One play defined the end of the Jets’ thrilling Week 1 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as quarterback Geno Smith was pushed out of bounds late by Bucs linebacker Lavonte David, an error that would thrust the Jets into reasonable field goal range and an attempt at the winning kick.
The flag on David has been the center of conversation since, but stepping back and examining the play from a general view, what was interesting was the way that the Buccaneers defended it.
Given that there was scant time on the clock and the Buccaneers were aiming to prevent any sort of big play, it came as no surprise that they rushed just four players (David among them), dropping seven into coverage.
That left the underneath part of the field unaccounted for, giving Smith ample room to scramble -- precisely what he did. Now, it’s important to note that the Bucs would’ve lived with the gain that Smith chalked up had it not been for David’s penalty, but the larger takeaway is whether the Patriots will need to account for Smith as a runner by using a “spy” linebacker.
It's reminiscent, in some ways, of last year’s Week 6 matchup against Seattle, when to that point Russell Wilson and the Seahawks were not steadily incorporating designed runs.
Nonetheless, the Patriots had to be mindful of Wilson’s ability to scramble, which often leads to a defense keeping linebackers near the line of scrimmage to hover in the event of a quarterback run.
Smith led the Jets with 47 rushing yards on six carries in Week 1, showing enough that the Patriots may be inclined to prevent him from doing damage on the ground again this week with a linebacker spying Smith. That puts increased pressure on the secondary to stay with receivers in coverage, but the Patriots cornerbacks had a strong start to the season in Week 1.
If the Patriots can control Smith’s ground elusiveness, they’ll force him to beat their defense with his arm. Time could tell if he’s up to the task.