Geno Smith needs to be better and the Jets need to find ways to make that happen, starting with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
Thursday night’s game was there for the taking. Between the Jets’ defense and the Pats’ offense, there were plenty of opportunities for Smith to lead the offense to a game-tying -- if not game-winning -- score.
Instead, Smith saw his night end with a pair of interceptions and the Jets trekked back to New York without a win they could’ve had.
Five days ago, Mornhinweg’s plan appeared deliberate and thought-out, mostly abandoning the run against a defense that swallowed running backs at the line of scrimmage. Thursday night, Mornhinweg had a running game that averaged 3.9 yards per carry and a quarterback that completed 48 percent of his passes. Yet he ran the ball 29 times and threw it 35.
The Jets had a chance Thursday in part because Geno made plays that Mark Sanchez could not. He flashed the arm talent that had Smith atop draft boards last fall, particularly on deep throws to Stephen Hill and Clyde Gates. But that arm talent and those plays were overshadowed by a pass-heavy gameplan that begged for a Patriots interception. They got three.
Geno was asked to throw his way to a win -- on the road, against one of the league's best opportunistic defenses, in the middle of a downpour. His wide receivers did him no favors, either. The Jets’ youth-filled, unproven bunch dropped catchable balls in key situations. I’m looking at you, David Gates. Or is it Clyde Clowney?
Give Geno credit. He owned the mistakes in the postgame presser. He didn’t pass blame or use “we” in place of “I.” It didn’t sound like Sanchez’s classic “Yeah, I can’t do that there. I need to be better.” excuse train. Geno came across as a young quarterback taking responsibility for three drive-killing interceptions against a rival.
“In this league … it's about the turnover battle and I cost us the game,” Smith said.
It’s hard to argue with him, but it could have been avoided. Chris Ivory showed life for the first time since arriving in New York and Bilal Powell was effective, if unspectacular. The run game wasn’t producing 25-yard jaunts, but it was effectively moving the ball and wearing down the Pats’ front seven.
Despite this, it took Mornhinweg until the third quarter to make the run game a focal point, but even that barely lasted. He returned to his pass-happy ways with the Jets playing on a slick track and trailing by just three points in the fourth quarter. He can get away with this against the Bucs, a team far worse off than the Jets. Against the Patriots, and the upcoming October and early November slate, Mornhinweg needs a plan that limits Geno’s opportunities for mistakes but still gives him the chance to use his natural gifts.
He also has to do this with a receiver corps unequipped for primetime. Hill, for one, is blessed with ability but cursed by inconsistency and even a dash of delusion. When asked about his multi-drop performance, Hill said “I thought I played a good game.” (Actual quote.)
Those watching the game disagree, Stephen.
It’s tough to blame Hill for his fumble, which came when an errant foot knocked the ball out, but Hill’s inability to secure the football won’t help Geno convert third downs or sustain drives through the season.
Mornhinweg and Rex Ryan said before the regular season that Geno wouldn’t operate from a pared down playbook, but it’s time to revisit that idea.
The Jets need to cut down the amount of reads Geno has to make on a given play. Implement more plays with three-step drops. Call for plays that get the ball out immediately instead of asking Geno to sit back in the pocket and find the open receiver. Smith has been sacked nine times through two games – a 72-sack pace over the season. That would be 21 more sacks than last year’s leader, Aaron Rodgers, and the most since David Carr was running for his life in Houston. As is the case with all rookies not named Andrew Luck, Geno needs to make quicker decisions.
The Jets can scheme it so that he isn’t being asked to scan the entire field, which appears to take him roughly five to seven seconds – an impossible internal clock in the NFL.
Mornhinweg also needs to commit to the run game or, at the very least, read the tea leaves better during the course of a game. Here’s a clue: If your big, bruising back is averaging 4.3 yards per carry in a one-score game, he should get the rock more than 12 times. In addition to wearing down the run stuffers, the Ivory-Powell combo can keep pass-rushers like Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich from teeing off as soon as the ball is snapped.
This is not an unsolvable situation, nor is it as dire as some will paint it in the next 10 days. Rex’s defense is good enough to keep the Jets within reach in almost any game and the Mornhinweg-Geno combination is light years better than whichever quarterback was running Tony Sparano’s offense last season.
But the Jets are also a Lavonte David brain lapse away from being 0-2 and they benefited from a Patriots offense that could barely run a preseason offensive scheme Thursday night. If the Jets want to remain competitive while continuing to develop Geno’s obvious strengths and weaknesses, Mornhinweg must adapt to make life easier for his quarterback.
There is hope. The Jets just need to give it an opportunity to grow.
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