Florham Park, N.J.- As former Jets head coach Herm Edwards likes to say: It takes 3,000 snaps or three full years to affectively evaluate and determine what you have in a young quarterback.
After an up-and-down first three months of his first season, including a stretch in which he went five weeks without a touchdown pass, Smith concluded the season with a strong month of December. He led the Jets to a 3-1 record, ended the season with the only back-to-back zero turnover game of his career to this point and posted the second highest quarterback rating in the NFL in that span, recording a 78.9 rating.
It was only natural to assume and hope that going into his second year, Smith would be able to improve on that final month of the season and potentially improve on a surprising 8-8 record, but that has not been the case.
Smith’s season started off well, posting strong performances against Oakland and Green Bay, but he soon began to struggle and revert to his bad habits. Those struggles were evident when he was benched for the first time against the Chargers in an embarrassing 31-0 blowout loss.
To his credit, Smith rebounded with strong performances against perhaps the two best teams in the AFC, the Broncos and the Patriots. Again there was reason for optimism but in his next outing Smith inexplicably threw three consecutive interceptions in the first quarter, which resulted in him being benched for backup Michael Vick.
Smith didn’t start another game until December 1 against the Dolphins in which he only attempted 13 passes one of which was a game-ending interception.
In the last three weeks, Smith hasn’t played as bad as detractors say he has. He has finished with a QBR of over 80 in three straight games -- the first time in his career he has done that. But he has a penchant for throwing incredibly damaging and momentum killing interceptions, like when he threw a pick-six on his first pass attempt against the Vikings or his interception on Sunday that led to the Patriots scoring what ended up amounting to the game-winning touchdown.
The knocks on Smith are that he exhibits poor footwork, can be inaccurate, is a bad decision maker, holds on to the football to long and is turnover prone.
In two seasons, Smith has had only six turnover free games in his NFL career and has thrown 34 interceptions to only 22 touchdowns.
Some of Smith’s flaws were on display against the Patriots. While Smith didn’t play all that terribly, posting a higher rating than Tom Brady (83.9 to 76.1) Smith made two crucial mistakes that arguably cost the Jets the game.
The first was on that interception, a ball that was badly underthrown and intercepted by linebacker Jamie Collins, but taking a sack on third-and-four from the Patriot 24 resulted in a loss of ten-yards and turned what would have been a short field goal into a 51-yarder which ended up being partially blocked by defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.
“In close games, one or two bad decisions can be the difference and today, I think it hurt us,” said Smith after the game.
Ryan also offered up a pretty damming critique of Smith’s mistakes.
“He underthrew it. It was a poor throw,” said Ryan of Smiths interception.
Ryan who is usually nothing but positive also was not pleased of Smith’s inability to get rid of the ball before he took that sack.
“Pretty darn critical, “ said Ryan of the significance of the sack Smith took, “That’s something you have to learn from. You can’t take a sack there no matter who is in your face. Get rid of the football. You can’t take sacks in those situations.”
When you watch the tape on that sack however, you can see that the Jets blew an assignment on that play allowing Dont'a Hightower to get to Smith untouched.
“Now you really saw what he saw,” Ryan said after watching the tape Monday. “The guy was on top of him immediately and we had done a great job in protection the whole game and then we blow (an assignment).”
While that doesn’t excuse the Smith’s inability to get rid of the football, when you put the play into context it isn’t as egregious.
Some critics can question Smith’s decision-making but Smith does have plenty of positives. He has a big arm and he can make all the throws, he is athletic enough to buy time in the pocket and keep plays alive with his feet.
Smith was an incredibly raw prospect coming out. He came from West Virginia who ran a spread offense and it was known that Smith wasn’t a finished product and needed time to groom.
If not for a Mark Sanchez shoulder injury last year, Smith definitely wouldn’t have been the opening day starter for the Jets but instead was thrown into the fire right away.
What frustrates most Jet fans about Smith though is that he is not just inconsistent game-to-game, but drive-to-drive. Smith can put together really well executed scoring drives but on the next drive throw a bone-headed interception.
You are going to have growing pains with a young quarterback and Smith certainly isn’t a finished product. There are very few guys like Andrew Luck who can come into the NFL and set it on fire right away.
Smith hasn’t been great in his first two years but he hasn’t been as putrid as his detractors say he has been.
The winds of change are blowing and Smith has one more chance to avoid being blown away like his head coach and the man that drafted him.