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NY Jets: The QB Battle, Week 1

Smith vs. Fitz: who's winning?

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Since the New York Jets signed Ryan Fitzpatrick, the former starting quarterback for new Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey during Gailey's head coaching years in Buffalo, there has been an expectation of real competition for Geno Smith at the Jets' starting quarterback spot.  Head coach Todd Bowles and offensive coordinator Gailey have mostly taken the air out of the QB competition talk, largely suggesting the job was Geno's to lose.  After a week of training camp, has there been any definitive move by either QB to change that?

Talk of the camp thus far has been that Geno has taken a big step forward, with a much better command of the offense and, so far, zero interceptions.  Geno's daily progress has been much more widely reported than that of Fitzpatrick.  How has Fitz done so far in camp, and how does it compare with Geno?

So far in camp Geno Smith has completed 63 of 103 pass attempts, for a 61.2% completion percentage.  Fitzpatrick has gone 41 for 67 for a 61.2% completion percentage, in an implausible statistical quirk, identical to Smith.  Smith has zero interceptions and one fumble lost.  Fitzpatrick has two interceptions, one on a Hail  Mary pass that shouldn't count much against him, and zero fumbles lost.

There isn't much to take away from those stats.  Without attending camp in person it's difficult to appraise how they match up.  On the surface the identical completion percentages and identical (if we discount the Hail Mary interception for Fitzpatrick) turnover numbers suggest the competition up to this point is a tossup. However, it should be noted that these kinds of statistics are even less trustworthy than your garden variety, small sample size, two or three random games worth of passing statistics in games that count.  They are untrustworthy because the two quarterbacks are working with different sets of receivers, against different defensive units, and in situation specific drills that may produce better or worse than usual stats depending on the situations being practiced.

One thing to note here is that, at least on paper, the identical 61.2% completion percentages are anything but encouraging.  In real game conditions, with real opponents laying real hits on the quarterbacks and every other player on the field, a 61.2% completion percentage is just barely within the mediocre end of the spectrum.  In camp conditions, with the quarterback off limits, and for much of the first week with the receivers also not being hit, that 61.2% number looks positively anemic.  Of course we should note here that this does not take into account the receivers being thrown to, the defensive personnel being thrown against, the specific situations being practiced, the types of throws being attempted, the number of drops by receivers, etc.  Nonetheless, with all the raves being thrown in Geno's general direction, it is at least mildly surprising that through the first 100+ passes he seems to be completing passes at a somewhat less than exuberant rate.

The bottom line to date appears to be that so far neither quarterback has decisively separated themselves from the competition.  Neither has set the world on fire with his accuracy, and neither has been plagued by turnovers.  Most observers who have been at camp thus far have given Smith the slight edge over Fitzpatrick. Given Geno's presumed starter status at the outset of camp, it seems likely that after week one of camp nothing has changed that status much in either direction.  If anything, Geno's hold on the position seems to have strengthened a bit.  Heading into the preseason games in 5 short days, it appears that Geno continues to be the presumptive starter at quarterback.  As the days for that status to change dwindle, it seems more likely by the day that it would take a complete implosion in actual game play for Geno Smith not to be starting under center when the games start to matter.