Jets err by not letting Geno Smith air it out

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
10:09
PM ET


FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Geno Smith has produced Tebow-esque numbers in recent weeks, in part because the New York Jets have dusted off game plans from 2009, Mark Sanchez's rookie year. What next, the color-coded wrist band?

The Jets (5-6) are coaching not to lose, and that's too bad because the season started with such promise. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, hired because of his "attacking" philosophy (Rex Ryan's description), brought a fresh and bold approach because he didn't suffocate his rookie quarterback in bubble wrap. He let Smith use that big arm, and the Jets actually resembled a 21st-century offense.

But they have reverted to their old Ground & Pound ways, becoming predictable and stagnant. Ryan, understandably concerned about Smith's turnovers, wants to minimize risk. Fine, but there's a point of diminishing returns, and they've reached that point. The best way to spark the offense is to reboot, return to their September aggressiveness and hope Smith isn't too deep into his funk that he can't respond.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyCan struggling rookie QB Geno Smith rebound to lead the Jets to a playoff berth?
Their season is riding on it.

Ryan bristled Wednesday when asked repeatedly about the conservative approach. He said the game plans are dictated by the opponent. He was careful not to indict Smith, although he acknowledged there's "a conscious effort to protect the football."

It's easy to become a little gun shy when your quarterback has 22 turnovers, but the Jets are micromanaging him. In Sunday's loss to the Baltimore Ravens, it looked like a single-wing offense as they ran eight plays out of the Wildcat formation -- a "high school" offense, according to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. He was referring to his own team's use of the Wildcat. The Jets? They were middle school.

"I'll take full responsibility that we haven't been as effective," Ryan said.

Turning sarcastic, he added: "It's on me because we've been running the ball too much. I got you. I'll take it. I'm with you all the way. I don't know if we ran too much against New Orleans when we threw it 19 times, and that's probably the best team in football."

They won that game, of course, rushing for a season-high 198 yards. Ryan's point is well-taken, but they've continued to rely too heavily on a running game that, quite frankly, isn't nearly as effective as it was in 2009, when it carried the young Sanchez to the playoffs.

Over the last five games, the run-pass ratio has been a 50-50 split, compared to 46-54 in the first five -- an obvious shift toward the running game.

"Obviously, with Geno being a young guy, you want to protect him in some aspects," guard Willie Colon said. "Running the ball is one way of doing it."

When they do throw, it's not the same as it used to be, as Mornhinweg has dialed back the vertical passing game. In the first seven games, Smith averaged seven attempts per game of 15-plus yards. Over the last four, it dropped to 4.3 per game, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Not only is it hurting the offense, but it's stunting Smith's development.

"It takes a ton of precision [to throw downfield] and, quite honestly, I haven't been as precise as I was in the first couple of games," said Smith, taking the blame, as he usually does.

The Jets they say they veered away from the passing game, in part, because there were too many moving parts, hurting chemistry. Santonio Holmes missed five games with a hamstring injury and Kellen Winslow missed four games because of a PED suspension. They're back now, but the offense still resembles something out of the 1980s.

On Sunday, the Jets face the Miami Dolphins in a virtual must-win game. The Dolphins struggle against the run (26th overall), but they have 14 interceptions, only two off the league lead. The matchup screams, "Run the ball!" But here's the deal: It's hard to run the ball against anybody when you're facing a steady diet of eight-man fronts.

The Jets have tried to turn the numbers in their favor by using the Wildcat, which is supposed to be 11-on-11 football. In fact, they've employed the Wildcat a league-high 32 plays. It's not a bad change of pace, but they'd have more success loosening up defenses by actually throwing the ball downfield.

Smith claimed they haven't shied away from calling those plays, but in reality, they have. The Jets are coaching scared. Smith, who completed 55 passes in his first three games, has been held to single-digit completions in each of the last three. The last quarterback to do that?

Tim Tebow, 2011.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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