Smith has 16 interceptions, the same number Mark Sanchez had in his first 10 rookie starts. Smith added to his total in Sunday's 37-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills, perhaps jeopardizing his job. A breakdown of his three interceptions, each one with its own story:
1. Second quarter, second-and-13, Jets' 12-yard line: Smith simply misread the defense. The Bills played a single-high safety most of the game and, sure enough, there was Jairus Byrd in the deep middle. He didn't try to bait Smith, he simply stood his ground. A review of the all-22 tape reveals that Byrd didn't move an inch from the snap until the ball was released. Tight end Jeff Cumberland ran a deep over route directly in front of Byrd. For a safety, this is like having someone knock at your door and hand you a winning lottery ticket. Byrd came up a few steps, but only after the ball was released. The Bills rushed five, but the protection was good. Time wasn't an issue for Smith, who kept his eyes glued to Cumberland -- an easy pick for Byrd. Smith should've thrown to wide receiver David Nelson, who was open on a shallow cross.
2. Third quarter, second-and-13, Jets' 17-yard line: Smith may have been confused by a disguised coverage. Cornerback Nickell Robey went in motion with receiver Stephen Hill, usually a tip-off that it's man-to-man coverage -- except the Bills dropped into a zone. It looked like deep thirds, with Byrd -- yes, him again -- in the middle. Smith looked for receiver Santonio Holmes on an 18-yard in-cut. This time, Byrd read Smith's eyes and abandoned his deep middle, sprinting toward Holmes. Smith, under no pressure, threw it a split-second too late, giving Byrd the time he needed to make the interception. This, too, was on Smith. You can't blame a lack of pass protection.
3. Third quarter, second-and-10, Jets' 36-yard line: This was the most damaging of the three because it was a pick-six for safety Da'Norris Searcy. It was a bad throw by Smith, but I'm going to give some credit to the defense here. This play highlighted the chess match between Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. The Bills had seven at the line of scrimmage, showing blitz. It looked like an overloaded blitz to Smith's left, which had been successful early in the game. Mornhinweg had the perfect call, a quick-screen left to Holmes -- or so it seemed. As it turned out, the Bills rushed only four, with three on the line -- including Searcy -- dropping into coverage. The Bills acted like they knew the call. Searcy read it perfectly, positioning himself in the throwing lane between Smith and Holmes. No one bit on the play fake to running back Bilal Powell. Searcy made a terrific catch and took it to the house.
End of story. Make that stories. It's always plural with Smith.
Tale of two games: In the first meeting, the Jets protected Smith like the queen's jewels -- no sacks and only two hits. In this game, it was four sacks and eight hits. The offensive line, with the exception of left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, did a poor job. The Bills brought the heat, sending five or more rushers on 16 of 27 dropbacks by Smith, according to ESPN Stats & Information. On those plays, Smith was only 4-for-12, including two interceptions and four sacks. Clearly, Pettine wasn't worried about Smith beating the blitz. Unlike the previous meeting, the Bills' secondary was intact and they smothered the Jets' wideouts in man-to-man.
This was a particularly rough day for rookie left guard Brian Winters, who allowed one sack, one hit and one pressure, by my count. He was beaten badly by defensive tackle Kyle Williams on a strip-sack in the second quarter, arguably the biggest defensive play of the game. Winters also missed a block on a goal-line shovel pass that should've been an easy touchdown. Right guard Willie Colon (one sack, one pressure) had an off day, as did right tackle Austin Howard (two QB hits). Howard allowed the crushing hit on the fourth play of the game, the one where defensive tackle Marcell Dareus blasted Smith.
Pettine used some of the stuff he learned from Rex Ryan. In the second quarter, Byrd was unblocked on an overload blitz -- four players rushing from one side, only one on the other. This was straight from the Ryan handbook. In the third quarter, Pettine dialed up the same blitz. This time, the Jets blocked it up, with Powell picking up the blitzing safety. Ah, but another problem developed. They would've had a first down, but Hill dropped Smith's pass. That's what happens when you're struggling on offense. If it's not one thing, it's another.
Deep thoughts: The problems continued for the defense on long passes. Three completions proved costly.
On the 34-yard touchdown to T.J. Graham, Ryan gambled and lost. He sent Ed Reed on a safety blitz for the first time, leaving "zero" coverage on the back end -- no deep safety. Graham adjusted to an underthrown pass that caught in the wind, beating cornerback Dee Milliner. Ryan, fiercely protective of Milliner, said the rookie was in "great position" to make a play, but committed a technical faux pas -- a zone turn instead of a man turn. As a result, he lost sight of the receiver.
In the third quarter, Milliner was beat for 40 yards by Graham in a man-to-man situation. Milliner missed his jam at the line, giving Graham a free release. Dawan Landry, not Reed, was the deep safety, but he was nowhere close to the play. On Marquise Goodwin's 43-yard touchdown, cornerback Antonio Cromartie played it properly, according to Ryan. It was "bail" coverage. Cromartie bailed at the line, creating the cushion, but he couldn't keep up with Goodwin, who has world-class speed. The Jets rushed five, but EJ Manuel delivered the ball in less than three seconds. Reed, in the deep middle, arrived late from the opposite hash.
Odds and ends: The pass rush was nowhere to be found. The Jets had only one sack; in their Week 3 meeting they sacked Manuel eight times. ... Smith actually completed three of his first four passes, meaning he went 5-for-19 after that. ... Curious play calling by Mornhinweg in the third quarter. After closing to within 20-7, they went three-and-out with three straight passes. ... Funny moment in the third quarter. The Jets tried a pick play with Holmes and Nelson, and they both ended up falling down. ... Even thought it was garbage time, the Bills didn't go soft against quarterback Matt Simms. They continued to send five-man rushes. Why not? The Jets' receiving corps doesn't scare anybody.