The Notebook: Fixing Geno Smith, diagnosing the Falcons

Rob Carr

Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White is back to open up his Notebook from Week 12. He discusses how the Jets aren't giving Geno much of a chance, some of the game's emerging wideouts in Tennessee and San Diego, and how the Falcons imploded.

As I was watching the Ravens beat the Jets on Sunday, one thought kept running through my mind while taking in the Jets' anemic offense: It's time to either let Geno Smith play quarterback or give someone else a shot.

Using Wildcat as a change-up is perfectly fine. The Jets, however, are using it as a staple of their offense. Maybe you can get away with that when you have a veteran guy who doesn't need to get in a rhythm to throw the ball well, but it's obviously not working with Smith. They will run Wildcat on first and second down at times and then expect Smith to convert a third down with a pass.

Sounds like a good plan.

The results are getting progressively worse. I'm not saying the Jets should have Smith trying to run the Broncos or Patriots offense, but they are doing Smith no favors with all the gimmicks they pull on offense throughout the game. Even if Geno starts the rest of the season, will the Jets have any idea what they have with him? I dare say they won't.

Here's my humble suggestion: run more of a traditional offense, even if it's out of the shotgun.

Run the ball, run the ball, then run it some more. When you have established the run, try to let Smith hit a few shots down the field on the play action pass. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't, but you at least find out whether he can run a regular offense.

If he can't, you give the other guys a shot for this year knowing that next year you will definitely need to find legitimate competition at that position. If he can, you are probably going to win more games and at the very least will feel confident that quarterback isn't a need for 2014.

I still see glimpses of a decent quarterback in every game Smith plays, but what they are doing on offense doesn't allow for much more than that. We also see the glimpses of a terrible quarterback, and those glimpses are becoming much more frequent than the underplayed positive ones. I just don't see how the Jets can continue this way for much longer without something changing.

Ice up, son

If I am a defensive coordinator facing the Panthers and they faced a fourth-and-10 with about two minutes and forty seconds left, down three, let me tell you who AIN'T gonna be catching the ball on that play: Steve Smith.

I wouldn't say single covering Smith in that situation on Sunday was a fireable offense, but Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle should probably keep his resume updated. I'm just saying.

A Titans twosome on the outside

Titans rookie wide receiver, and former Tennessee Vol, Justin Hunter had himself a nice little coming out party during their defeat of the Raiders on Sunday. So far this season, Hunter has seen mostly spot duty when the Titans needed a big play down the field. Before Sunday his high for catches in a game this season was two and his high for yards in a game was 51. With injuries forcing him into a bigger role on offense, Hunter demonstrated that he was up to the challenge, hauling in six catches for 106 yards including a fantastic run after the catch on a simple stop route that he turned into a 54-yard touchdown.

In crunch time with the game on the line, Hunter moved the sticks twice on the last drive to help his team get in the end zone to pull out a victory over the Raiders. If Hunter continues to blossom with his increased workload, I imagine Kenny Britt's time is just about up in Nashville.

Speaking of Titans wide receivers, there is one second-year player from Baylor picked in the first round who is not suffering through a sophomore slump. Kendall Wright has been on fire this season and has shown no signs of slowing down. He is currently tied for seventh in the NFL in catches, with 65 catches for 763 yards and two touchdowns on the year.

Remember when his position coach Shawn Jefferson reportedly said that Wright would soon make people forget about the Wes Welkers of the world? Coincidentally, Welker is one of the guys (Jimmy Graham is the other) who Wright is tied with in receptions, but Wright has gained 84 more yards on his catches. That's with Jake Locker and Ryan Fitzpatrick as his quarterbacks. He is still lagging behind in touchdowns, but it turns out maybe Coach Jefferson was on to something after all.

With Wright balling and Hunter coming on strong, the wide receiver position looks to be in good hands for years to come in Tennessee.

Denver's 3-4 look, and the Von Miller effect

I'm not sure how noticeable it was during the game Sunday night, but the Broncos played quite a bit of a traditional 3-4 alignment in their loss to the Patriots. This actually makes a ton of sense considering how well Shaun Phillips played in Von Miller's absence. Now that Miller is back, it allows Broncos interim coach/defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to keep both guys on the field at the same time and still be strong up the middle against the run. It also allows second-year defensive tackle Derek Wolfe to stay on the field more. Wolfe has been coming on strong of late.

