Three Thoughts: Geno Smith's struggles doom Jets in loss to Bears
1. Despite his two interceptions, Geno Smith has a lot to build on.
Things didn't start out well at all for Geno Smith, who threw an awful interception that was returned for a touchdown on the Jets' first pass from scrimmage. Yes, the second-year quarterback had his share of inconsistency throughout this loss, but overall, I think the Jets have the right quarterback for their future -- if they learn how to use him. Smith finished with 26 completions in 43 attempts for 316 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, and neither he nor the rest of the Jets' offense could do much in the red zone.
On that pick-six, Smith first looked to his left, threw off a little pump-fake, turned to his right, found pressure from Bears end Lamarr Houston (who was compressing the pocket on that side), and threw an off-balance screen pass meant for running back Chris Johnson. Mundy was lurking, and Johnson wasn't set to make the catch -- Smith basically threw the screen without seeing it -- and it was an easy turnover and score for the Bears. Then, in the third quarter, Smith was off-balance and basically jumping when he winged an absolute howler in the end zone that Chicago cornerback Kyle Fuller (more on him later) jumped up to intercept. And the final throw of the game to Jeremy Kerley, which was incomplete out of bounds with reserve defensive back Brock Vereen covering, was no great shakes, either.
But despite all that, Smith continued to show the improvements we've seen throughout the 2014 season so far. He's grown in his ability to throw with anticipation, maintain poise under pressure, become comfortable with reading the entire field. Smith's second-quarter touchdown pass to Kerley was an absolute dart which did put Kerley in the sights of safety Danny McCray (who was penalized for a clean shoulder hit), but Smith proved that he had no trouble bringing his team back from the bank of the abyss with a receiving corps that some college teams would reject. Eric Decker made one catch before being taken out of the game with a hamstring injury.
It would also help if offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg treated Smith like the quarterback he is, as opposed to the quarterback Mornhinweg apparently wants him to be. Too often, the Jets got cute with Smith, asking him to perform designed runs and lining him up at receiver at one point. Despite physical appearances, Smith has never been a running quarterback -- at West Virginia and in the NFL, he's been more of a mobile pocket passer who can get free from pressure and will stand in to make stick throws under pressure. If Smith was the typical inexperienced running quarterback, you'd see him bail far more often after his first read was closed up. It's up to Mornhinweg and the Jets' staff to maximize Smith's true abilities, and that seems to get lost in all the playcalling cuteness from time to time.
2. Jay Cutler beat the Jets' blitz just enough to win.
There were times when the Jets' defensive front looked like a hyperactive petri dish, but among the Bears' excellent protection schemes, a series of quick passing options and Jay Cutler's impressive athleticism to bail out of pressure, it was tough for Rex Ryan's defense to get home early on. It's a hallmark of Marc Trestman's offense that the quarterback will either have adequate protection or enough escape hatches to get out of blitz, and it must certainly be a relief to Cutler after the eras of Mike Martz and Mike Tice, when quarterback protection seemed an annoyance at best. On the first-quarter touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett, Cutler was upbraided by the Jets' pass rush, but evaded the defenders and made the correct throw. It's here when Cutler is at his most frustrating for a defense, when he combines his athleticism and amazing arm to present a series of impossible problems.
However, the Bears were given a gift by the officials late in the second quarter, when Cutler was set upon, fumbled the ball and the Jets recovered it and returned it for a touchdown. Jerome Boger and his crew originally blew the ball dead. When the play was reviewed, the call of no fumble was overturned. But because Boger's crew blew the play dead early, the Jets were denied a clear touchdown that should have been theirs. Of course, Jets fans were already fuming at Boger and his merry men, because a questionable pass interference call set up the aforementioned touchdown from Cutler to Bennett. At the very least, the Jets should have had a 20-17 halftime lead, but instead had to settle for a 17-13 result at that point. Still, all the blame can't fall on Boger. The Jets' subsequent red zone issues weren't his fault. You can chalk many of those goofs up to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
Of course, Cutler prefers to kill defenses with time to throw, and that's what he did to open the second half. After a seven-yard run from receiver Alshon Jeffery, Cutler connected with Jeffery on a 47-yard pass, eventually re-connecting with Bennett for the tight end's second touchdown of the game.
Even when Cutler was effectively blitzed, the Jets had to get to him or else, because Rex Ryan's cornerbacks aren't good enough to play man-to-man in that old-school "island" coverage as Ryan would prefer.
3. After three weeks, Kyle Fuller has the Defensive Rookie of the Year award locked up.
Last Sunday night, the Bears' rookie cornerback intercepted San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick twice as Chicago scored 21 fourth-quarter points for an amazing comeback win. Against the Jets, Fuller turned his attention to something that longtime Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman turned into an art over his long career -- the forced fumble. Fuller punched out two fumbles and picked off his league-leading third interception of the season, adding to his resume as one of the most complete young defenders in the NFL. Tillman was lost for the season in that San Francisco win, but he's still around, and he's mentoring the rookie the right way.
"I just see greatness," Tillman said of Fuller after the 49ers win. "He had a hell of game; great coming out party. If anybody was happy for him, I was.
"I think, too, though, we have a good defense. And my role right now is to help our defense out, not just Kyle Fuller. I think my overall role is to help out our team. That's the point I want to really get across."
Whatever Tillman's doing, one can assume that Fuller's getting the graduate class on turnover creation. And the Bears are benefiting.