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Run, Geno, Run?

Is Geno Smith running too much?

Ed Mulholland

9-1.  That's the record of an NFL juggernaut.  The record of a legitimate Super Bowl favorite.  A record of dominance.  That's also the record of the New York Jets when Geno Smith runs four or more times in a game.

1-7.  That's the record of an NFL laughing stock.  The record of a legitimate first pick in the draft favorite.  A record of pathetic futility.  That's also the record of the New York Jets when Geno Smith runs less than four times in a game.

So what to do?  Doesn't seem like rocket science, right?  Run, Geno, run!  And yet ... a small voice of doubt creeps in.  The last four games of the 2013 season saw real improvement in Geno Smith and the New York Jets.  That time period coincides precisely to the point when Geno began running more, game in and game out.  Over the last four games of the 2013 season Geno Smith ran the ball 31 times, more than any other QB in the NFL.  He ran it 10 times each of the last two games of 2013.  He ran it 10 times again yesterday in the first game of the 2014 season.  That too was more than any other QB in the NFL yesterday.  Only one other QB, Russell Wilson, ran the ball more than 6 times yesterday.  Wilson ran 7 times.

Geno Smith has run the ball 30 times in the last three games.  If he were to keep that pace up for an entire season he would have 160 carries for the season, numbers more associated with a running back in a two back system than a QB.  That number would not just set an NFL record for carries over the last 50 years, it would completely annihilate the record of 141 shared by Michael Vick and Bobby Douglass.  Those are the only two seasons in the last 50 years where a QB exceeded 127 carries in a season.

Well, maybe three games is too small a sample size from which to draw any conclusions about trends.  How about we take it back to the full five game stretch during which the Jets clearly have instructed Geno to run more.  What then?  Over the full five game stretch Geno Smith has 41 carries.  If he kept that pace up over a full season, he would end up with 131 carries, more than any QB in the last 50 years other than the co-record holders Vick and Douglass.   More than Cam Newton ever had.  More than Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick ever had.  More than RG III ever had.  Even more than Michael Vick ever had outside of his one record season.

Those are some interesting numbers.  And maybe a little bit frightening numbers.  Geno Smith is an effective runner. Running the ball clearly enhances his effectiveness as a QB and the effectiveness of the team.  It opens up passing lanes for him as defenders are forced to respect the possibility Geno  may run.  It in effect makes defenses play the game 11 on 11 instead of the more usual 11 on 10 with an immobile QB.  But it also puts Geno in harm's way.  It exposes him to much more frequent hits.  Geno doesn't do himself any favors here as he often fails to protect himself and slide.  Even as we admire his toughness, competitive spirit and courage in tacking on tacklers, we may cringe just a little each time, wondering if he'll get back up.

There is also the issue of when does it become perhaps too much of a good thing.  As Geno's rushing attempts have risen his yards per attempt have declined.  Consider the following chart of Geno's most recent five game stretch, the time frame of him running the ball much more:



Rushing Attempts

Rushing Yards

Yards Per Attempt

Game Result



2013, #13






2013, #14






2013, #15






2013, #16






2014, #01





The record shows that Geno's yards per carry have declined with each passing game.  Perhaps this is just statistical noise, the product of a too small sample size.  Or perhaps it is evidence of something more.  Perhaps it shows the effect of Geno running so much that defenses are keying on this, deliberately game planning to take away the effectiveness of Geno's running.  At the point where you are gaining less than 4 yards per carry as a QB it might make sense to dial back the running a bit, as your RBs are now more effective running the ball than you are.

There is also the elephant in the room: Geno's long term health.  The more Geno Smith runs, the more hits he takes.  If Geno is going to be running 120+ times a year it is probably reasonable to expect some long term detrimental effects to his health.  Like any running back who runs this much, the cumulative effects of the pounding, if Geno continues to run so much, will likely shorten Geno's career.  We can't know when it will happen.  We can't even know for sure if it will happen.  But the likelihood of some devastating injuries like torn ACLs, multiple concussions, separated shoulders and the like increase dramatically when a QB takes such a pounding.  If you are one of those who likes what you see from Geno and hope to see it for 10 or more years, then you should perhaps hope the Jets dial back his running, and by a fairly significant amount.

But of course that brings us back to those darn records at the top of this article.  9-1 when Geno runs, 1-7 when he doesn't.  What Jets fan looks at that and says to themselves, we have to get Geno to run less?  So what to do?  It is a dilemma.  Keep Geno running at his current pace and risk a Vickian career, where after a few good years he just won't be able to stay healthy.  Or stop Geno from running and take away an effective weapon and possibly sabotage both Geno and the team.  Not a great choice.  Surely there is a middle ground.  I think everyone would agree that although Geno is an effective runner he is certainly not the most gifted runner among the game's QBs.  There are probably at least three or four other NFL QBs who are more gifted as runners than Geno.  Why not slot his running in behind those guys?  Why not strive to keep Geno around 60 to 80 rushing attempts for a season?  Enough to strike a healthy balance.  Enough to keep defenses honest.  Enough, if the record is to be believed, to tip the competitive balance in the Jets' favor.  But also limited enough to try and preserve Geno's health and prolong what may be a promising career.

Run, Geno, Run?  By all means, yes.  But perhaps with just a bit of moderation.