The Broncos took it on the chin in overtime, but for much of the game their defense, and specifically Miller, gave the Patriots quarterback Tom Brady fits when he dropped back to throw. Some of that can definitely be attributed to that 3-4 alignment because, with all five of the offensive linemen covered up by defensive linemen, it was hard for anybody to help out the offensive tackle Miller decided to torment on that play. Things went downhill fast after Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie got hurt, but the pressure up front was still coming. I expect you will see more and more of this from them in the coming weeks. Opposing quarterbacks beware!

So long Seabass?

Several weeks ago I pointed out that normally reliable Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski was going through what appeared to be a case of the yips. For a guy who has been so good for so long from crazy distances (to the point that hitting 50-yarders for him seemed to have become passé), he was all of a sudden having problems making relative chip shots by his standards.

Well, whatever it is he has been going through this season, Sunday's game showed us it obviously still isn't fixed. The Titans beat the Raiders on a last-second touchdown, 23-19. While you can rightfully blame the defense for allowing the Titans to drive down and get the ball into the endzone with mere seconds remaining on the clock, the truth is, had Seabass not missed two field goals earlier in the game, they probably never would have been in that position.

It's one thing for Janikowski to miss the occasional long field goal try, but when he starts missing 32-yarders and 48-yarders, kicks that may have cost them the game, it might be time to reevaluate his worth to that team.

Finding a common sense, middle ground on roughing the passer

I am all for taking measures to improve player safety on the field, but I have never been a big fan of the roughing the passer calls initiated because a defender hits the quarterback at the knee or below. If it's a late hit, sure. But if it's just a guy coming off a block trying to make a play while falling down, that just doesn't seem fair. The defender's only other option at that point is to try to avoid the quarterback altogether and allow that quarterback to possibly make a big play on the rest of the defense. Is that really what we want football to be about?

One play that really got my goat this weekend was the roughing the passer called on Jets defensive end Mo Wilkerson in the fourth quarter of their loss to the Ravens. Not only was Wilkerson off-balance when he hit Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in the knee area, HE WAS TRIPPED FROM BEHIND BY A RAVENS OFFENSIVE LINEMAN. If not for being tripped, which is illegal by the way, Wilkerson likely would have gotten a sack on Flacco hitting him higher and legally. Somehow the refs saw him fall into Flacco's legs, but didn't see the offensive lineman cause it.

Wilk1_medium

That is just ridiculous and I hope the league office finds some way to both protect the quarterback, but also allow for some common sense when it comes to making those calls. Right now defensive linemen are definitely getting the short end of the stick.

A little life from MJD

Well whaddya know, Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne doesn't throw an interception and all of a sudden their chances of winning a game skyrocket. But of course the Jaguars beat the Texans on Sunday more on the legs and hands of Maurice Jones-Drew than on the arm of Henne. MJD had season highs in both rushing yards and receiving yards with 84 and 60 against the Texans and showed that, while he may no longer possess the speed he once had, he still has really good vision and power.

On Sunday against the Texans that was more than enough.

Your Offensive ROY?

Can anybody cover Chargers rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen one-on-one? I'm starting to have my doubts. If you haven't seen him, just ask the Chiefs cornerbacks about him. I'm pretty sure they will co-sign my statement after he torched them on Sunday with 9 catches for 124 yards. This kid is the real deal and he is starting to make a big push for offensive rookie of the year. He already has 50 catches for 737 yards and three touchdowns.

With Allen alongside (now) left tackle D.J. Fluker, the Chargers seem to have struck some serious gold in the draft this year.

A RB answer in Oakland not named McFadden

With Maurice Jones-Drew hurt last year in Jacksonville, Rashad Jennings had an opportunity to make a name for himself. He had shown some good running ability in 2010 before being injured and out for all of 2011, so many Jaguars fans had high hopes for what he could do with his shot.

He ended up averaging 2.8 yards a carry. Safe to say he didn't set the world on fire.

Now with the Raiders, Jennings seems to finally have his swagger back. In fact, he has his rushing average up to 5.1 yards per carry and truth be told he looks like what most of us always expected his teammate Darren McFadden to look like, if that former first rounder could ever stay healthy. Jennings runs hard between the tackles and has enough burst and speed to break the long one as well.

If Jennings keeps this up, it will probably be McFadden who is looking for a new team next year.

How did the Falcons get here?

