Where Must Seattle Seahawks QB Geno Smith Improve Entering Crucial 2024 Season?

In some regards, Geno Smith has played like a top-10 quarterback for the Seahawks, but several areas stand out for him to improve upon in a new offense.
Nov 19, 2023; Inglewood, California, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith (7) looks to pass against the Los Angeles Rams in the second quarter at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 19, 2023; Inglewood, California, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith (7) looks to pass against the Los Angeles Rams in the second quarter at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
In this story:

Back under center for his third season as starting quarterback and one of the team's leaders in the locker room, the Seattle Seahawks will be counting on Geno Smith to elevate his game to another level orchestrating coordinator Ryan Grubb's high-powered offense.

Since taking over for Russell Wilson, Smith has put up strong numbers in two seasons as Seattle's starter, ranking in the top 10 among quarterbacks in passing yards, touchdowns, and completion percentage. He's also led more game-winning drives than any quarterback during that span, producing eight such drives in 32 starts.

At the same time, Smith's numbers took a dive last season coming off his Comeback Player of the Year selection in 2022, throwing only 20 touchdowns and seeing his completion percentage drop nearly five percent. Set to turn 34 years old with one year remaining on his deal after this season and Sam Howell now waiting in the wings as a potential successor, he likely will be playing for his future with the franchise this upcoming season.

Teaming up with Grubb in an aggressive passing offense, where must Smith demonstrate the most growth to help lead the Seahawks back to the playoffs and potentially stake his claim to the starting role beyond this season?

Looking at his numbers from the past two years with data courtesy of Pro Football Focus, here are five notable areas of improvement for the veteran gunslinger:

1. Improve across the board in traditional, non-play action drop backs.

Play action can be a quarterback's best friend and few, if any, signal callers have benefited more from play fakes over the past two years than Smith. Out of 24 qualified passers who attempted at least 79 play action passes in 2023, he ranked second in completion rate (73.9 percent), second in Big-Time Throws (12), fifth in yards per attempt (9.6), and eighth in passer rating (111.6). Those numbers could have been even better if not for five dropped passes by receivers.

But while Smith diced up opponents as much as any quarterback on play action concepts last season, his play dropped off dramatically on traditional drop backs. On non-play action passes, his completion rate plunged to 19th (61.8 percent), his yards per attempt dropped to 17th (6.5), and he threw 16 touchdowns compared to eight interceptions with a pedestrian 86.0 passer rating. At best, he was a middling performer without being aided by a play fake, and that will have to change for him to maximize Grubb's scheme.

2. Continue to emphasize taking care of the football, limiting turnover-worthy throws.

If there's been a consistent bugaboo in Smith's game since taking over as Seattle's starter two years ago, while there's obvious subjectivity when it comes to assessing turnover-worthy throws, he has had a propensity for being a bit too aggressive trying to squeeze passes into receivers at times. This proved to be a huge problem early last season, as he ranked seventh in interceptions thrown and turnover-worthy throws through Week 9.

In 2022, Smith ranked second in turnover-worthy throws (31) and third in turnover-worthy throw percentage (4.2 percent), but only 12 of those turned into interceptions. Last season, he made slight improvements in both categories, ranking 11th in turnover-worthy throws (21) and sixth in turnover-worthy throw rate (3.6 percent), but nine of those passes ended in interceptions, a five percent spike from the year prior that demonstrated worse fortune for the veteran quarterback.

Joining forces with Grubb, Smith will be asked to air it out in an offense that suits his strengths well and with that aggressiveness, interceptions will be bound to happen occasionally. But taking another step forward in the turnover department and building off a strong finish with only two picks in his last six starts last season would be a major difference maker for Seattle's offense as a whole.

3. Shore up effectiveness in intermediate passing game on throws between 10 and 19 yards.

For a second straight season, while his touchdown total dipped, Smith ranked among the NFL's elite on throws beyond 20 yards through the air. Even with a decrease in scoring tosses, he finished second in Big-Time Throws (26) with a respectable five touchdowns to two interceptions ratio, ranking 10th with a 104.6 passer rating on such pass attempts.

