Can the Jets fix Geno Smith’s struggles at quarterback?
With four games left in their season, the 5-7 Jets have no room for error. A loss and they are out of the playoff picture. There’s a lot of pressure on rookie quarterback Geno Smith to fix his recent slide and resurrect an offense that has scored a combined six points in the past two games.
The numbers are well known for Smith, who hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since an Oct. 20 overtime win over the Patriots. He has struggled to move the chains, with the Jets ranked No. 30 in total offense. Statistically, they are the worst passing offense in the league.
Steve Clarkson, the legendary quarterback coach who has mentored the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Jack Locker and E.J. Manuel, the top quarterback picked in this past April’s NFL Draft, sees a number of flaws in Smith’s game. After watching Smith play this year and examining him on film, Clarkson walked away with a prescription for what ails the Jets rookie.
“Mechanics, there’s a number of things that need fixing. His footwork is what you’d expect from someone who spent a lot of time in the shotgun formation [in college],” Clarkson told Metro. “He tends to have his feet duck-footed or kind of planted outward. It doesn’t let him rip his hips through throws. What that ultimately does is have his throws go high and wide, especially under duress, which happens a lot in New York.”
Another major issue Clarkson sees is his actual grip on the ball. It isn’t as much that Smith has smaller than normal hands for a quarterback, though he does, it is his hand placement on the ball and the ensuing angle of his shoulders and elbows.
Instead of having his elbow tight and in an “L” motion, Clarkson sees Smith’s elbow “fanning out” with bad body alignment, including his head being in almost a vertical position. This keeps him from being able to step into passes.
“When he separates his left hand from the ball as he starts to rotate through,” Clarkson said. “You will actually see the point of the football going in the opposite direction of where it should be going.”
There’s also the pass rush, which Clarkson said could be causing Smith to watch the pocket collapse rather than his wide receivers break open. The Jets face a Raiders team this Sunday known for bringing multiple bodies and trying to collapse the pocket. They already have 31 sacks in 12 games, coming off last year when they had just 25 sacks.
Linebacker Nick Roach (5 1/2 sacks) and Lamarr Houston (five sacks) pace the Raiders defense.
This past Sunday, with the Jets down just 6-0 at halftime to the Dolphins, Smith was pulled from the game in favor of backup quarterback Matt Simms. It was the third time this season and the second time in the past three games Smith was benched. But it was the first time Smith was taken out of a winnable game.
But head coach Rex Ryan praised Smith’s performances in practice on Wednesday and Thursday.
Smith doesn’t think he’s hit the mental wall all too common for rookies.
“I don’t see it. I don’t think so. As of late, I’ve been staying in the building later, trying to correct things,” Smith said. “I haven’t hit any wall of any sort and hopefully I don’t. I just want to continue to play football and I want to continue to progress and get better and just try to contribute to this team in any way I can.”
Turnovers have been a major issue for Smith, almost from the beginning of the season. He has thrown a league-high 19 interceptions, committed seven fumbles and has a league-low quarterback rating of 60.4.
Mechanics – or a lack thereof – are a major issue Clarkson said.
“His overcompensation for bad footwork, essentially not being able to step into throws [is a problem],” Clarkson said. “Then the anticipation and his accuracy, a lot of that is, does he have knowledge what he’s doing? If you don’t know what you’re doing, organically your mechanics will be flawed.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.