno has put up more than 230 yards passing exactly once.  He has put up less than 200 yards a depressing 10 out of the 16 games. While Geno has cut down on his turnovers, it has come at the cost of a dramatic and relentless decrease in all other measures of quarterback productivity.  Simply put, the Geno we have seen since Cincinnati has produced at a level that cannot be expected to win many football games.

As a point of reference, consider Mark Sanchez's ugly 2012 season, the last season he played for the Jets.  The statistics for Mark are not offered here to compare Geno to Mark or "prove" Geno is no better or even worse than Mark.  They are offered only as a convenient point of reference with which we are all familiar.  It is nearly universally recognized that Sanchez's level of performance in 2012 was not acceptable and did not give the Jets a fighting chance to win far too often.  The weapons Mark had to work with were pretty similar in awfulness to the weapons Geno has had the last 16 games, and the running game in 2012 was actually worse than in 2013/2014, so it is probably a decent point of reference.  What is striking is that the awful Mark Sanchez of 2012 had better statistics across the board than the statistics for Geno's most recent 16 games.  Take a look:

Mark Sanchez 2012 statistics (15 games)

Points

Yards

Yards/Attempt

TDs

INTs

Passer Rating

17.6

192

6.5

0.87

1.2

67

Those kinds of numbers were good for a 6-10 record in 2012.  That seems better than should be expected, but the Jets under Rex have always had better than average defenses that could bring up the record a bit.  Geno over his last 16 games has been statistically worse than the meltdown Sanchez of 2012.  Yes, Geno is only in his second year and Mark was in his fourth, but this isn't really about the fruitless debate of whether Geno is a worse quarterback than Mark.  This is about just how low Geno has sunk since Cincinnati.

We hear how Geno is still raw but young quarterbacks improve over time.  Geno has in fact gotten worse, not better.  So much worse that in most games he no longer gives the Jets a realistic chance to win.  Consider this: in 2014 there are only two teams in the NFL that have yet to exceed 25 points scored in a game. One of those teams is the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars.  The other is the New York Jets.

One interesting comparison between Mark and Geno is that both started out slinging the deep ball and excelling in the two minute drill, but turning the ball over too much.  Both were eventually instructed to play it safe and rely on the running game and the defense to win (remember Mark's absurd traffic light wristbands?) And both seemed to begin to regress after being reined in.  Mark Sanchez had nine 4th quarter comeback wins and 11 game winning drives his first 3 years.  In his last year he had one and one.  Likewise, Geno Smith had two 4th quarter comeback wins and five game winning drives his first year.  This year he has zero and zero.  Different offensive coordinators, different offensive philosophies, different personnel, same depressing trend.  That seems on the surface to point to the one common factor between the two: Rex Ryan.  Perhaps Rex is the great quarterback destroyer.  Perhaps his reflexive impulse to play it safe and let the running game and the defense handle things prevents quarterbacks from developing.  Perhaps no good quarterback will ever develop under Rex.  It's impossible to know for sure with just two quarterbacks to analyze.  It might well be that Mark and Geno would never have developed anywhere.  Or it might be that Geno still develops into a fine quarterback under Rex.  But the similar stories of Mark and Geno, the similar ways they were reined in and then slowly degenerated, the similar ways they ended up providing the team almost no chance to win on a regular basis, gives one pause.  Perhaps the quarterbacks are not to blame.  Perhaps they've just been devoured by the Rex Ryan curse.  Good Geno got lost in Cincinnati.  It may take a head coaching change to find him again.