The New York Jets played a downright ugly game yesterday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Geno Smith showed us why it’s difficult to be a success as a rookie quarterback. He played really well last week against the Atlanta Falcons, but a better Steelers defense was his foil. You can see that Smith is improving, but he still has a ways to go in the decision-making department; I wonder if we were all spoiled by last year’s insane crop of rookie signal-callers. Below is a recap of five performances from Sunday’s 19-6 loss.
1. QB Geno Smith
For the New York Jets, it all started and ended with rookie quarterback Geno Smith, who threw two incredibly untimely interceptions. Smith had an awful game all-around, and there’s just absolutely no way to sugarcoat it. But honestly, did we expect him to suddenly play at a high level? There are always going to be growing pains, especially for a rookie quarterback who doesn’t have a legitimate No. 1 receiver in tote. Even so, there is no justification for Smith’s first pick, which was as bad of a decision as you will ever see. It took away a chance for a New York Jets touchdown, and it was a gimme pick for veteran Steelers safety Ryan Clark. The second pick went right to Lawrence Timmons and didn’t seem to be in the vicinity of a receiver, but Smith was hit extremely hard as he threw it; the Jets have got to do a better job of protecting him than that.
I want to make this clear, though. If you were going overboard in touting Smith following the Falcons game, then this was your wake-up call to pump the brakes a little bit. But if you are using this game as a springboard for some convoluted “This is why we should start we-know-who-he-is Mark Sanchez“, then I think you are losing sight of the big picture. The big picture is learning what you have in Geno Smith, developing him in games, and one thing I love about Geno is his ability to shake off mistakes mentally like that.
2. TE Jeff Cumberland
I have a feeling we are going to see an awful lot of Jeff Cumberland these days, and he was touted as a potential breakout player before the season started. While I don’t think Cumberland has the talent to be like a breakout star, I do think he is a solid, consistent target in the Jets offense. And honestly, that’s all you can ask for with a rookie QB in Geno Smith. TEs are oftentimes the quarterback’s safety valve, and that’s especially true for teams lacking a legit No. 1 option. Smith threw it to Cumberland just five times yesterday, but Cumberland was clearly the New York Jets best pass-catcher with four receptions for 59 yards on those five targets. With Kellen Winslow Jr. suspended, we are going to continue to hear Cumberland’s name/number.
3. Pass Defense
The New York Jets pass defense was abysmal yesterday, and Antonio Cromartie really had a rough day. I’m sure his hyperextended knee affected him significantly (he suffered the injury during Thursday’s practice), but he still needs to be called out for a really brutal day in coverage. Cromartie was burned a number of times, and his nightmare season continues. We’re all anxiously waiting for Cro to return to last year’s form, because the Jets desperately need him to play like a No. 1 CB.
The rest of the pass defense was disastrous as well, as they allowed Emmanuel Sanders to break open big plays (most prominently a 55-yard TD pass), Heath Miller to work the middle of the field and seams with six receptions for 84 yards, and star wideout Antonio Brown was moving the chains with a great deal of success by hauling in nine catches on 11 targets. Ben Roethlisberger just shredded the New York Jets defense with a 76.7% completion percentage, no picks, an average of 8.8 yards per attempt, and a QB Rating of 113.8.
4. DE Muhammad Wilkerson
Let’s talk about the good. Muhammad Wilkerson is the best player on the New York Jets, and I feel quite confident in making that statement. Fellow defensive linemen Damon Harrison and rookie Sheldon Richardson have certainly come into their own this year, but Wilkerson is one of the true stars on defense in this league. He notched a sack and nearly forced a safety on Big Ben, but the evasive QB managed to elude surrendering two points. Wilkerson was the most disruptive player on the Jets once again, and he was able to get some good pressure on Roethlisberger.
5. RB Bilal Powell
I’m focusing in on Bilal Powell for this last “Five in Review”, because I like to take a quick look at injury impacts. Jets RB Mike Goodson reportedly suffered a significant injury in yesterday’s game, which means that we could see Bilal Powell continue to lead the team in carries. While Chris Ivory is the more talented back from this view, Powell received more than double the carries yesterday (9:4). I think Powell needs to do a better job of providing a consistent running game for the Jets offense, because the fact that he only averaged 3.3 yards per carry on those nine runs hurt Geno. He has done about an average job on the ground this season and was able to catch all three passes thrown at him yesterday, so Powell will need to be solid going forward. I’ve never really been impressed by Powell, but all he needs to do is be solid.