Geno Smith displayed a good deep ball as a rookie. The statistical website Pro Football Focus estimated that Geno was accurate on 46.7% of throws that traveled at least 20 yards. That might sound impressive, but consider how difficult it is to hit one of these deep passes. That actually tied Geno for third best in the league tied with Mike Glennon and behind only Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning. It wasn't necessarily a case where the percentage is skewed because of a lack of attempts. Geno had the fifth most completions on deep balls with 26.
This is more impressive than it looks on the surface. Consider the receivers the Jets had on the roster. Who was the consistent deep threat who showed he could consistently beat coverage and win 50/50 balls? An awful lot of these throws were simply about Geno putting the ball on the money. He didn't have the luxury of having a big fast elite target to whom he could just throw it up. He had to identify a target and deliver a good ball.
Despite the success here, Geno only attempted the 12th most deep balls in the league. It's tempting to say, "Marty, dial up the deep ball!" but it isn't quite that simple. Deep throws are by definition long-developing plays. It takes a few seconds for the receivers to get deep. This requires protection to hold.
To be certain, some of the issues were on Geno Smith, but protection breakdowns also played a role, particularly on the inside with Brian Winters at left guard.
Take last year's Week 14 game last year against the Raiders. The Jets only attempted a pair of deep passes in that game. Why is this? The Raiders have an aggressive defense. One play I found really illustrates one of the big reasons the Jets probably didn't feel they could take more shots.
The Raiders blitz seven on this play.
The Jets only send out three receivers on the play. That means they have seven to block. Geno still ends up on the ground.
Geno makes the correct call here. He anticipates the blitz correctly by signaling with his hand for Tommy Bohanon, who was split wide to come back into the backfield to help block. This leaves the Jets with seven blockers.
The Jets' protection scheme here appears to be what is known as slide protection. The offensive linemen all appear to slide right at the snap and are responsible for the gap on their right side.
So what happens here? Brian Winters has nobody to block once he slides right. He then gets lost because there is a man entering his zone, but he doesn't recognize it quickly enough.
So what happens? To keep this guy from breaking through the seam D'Brickashaw Ferguson has to leave his assignment. Typically teams block from the inside out. The guy on the inside has the quicker path to the quarterback. Because Ferguson has released his man, that's the guy Bohanon has to pick up.
There's a big problem here. This requires Bohanon to leave his man, but there's nobody left to pick him up.
And that's how your quarterback ends up on the ground even when the blocking is set up perfectly on paper.
This is a real killer when you look at what else is happening on the field.
You've got one safety deep, and three receivers in man coverage. This includes David Nelson one on one with a linebacker in the middle of the field. Depending on whether the quarterback can manipulate the safety and whether one of the receivers can win his battle, this might be a long touchdown.
I'm not trying to take a hatchet to Winters here. I'm just showing how important his improvement is going to be to the Jets this season. People at times play down the importance of the guard position, but nothing destroys what an offense like pressure up the middle. PFF says Winters allowed 10 sacks last year, and they didn't even put this one on him even though he seems like the culprit.
Teams like the Raiders like to put pressure on an offensive line and force protectors to read and react quickly. The Jets need to be able to trust their left guard to do what they want to do, particularly against multiple defenses. To take shots, the protection up the middle will need to hold up a lot better than it did a year ago.