Sometimes, when contemplating a Jets loss, I find it instructive to check out the opponents’ local media coverage to see their reaction to the results. It generally tells you a lot more than the national media, because the local guys, (just like the local Jets beat reporters) usually have their finger on the pulse of the team and really know the intricacies of what is going on.
Last time the Jets played the Bills, it was a 27-20 Jets victory. I think the Jets thought this would be another easy win.
That’s why the Dave & Buster’s visit was such a dumb idea. Not because there’s anything wrong with wings and arcade games on a Saturday night. There isn’t. But it handed the Bills motivation. This is where the Jets are completely lacking in self-awareness. They spent all of the last two weeks basking in the playoff wild card adoration. They upset the New Orleans Saints and Rex beat his twin Rob straight up in this year’s version of the Ryan Bowl. The Jets allowed themselves to think maybe they had something brewing in spite of the naysayers.
All of which led to a textbook Jets flat start against a motivated opponent. All that was missing was a big target painted on their back.
In my opinion, this loss falls on the coaching staff. Yes, I know Geno Smith was atrocious (more on that in a minute), but the Jets coaching staff should have been ready for what Bills’ DC Mike Pettine would send against them. This was an obvious case of pupil wanting to show up his teacher, especially after the outcome from the first tilt. The Bills knew and were able to fully take advantage of every insider bit of info Pettine could give them, whether that was offensive line blocking tendencies, route running, or defensive scheming.
The Jets assumed victory after reading and believing their own press and probably figured this would be an quick one-two knockout punch of the Bills. It was easy to predict. I’m sure the Jets thought they were on their way to 6-4. After all, their rookie had bested the Bills to the tune of 331 passing yards on the last outing. Just a couple things: The Bills secondary was healthy this time. And, the maddening Jets offensive line allowed Smith to get hit and hurried over and over. The pressure worked perfectly and the bewildered Jets didn’t know what hit them.
Rex Ryan will not truly become an elite coach until he starts taking every opponent seriously. The Jets didn’t take the Bills seriously. It showed up in the execution of the game. The Jets secondary was awful. Ed Reed added nothing. He’s a pure vanity acquisition in my opinion. Marty Mornhinweg, although previously very smart in limiting Smith’s game plan in order to minimize mistakes (see the New Orleans game) inexplicably let Smith air it out in swirling 30 mph winds. They run game had so much going for it recently. Why abandon it now? Sure the Bills have a solid run defense. But you can’t give up on it entirely. Especially when your rookie QB is struggling so mightily.
Ah, Geno Smith. It is well documented that I have reservations about Smith. Sure, he’s athletic and has a big arm. But so far, I don’t see the mental fortitude required to be a starting quarterback. In fairness to Smith, he has had to fight the new NFL perception that all rookies can come out of college and just take over a program a la Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck. But that’s the exception and not the rule and I wish the national media would stop acting like it’s the other way around. From the day he was drafted, I was in favor of him spending the year on the bench learning the game, adjusting to its speed and perhaps getting some mop up duty in garbage time of wins or losses. The Jets should have let Mark Sanchez pilot the team through a clear transition year and brought their rookie along slowly. It would have been better for Smith, although the Sanchez fatigue in the fan base and the front office made that unlikely. I also blame new GM John Idzik who clearly was enamored of the idea that he could draft his own superstar rookie QB after seeing the success of Wilson in Seattle.
That has obviously proved to be wrong and the proof is in the numbers. I can hardly believe this but in the last five games Smith has throw eight picks and one touchdown. Eight and one! That’s horrible. That tells me a couple of things. First, there is film on Smith now. Opponents have a solid scouting report. I’m sure at the top of that report is that it is easy to jump routes and pick him off because Smith telegraphs his throws. This is a fairly common rookie mistake. Rookies in college often have success throwing to the open receiver once they sight him. On a team like WVU where there was the speedy Tavon Austin to race down the field, that was an easy play. But the NFL is different. It’s the best-of-the-best playmakers. You can’t wait until someone comes open and then throw the ball. You have to anticipate and throw to where the receiver will be. You do otherwise and it’s an easy interception for your opponent. Geno “I don’t stare down my receivers” Smith thinks this is not the problem. I beg to differ and so do opposing defenders. He will never progress until he corrects that.
So now the Jets are in a pickle. They are still in the hunt for a wildcard spot. But Smith’s confidence is shaky at best. Start Matt Simms? They are probably a wash talent-wise at this point in time. At least there’s less game film on Simms. But you cannot go to Simms until the Jets are eliminated from playoff contention. Why? That’s political. Smith is GM John Idzik’s draft choice. Benching him down the stretch is to admit defeat in the personnel evaluation department. You do the ego math.
Maybe Smith will miraculously pull it all together for the coming six games. I, personally, am not counting on it. But the Jets are in a tough spot. The best route to success is for OC Marty Mornhinweg to coach around Smith going forward. Lean heavily on the run game, simple screens and dump off passes and maybe a deep shot downfield every now and then to keep defenses honest. But going pass heavy is trouble especially since when you consider that this will be a cage match with five of the next six opponents all of whom are battling for that sixth wild card spot.
It would have been nice about now, if Smith continues to struggle, to have a solid veteran back up QB who could manage the game and keep the Jets’ playoff hopes alive. Too bad Mark Sanchez isn’t available. I bet Jets fans wouldn’t boo him now. (By the way, Sanchez must be fuming. He could easily have slid right into the starting spot and kept the Jets rolling.) That fateful decision to insert him into the Giants preseason game where he suffered a season ending injury to his throwing shoulder continues to have ripple effects. What if he was here and healthy? Or been traded for a seasoned veteran back up? And don’t tell me that David Garrard is the back up. He wouldn’t have survived the first hit Smith took against the Bills. That’s a young man’s game. It’s a waste of a roster spot too. Not because Garrard isn’t valuable. He is. Very. It’s just he should have been hired to be what he really is – an assistant QB coach to David Lee. (Confidential to Garrard – please work with Smith on his eye discipline. Thanks.)
The reality is that Smith is the Jets starting QB for the rest of the season. Either he’ll put it all together and play the kind of smart ball we saw that he is capable of in Atlanta, or he will continue to struggle. This is the part the Jets coaching staff has to keep vigilant about. Because if your rookie QB keeps throwing away legitimate wild card chances, the Jets will be on a fast track to a another fractured locker room and a another new QB come April.