On the flip side, Smith didn't make any tangible progressions in the intermediate passing game, which contributed substantially to his overall statistical regression. After throwing 13 touchdown passes on throws traveling between 10 and 19 yards in 2022, he only threw eight last season, and he dipped from ninth to 16th in yardage and ninth to 11th in passer rating. If there's a silver lining, his completion rate jumped up almost five percent and his yards per attempt increased by a full yard, but he still struggled on intermediate throws more than any other levels in the passing game.

To fully unlock the potential of Grubb's offense, Smith will have to take better advantage of his opportunities on mid-level throws both outside of the numbers and in the middle of the field. Continuing to build a rapport with second-year receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and creating more chances for tight end Noah Fant should only help those efforts, while DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett have also proven to be capable weapons in the intermediate game.

4. Figure out how to step up during the middle quarters of games.

Oddly enough, no quarterback may have been more Jekyl and Hyde over the course of a game than Smith last season. Out of the gate, Smith completed north of 70 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and no interceptions in the first quarter of games in 2022, while he led the league in game-winning drives and fourth quarter comebacks displaying an unflappable clutch gene to help the Seahawks eek out several tight contests.

Nov 23, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith (7) passes against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 23, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith (7) passes against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports / Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

But while Smith started and finished games playing like a top-10 quarterback, the same couldn't be said in the meat of games in the second and third quarter. Per Pro Football Reference, after the first 15 minutes passed, he struggled in the final quarter before the half, completing under 60 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and four interceptions, ranking 32nd in passer rating (80.5) behind even former Patriots starter Mac Jones. Coming out of halftime, he was one of the worst performers in the third quarter, throwing just one touchdown with four interceptions while ranking 27th in passer rating.

Context matters when looking at quarter splits and Smith doesn't deserve all the blame for his numbers falling off in the middle of games. Interestingly, the Seahawks ran the ball better in those quarters, ranking sixth in yards per carry (4.9) and first in touchdowns (15), which contributed to his smaller touchdown totals. Still, his uncharacteristically low completion rate and high turnover numbers stand out, and Grubb's mission should be unlocking more consistency from his quarterback.

5. Play a critical role in improvements sustaining drives with better third down efficiency.

Third down woes pre-dated Smith's ascent to starting quarterback, as the inability to extend drives often plagued the offense even during Russell Wilson's best years, and poor offensive line play helped exacerbate the issue. Nonetheless, the Seahawks have been one of the worst teams converting third downs each of the past two seasons and the veteran passer hasn't been exempt from contributing to those chronic problems.

On money downs, Smith ranked 30th out of 38 qualified passers completing 56.9 percent of his throws and threw five touchdowns compared to five interceptions, posting an unideal 1:1 ratio. In addition, he ranked 31st in passer rating (72.7), 29th in yards per attempt (6.3), and tied for fifth in interceptions on third downs, finishing in the bottom third in most categories.

In Smith's defense, Seattle averaged 7.1 yards to go per third down in 2023, which ranked 21st out of 32 teams. The offense often was way behind the sticks due to an inconsistent ground game and pass protection breakdowns, inevitably lowering the chance for a conversion. Grubb can help his quarterback by engineering a better all-around run game and scheming to help protection, as a smaller yards to go average on third down should lead to better numbers from Smith and result in more opportunities to put points on the board.


Published |Modified
Corbin K. Smith

CORBIN K. SMITH

Graduating from Manchester College in 2012, Smith began his professional career as a high school Economics teacher in Indianapolis and launched his own NFL website covering the Seahawks as a hobby. After teaching and coaching high school football for five years, he transitioned to a full-time sports reporter in 2017, writing for USA Today's Seahawks Wire while continuing to produce the Legion of 12 podcast. He joined the Arena Group in August 2018 and also currently hosts the daily Locked On Seahawks podcast with Rob Rang and Nick Lee. Away from his coverage of the Seahawks and the NFL, Smith dabbles in standup comedy, is a heavy metal enthusiast and previously performed as lead vocalist for a metal band, and enjoys distance running and weight lifting. A habitual commuter, he resides with his wife Natalia in Colorado and spends extensive time reporting from his second residence in the Pacific Northwest.