By Glenn Naughton
With two full NFL seasons under his belt, it’s fair to say that Geno Smith’s short time under center for the New York Jets has been a roller coaster ride with seemingly more deep drops than steep climbs. In 29 career games, Smith has accounted for 32 touchdowns (25 passing/7 rushing) but has also turned the ball over 42 times (34 interceptions/8 fumbles lost), giving him a career record of 11-18 as a starter.
With the NFL being such a quarterback driven league, it should come as no surprise that the Jets have failed to make the playoffs in either of Smith’s two season’s as the offense has been among the worst in the NFL.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that this is happening in a time when the NFL is making life increasingly difficult for defensive backs to do their jobs as the league begs teams to put up big numbers. Despite rule changes that continue to benefit offenses, Smith has managed to throw more than one touchdown in a game just five times, while logging nine multi-interception contests. Clearly this is a factor in the Jets finishing 29th and 28th in scoring respectively since Smith took the starting job.
Smith’s rookie season saw him struggle with consistency which led to an 8-8 record as the Jets traded wins for losses from weeks one through nine. A late season tailspin following their up and down 5-4 start buried any playoff hopes as the Jets dropped three in a row.
Following the 5-4 start, Smith didn’t log a single touchdown pass while piling up six interceptions over the course of the next three games. It was a discouraging development as the Jets had clearly hoped to see the quarterback show gradual improvement throughout the course of the season.
Smith’s worst performance came in a week twelve loss at home to the Miami Dolphins. It was the final defeat of the three game losing streak, but even worse for Smith was that it was his fifth consecutive game without a touchdown pass. He would complete only four passes that day on ten attempts, for just 29 yards. A low point indeed, but by season’s end, it looked like it may have also been a turning point.
The final four games of the season would see Smith play his best football of the year. He completed just under 59% of his passes (68-116) and threw four touchdowns and just one interception. He also started to use his legs on a more regular basis, running the ball 31 times for 186 yards and 3 scores. The result was a strong 3-1 finish, and a fan base that started to believe in the rookie as he headed in to year two. That belief however, was short-lived as the 2014 season got under way.
This past season was more of the same inconsistent play for Smith, if not worse. A strong opener against the lowly Oakland Raiders was followed by seven weeks of ugly offensive football. From weeks 2 through 7, the Jets offense would put up 20 or more points just twice. Once against the Green Bay Packers in week two which saw them score three first half touchdowns before being held to a FG in the second half. Then in week 7, a 27-25 loss to the Patriots was one of the Jets best offensive showings of the year, and they did it by relying heavily on the ground game as they attempted 43 rushes to 34 passes.
In an attempt to jump-start the offense, former GM John Idzik acquired wide receiver Percy Harvin from the Seattle Seahawks prior to the Jets’ week 8 home game against the Buffalo Bills. Adding the speedy Harvin to a group that already included Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley and rookie Jace Amaro was supposed to give Smith a more balanced group of weapons, and therefore better chance to succeed, and the immediate returns a disaster.
Smith’s initial performance with Harvin on board was the worst of his career. Buffalo would intercept Smith three times on just 8 pass attempts and were making it look easy. The three interceptions outnumbered the two completions Smith would throw for as he was pulled in favor of veteran back-up Michael Vick. Given Smith’s performance, the Jets had no choice but to anoint Vick the starting quarterback for what would be just a few short weeks before Geno was called on to start once again.
Having had some time to watch from the sidelines, for the second season in a row Smith looked like a different quarterback in the closing weeks of a disastrous season.
Despite a bizarre week 13 matchup against the Dolphins in which the Jets allowed him to attempt just 8 passes through the games first 58 minutes, weeks fourteen through seventeen was a bit of deja vu.
In games against the Vikings, Titans, Patirots and Dolphins, Smith completed 65% of his passes as he went 71-109 through the air and appeared to clean up his turnovers as he tossed only two interceptions to go with six touchdowns.
His best performance of course came during the season finale, again in Miami, when he earned a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3 by completing 80% of his passes (20-25) with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
So Jets fans are treated to an instant replay. A young quarterback with ball security issues shows dramatic improvement down the stretch of a lost season. Was this simply a case of a player capitalizing against several teams whose season’s were essentially over with the year coming to a close, or did a light go on for Smith as his numbers would suggest?
Whatever the case may be, the Jets aren’t taking any chances. Smith will come to training camp with a chance to prove himself, but Mike Maccagnan and company also made a trade for veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick while head coach Todd Bowles has said publicly that the Jets plan to bring in another quarterback at some point this offseason.
Should the Jets find that Smith has indeed improved dramatically at the quarterback position then he’ll likely be given the starting nod and an opportunity to grow under the watchful eye of Chan Gailey.
However, if his inconsistency in meaningful games continues, Smith will find himself once again watching from the sidelines with his future in Green and White as unpredictable as his play.