The Geno Smith era appears to be over after a week. That might have been a week too many, but Smith did get the start against at quarterback for the New York Giants last Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. The idea, as we all know now, was to evaluate future options at the quarterback position. Not many really believed Smith could be the answer in future seasons for the Giants, at least not anyone still in the building, but since Smith does now have a game on film, let’s evaluate away.
There were parts of the game plan that were tailored around making reads as simple as possible for Smith. That’s probably not what you want for a quarterback in his fifth professional season, but it is necessary for someone getting just his second start since 2014. Look at Smith’s passing chart per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. There’s a lot of short passes and a lot of them to his right. Fourteeen of Smith’s 34 passes (41.2 percent) qualified as short right. Only one pass traveled more than 15 yards down the field and that wasn’t until there was 2:14 left in the game.
It was clear the Giants wanted to cut down the field for Smith. They tried to do this with play-action bootlegs that got Smith away from the pass rush and into space -- something we noted the Giants should add in the offensive preview prior to the game.
This 5-yard pass to Rhett Ellison is about as easy as it gets. Much of the defense followed the play fake and Ellison was able to get separation into the flat.
Late in the second quarter, the Giants ran another bootleg with Smith designed to get him away from Khalil Mack. Sterling Shepard motioned into the formation and was asked to get a hand on Mack before his release into a route. It didn’t really work, but the play-action was enough to get Mack to bite. Smith’s deep bootleg allowed Mack to get a little closer than the quarterback probably wanted and allowed a few Raiders to recover from the play-action, but Smith still found Tavarres King on the sideline for a gain of 9 yardson first down.
It didn’t always work out that well, though. On the Giants’ third drive, they ran a designed sprint-out to the right -- towards Mack. Chad Wheeler and Rhett Ellison were tasked with doubling Mack, but at the snap, Mack’s inside move rendered the double team useless. Neither offensive player got a hand on Mack and he was free to the quarterback. There were only two receiving options to that side of the field. Sterling Shepard was much too deep for Smith to turn and hit on the run with Mack so close and Tavarres King had already stepped out of bounds, for some reason.
That highlights one of the biggest problems in this game plan: the Giants only made half measures in setting up an ideal situation for the quarterback. While there was an increase in play-action, there were plenty of failures in pass protection. Smith took three sacks in the game, two of which resulted in lost fumbles.
On the first sack, the Raiders overloaded the left side of the Giants’ offensive line. Mack lined up over Chad Wheeler, but dropped back into coverage. Instead, Oakland sent Bruce Irvin (51), NaVorro Bowman (53), and cornerback Travis Carrie (38) at Ereck Flowers and Shane Vereen. Vereen picked up Bowman -- poorly -- which left Flowers in conflict between Irvin and Currie. Flowers didn’t choose until Irvin was already past him, so he focused on Currie. Irvin went around the edge untouched and right to Smith. Smith barely felt the pressure and had room to step up or run, but he tried to get a pass off and Irvin was able to swat the ball out of his hand.
The pass protection was bad, but it also showcased Smith’s lack of pocket presence, a problem he showed in his one start last season that we also highlighted before the game and in his two previous years as a starter. Smith has to be more urgent with a defender that close and know a full windup for a pass won’t end well.
Everyone is to blame on the second sack. The play is doomed from the start when Wheeler has Mack one-on-one. Despite Evan Engram being lined up next to the right tackle, he’s not asked to chip one of the most dangerous pass rushers in the league. The play was supposed to be a quick hit to the left, as you can watch Smith’s head below go only in that direction. As Smith has his head turned to opposite way, Mack blew past Wheeler. Smith pump faked and didn’t like what he saw in coverage. Again, at this point there needs to be an alarm going off in the quarterback’s head to move. Instead, Smith reloads and gets clobbered by Mack for another sack and another lost fumble. This cost the Giants at least three points at the end of the first half.
By my unofficial hand time, this sack came in at about 2.8 seconds. That’s faster than the Giants would like, but nowhere near the fastest sacks in the league this year, which come in under 2.5 seconds. It was also just over Smith’s average time to throw on Sunday, which was 2.75 seconds per Next Gen Stats. Eli Manning had averaged 2.53 seconds, which is the sixth-lowest among quarterbacks and a big reason why some of the Giants’ pressure allowed numbers were also low. On Sunday, Smith held onto the ball longer, which invited more pressure and more sacks.
A third sack came late in the fourth quarter when Smith did try to flee the pocket. However, the three yard loss still turned a third-and-5 into a fourth-and-8 and a 49-yard field goal attempt into a 52-yard field goal attempt. It’s one Aldrick Rosas did hit to get the Giants within seven points, but the ensuing onside kick was not recovered.
The offense’s best play of the day, a 47-yard pass to Sterling Shepard came on a poorly placed ball down the middle where Shepard needed to make a great adjustment to the pass behind him before before turning upfield. It’s another play where Smith could have adjusted in the pocket and reset his feet, but instead he stayed stationary and it impacted the throw.
Smith’s lone touchdown pass was a nice throw coming off his first read to the left and aided by Evan Engram freezing the defense with a “stick-nod” smoother than just about any tight end you’ll see — also a route the Giants used often with Odell Beckham in the slot.
Overall, Smith finished the game 21-of-34 for 212 yards and a touchdown. That’s not an embarrassing statline, but 6.6 yards per attempt also shouldn’t be a sign of pride against a pass defense ranked 32nd by Football Outsiders’ DVOA.
Smith didn’t get the best circumstances for his shot at proving he could be a starter in the NFL, but he did show the flaws that kept him from that position in the first place. You could do worse than Geno Smith as a backup and maybe it’s not fair that was the only opportunity he’ll get this season, but the Giants will move back to Manning this Sunday with some sprinkles of Davis Webb down the line -- which brings problems of its own. The game wasn’t a catastrophe and if that’s the curve you want to grade this on, then fine. But it also did little to prove why this was a move that had to be made in the first place.