No NFL team stays the same from year to year. That is why it's so hard to predict how they will perform based on what they did last year. Some guys leave, willingly or not. New guys are brought in. Teams always have to find a way to make those additions and subtractions work to their benefit. Sometimes there is risk involved, particularly when it's a team that did well the previous season. But you never know how it will turn out until the whistle blows to start a new year.

Which brings us to the subject of what ails the Atlanta Falcons. After making it all the way to the NFC Championship game and getting ever-so-close to the Super Bowl, the Falcons were an early favorite to make it to New York in late January of 2014 to play for the title this season. After week 12, they sit at 2-9 and are the very first NFL team to be eliminated from the playoffs. How did they get here?

Injuries are a popular answer, and don't get me wrong, this Falcons team has had some truly catastrophic ones this year. The loss of Julio Jones for the season after only five games has had a tremendously negative effect on their offense. I have to say, however, that the roots of Atlanta's demise probably began in the offseason.

After almost reaching the Super Bowl last season, the Falcons curiously decided to make some pretty big changes on both sides of the ball. On offense, they released veteran offensive linemen Todd McClure and Tyson Clabo, who both started all of last season. McClure eventually retired and Clabo signed with the Dolphins. The Falcons also decided to sign aging running back Steven Jackson to lead their rushing attack after moving on from Michael Turner, rather than try to draft his replacement.

On defense, Atlanta let Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes sign elsewhere and decided to try to replace them in the draft with first round pick Desmond Trufant and second round pick Robert Alford. Grimes, of course, missed all but one game last season but has been the starter all year for Miami and has played pretty well. Robinson, who started all 16 games last year for the Falcons, caught on with the Chiefs, where he has played in four games, one of which he started. Obviously deciding to go very young at that position carried some risks. The Falcons brought Asante Samuel back as the starter at left corner but he obviously isn't what he once was when it comes to being a big time playmaker in coverage.

Maybe the most curious move in my mind was the Falcons allowing defensive end John Abraham to walk and signing Osi Umenyiora to replace him. I think Osi is a very good defensive end, but so is Abraham. And Abraham had been almost the entirety of the Falcons pass rush over the last six seasons. Not only that, but the Falcons didn't try to sign a vet to solve the same problem they had when Abraham was the starter: no pass rush from the defensive end on the opposite side. Yes, they drafted a couple of defensive ends in April, but so far those rookies have a combined zero starts. Instead, it had been Kroy Biermann starting opposite Umenyiora, and now he is injured and out for the season as well. Biermann has four sacks on the year; the rookies and second year defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi have combined for one.

Abraham came to the Falcons in 2006, Grimes in 2007 and Robinson in 2010. I believe the Falcons miss those guys not only on the field but off. It's hard to quantify how not having all three in the locker room could affect that team, but I think the play on the field shows it has to some degree.

To be clear, again, injuries have certainly played a major role in the Falcons going backward this year. Along with the aforementioned Jones, his partner in crime at wide receiver, Roddy White, has been banged up most of the year and has missed three games. Jackson has missed four games. Offensive tackle Sam Baker only played in four games before being placed on IR. That means that for most of this season, three of the starting offensive linemen from last year's team have not been on the field for the Falcons.

Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who seemed close to being an All Pro type linebacker last season, has been in and out of the lineup all year as well, playing in only four games so far.

His injury along with Stephen Nicholas' apparent benching means the Falcons have gone with two rookie undrafted free agents at linebacker for most of the year in Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu. We can debate whether those guys have done a good job filling in for Weatherspoon and Nicholas, but what isn't debatable is that last year the Falcons were fifth in the league in defense. This year?

They've dropped all the way down to 27th.

Let's be honest, the guys who are left standing from last year's team haven't played particularly well either. Starting safeties Thomas DeCoud and William Moore had six and four interceptions last year, respectively. This year they have one combined. Quarterback Matt Ryan, who signed a huge deal before the season, has also regressed some this year. With five games left to play he has already thrown 12 interceptions with just 18 touchdowns, while all of last year he only threw 14 with 32 touchdowns. You would expect the touchdown numbers to go down with Jones out and White banged up, but he has to protect the ball better. His game against the Buccaneers two weeks ago was one of the worst I've seen from him, accuracy wise.

In sum, yes, injuries have taken a serious toll on the Falcons this year, but we can't overlook the fact that Atlanta decided to remake its team at key positions in the offseason. And it hasn't worked out the way they had planned. It is the combination of those two things that has really dragged a once-contender down this year.

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