Geno’s Not Entirely to Blame: A Look at the Decline of the Offensive Line

Geno Smith has been far from stellar.  He has 10 turnovers and only 1 touchdown in his past 7 games.  He has struggled to read defenses and has seemed “shell-shocked” quite often.  A large reason for his poor decision making is the collapse of an offensive line that had looked like such a promising group in the beginning of the year.  The offseason addition of Willie Colon, 2nd year starter Austin Howard and Nick Mangold had been playing tremendously up until the past few games.  The line has disintegrated on multiple occasions, sometimes protection breakdowns, sometimes missed blocks.  This has led to a lot of quarterback pressures, knockdowns, and ultimately sacks.

Below is a breakdown using the NFL All-22 software, showing 2 sacks and a forced rollout incompletion as a result of poor line play and Smith holding on to the ball for too long.

The first play comes from the 2nd quarter.  The Ravens show blitz with their two outside linebackers lined up outside of the two offensive tackles.

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Geno Smith comes up to the line and rolls the protection to the bottom of the screen (his right) so that they can cover the blitz.  The outside linebacker at the top of the screen is supposed to be taken by D’Brickashaw Ferguson and then Tommy Bohanon.  Ferguson rolls with the protection taking the defensive tackle inside.  Bohanon steps up in the middle of the pocket, rather than getting his eyes up and getting the outside LB, as shown below.

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By the time Bohanon realizes it, it’s too late for him to come over and make a solid block. LB Elvis Dumervil beats him and pressures Geno Smith.

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Smith rolls away from the pressure and throws a tough pass, which should’ve been caught by Cumberland.  Most NFL TE’s will make this catch that Cumberland couldn’t corral.

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The next breakdown is a sack deep in the Jets own end.  Baltimore shows 8 in the box, threatening to blitz 7 guys.  The bail out of it, only sending 4.  This should be easy to pick up, as the Jets were “max protecting” with 8 guys as seen in the second screen shot.

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Both Jeff Cumberland (circle on right) and D’Brickashaw Ferguson (circle on left) get beat by their man.  Smith steps up into the pocket to avoid the poor block by Cumberland.  Ferguson is caught on his heels (as shown in the picture), which is a disaster for any offensive linemen in pass protection.

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As a result, Ferguson gets beat inside, leading to the sack of Smith from the blindside.

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The third situation in which the Jets got sacked, virtually in the same place of the field is late in the 4th quarter.  This play, the Jets are not in max protection.  They are relying on their offensive line to block the man line up on their head. Austin Howard is supposed to block Dumervil off the edge as shown below.

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Just like Ferguson in the earlier sack, Howard is on his heels, in terrible position to block.  Offensive linemen should have their head up and their feet underneath them, with their back straight to avoid lunging.  As shown in the following picture, Howard lunges to block Dumervil

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As a result he gets beat.  Smith should feel this pressure and step up into the pocket and deliver a checkdown to Bohanon for a short gain.  He holds onto the ball for too long, and Howard misses Dumervil and Dumervil sacks Smith.

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As painful as it is to rewatch the film of the game, we are trying to give a perspective that isn’t offered by most mainstream media.  Brian Winters, who wasn’t featured in these screen shots has struggled this season.  Everyone knew he was a run game mauler, but he struggled a bit in pass protection, but he hasn’t played well at all.  He is a rookie and will need time to grow, however, if Mangold and Ferguson, who are both Pro-Bowlers, continue to struggle it’s going to be tough sledding for this offense for the rest of the season.  The line play needs to step up, give Geno Smith more time to run and open up bigger holes in the run game.  The regression of the offense isn’t solely a result of poor line play, but it certainly is a major factor.

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