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NY Jets defense must use this proven strategy to stop Geno Smith

Robert Saleh, NY Jets, HC, Geno Smith, Seahawks
Robert Saleh, New York Jets, Getty Images

Blitzing is the key to thwarting Geno Smith. Will the New York Jets follow the proven formula or stick to their bread and butter?

Typically, Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich do not like to blitz. They trust their four-man rush to get the job done.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the New York Jets have sent 5+ pass rushers on only 17.7% of opponent passing plays in 2022, ranking third-lowest in the NFL (league average is 27.0%). They use a four-man rush 72.4% of the time, ranking fifth-highest.

This strategy has worked well for the most part. The Jets lead the NFL in quarterback hits (111) and are tied for ninth in sacks (40).

But Week 17 is the perfect time for Saleh and Ulbrich to surprise their opponents with a switch-up.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith struggles against the blitz and plays like a star when he is not blitzed. Few quarterbacks in the NFL see a larger drop-off in productivity when blitzed than Smith.

When faced with four pass rushers or fewer, Smith has produced 0.06 EPA (Expected Points Added) per dropback this season. That ranks 11th-best out of 42 qualified quarterbacks (min. 100 pass attempts).

When faced with 5+ pass rushers, Smith is averaging a lowly -0.17 EPA per dropback, ranking 33rd out of 42 qualifiers.

The -0.23 drop-off in Smith’s EPA/dropback when blitzed is the sixth-largest decline among 42 qualified quarterbacks:

  • Marcus Mariota, ATL: -0.53 (0.11 unblitzed, -0.42 blitzed)
  • Justin Fields, CHI: -0.49 (-0.06 unblitzed, -0.55 blitzed)
  • P.J. Walker, CAR: -0.39 (-0.12 unblitzed, -0.51 blitzed)
  • Mac Jones, NE: -0.39 (-0.06 unblitzed, -0.45 blitzed)
  • Jalen Hurts, PHI: -0.29 (0.15 unblitzed, -0.14 blitzed)
  • Geno Smith, SEA: -0.23 (0.06 unblitzed, -0.17 blitzed)

If you would rather see this exemplified by a more traditional statistic, the story stays the same. Smith ranks third-best with a 107.7 passer rating against four pass rushers or fewer, while he ranks 29th with a 91.0 passer rating when blitzed. That’s a 16.7-point decline, ranking fourth-largest:

  • Brock Purdy, SF: -64.3 (121.7 unblitzed, 57.4 blitzed)
  • Marcus Mariota, ATL: -29.7 (97.8 unblitzed, 68.1 blitzed)
  • Mac Jones, NE: -19.7 (88.6 unblitzed, 68.9 blitzed)
  • Geno Smith, SEA: -16.7 (107.7 unblitzed, 91.0 blitzed)
  • P.J. Walker, CAR: -16.3 (82.0 unblitzed, 65.7 blitzed)
  • Colt McCoy, ARI: -15.3 (80.4 unblitzed, 65.1 blitzed)

Smith’s woes against the blitz have been particularly apparent during Seattle’s active three-game losing streak.

Over the past three weeks, Smith is averaging a horrendous -0.44 EPA per dropback against the blitz, ranking 28th out of 34 qualified quarterbacks across this span. His 56.0 passer rating against the blitz ranks 30th.

This is the continuation of a season-long trend for Smith. Opponents quickly caught on to Smith’s struggles against the blitz after his red-hot start to the season. He began to see blitzes sent his way at a very high frequency, and it’s led to a decline in overall productivity that has only worsened as the season has gone on.

Through Week 5, Smith was blitzed on 39 dropbacks (7.8 per game), ranking as the 23rd-most among quarterbacks. During this span of light blitzing, Smith was playing elite football. He had 9 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 0 lost fumbles, a 75.2% completion rate, an 8.3 yards-per-attempt average, and a 113.2 passer rating.

Ever since then, opponents have been sending an incredible amount of blitzes at Smith.

Since Week 6, Smith has been blitzed on 126 dropbacks, ranking as the third-most among quarterbacks. That’s 12.6 blitzes per game – nearly five more per game than he was seeing through Week 5.

The increase in blitzes has been accompanied by a dip in Smith’s overall numbers. Over his past 10 games, Smith has 18 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 4 lost fumbles, a 68.7% completion rate, a 7.3 yards-per-attempt average, and a 98.3 passer rating.

Weeks 1-5Weeks 6-16
Total Dropbacks171408
Blitzed Dropbacks39126
Blitzes Per Game7.812.6
Blitz Rate22.8%30.9%
Pass TD918
Fumbles Lost04
Completion %75.2%68.7%
Yards Per Attempt8.37.3
Passer Rating113.298.3

Smith’s increase in turnovers is the biggest standout here. Since teams started turning up their blitz rate against him, Smith has nearly tripled his turnover frequency, going from 0.4 turnovers per game to 1.1 turnovers per game. This is a tantalizing sight for a Jets team that has struggled mightily to create takeaways over the past six games.

If I were in charge of the Jets’ defensive gameplan, I would be building my approach around these splits. The NFL has revealed a blueprint for slowing down this new-and-improved version of Geno Smith, so why not use it to your advantage?

I am not asking the Jets to suddenly start utilizing Wink Martindale’s uber-aggressive Giants playbook, but climbing from league-low blitz usage to league-average blitz usage is a reasonable proposition that makes sense for this particular opponent.

Pulling this off wouldn’t take anything drastic. Calling just four or five more blitzes than usual would do the trick. The Jets are averaging 6.3 blitzes per game this season. Let’s get that up to 10 or 11 blitzes this week. This could be enough to create a game-changing Smith turnover that tilts the tide.

Particularly, I would like to see the Jets increase their usage of the blitz on first down. This is the down where Smith has been at his worst against the blitz, and it is also the down where New York rarely ever pulls out a pressure package.

Smith is averaging -0.36 EPA per dropback against 5+ rushers on first down. That ranks 36th out of 37 qualified quarterbacks (min. 15 pass attempts in this scenario), beating only Carson Wentz.

Meanwhile, the Jets have sent 5+ rushers on only 14.1% of their first-down passing plays this season, ranking fourth-lowest (NFL average: 25.5%).

When your team has lost four games in a row and is facing two must-win games, it’s the perfect time to start breaking free from your tendencies and making some significant adjustments. I want to see the Jets’ defense get out of its comfort zone and boost its usage of blitz packages this week. If New York sticks to its usual plan of sitting back and trusting the four-man rush, there is a good chance Geno Smith will make them regret the decision.

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1 year ago

Is there a distinction between blitzing and pressure, or quick pressure? To my understanding, blitzing brings pressure faster but it carries the risk of leaving open receivers if the QB is quick enough to respond. The Jets pride themselves on bringing pressure without having to blitz. So what would be the difference, just that the pressure would come a second or two faster? What is Smith’s record against pressure overall, blitz and no blitz?

Matt Galemmo
1 year ago

Fields and especially Hurts presence on that list has me wondering how epa factors in undesigned QB scrambles. But as Smith’s struggles coincide with a losing streak, it probably factors it well enough.

1 year ago

Just give Q the heads up on the plan before the game haha