Counterpoint: Revisiting Geno Smith's potential missed touchdown to Jaxon Smith-Njigba

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

(Editor's note: This fanpost has been elevated to the front page)

Mookie recently wrote a post called Geno Smith’s worst decision of the Bengals game was an 11-yard run. I disagree. I was going to post this as a stand alone comment in that article rather than a fan-post, but I felt like some visuals would be helpful, and a regular post doesn't support posting multiple images.

The Play

Here's the play in question. It's a play action designed to get 1 on 1 coverage deep.

For the offense, this route keys toward the bottom of the screen, at the interaction between the Orange route, (run by Metcalf) and the Red route (run by Bobo). Metcalf running a 9 route outside the numbers will generally be double-covered by the defense, and for good reason. However, if that happens, the safety won't be in position to help on Bobo's crosser. The play is drawn up to give Jake Bobo will have 1 on 1 coverage 15 yards downfield with good leverage on the defender, although if the defense does something unusual there are contingencies built into the play.

Geno's first read is supposed to be the safety on that side of the field. If he doubles Metcalf, throw to Bobo. If he doubles Bobo, throw to Metcalf.

It's worth noting that Jaxon Smith-Njigba (the yellow pre-snap motion and blue route) is the third read. The RB does leak into the flat eventually, but he's really not in the progression. The TE doesn't run a route at all. To help sell the run fake he's given a wham block on the DE, which he has to maintain for the length of this slow-developing play.


When JSN begins his pre-snap motion the defender shifts with him. Typically this implies some form of man coverage. I've drawn a simple cover-2 man above. There's a lot of possible variations here that are beyond the scope of the article.

What matters to us is that against man, you're ALWAYS going to throw the Bobo route from the first picture. In virtually every variation of man the safety has to help on the deepest route, which means DK's bracketed and Bobo's running away from someone.

Interestingly, it wasn't actually man coverage. The hook defender was simply moving in to Mirror JSN as he moved from one part of that defender's zone to the other.

It's difficult to correctly read this pre-snap (I almost certainly would have gotten it wrong). Fortunately, it doesn't change much in terms of the post-snap read. Even in Zone this motion has the effect of taking the orange defender, and shifting him into a spot where he won't be able to influence the throw to either DK or Bobo.

Actual Coverage

Above is the actual coverage. It's a version of quarters that I like to call 3/5ths. Instead of dividing the deep field into 4 equal chunks, the three yellow zones account for about 60% of the deep field (the hashes and everything to the right) wile the orange zone takes the remaining 40%.

In theory what should happen is the orange zone picks up JSN. The top of field blue zone picks up the RB. The bottom of field yellow picks up DK. Bobo's route can be passed from one yellow to the other. Or (and this is what happens) the Center of Field yellow can take the crosser while the hashmark player drops to try and influence both throwing lanes.


In the above image, Geno is two steps from the bottom of his drop. You can see the hashmark defender (circled in blue) sinking to effect the window to both Bobo and Metcalf as described above.

If DK had eaten up the cushion on his guy, the blue defender wouldn't be deep enough to influence the throw. So the ball would go to DK. However it's easy to see (in Yellow) that the defender stayed on-top, and the blue defender can bracket from underneath. So the ball has to go to Bobo.

The guy in red has inside leverage on Jake (not good) and the guy in blue is in position to break on the route. If things don't change by the time Geno hits the bottom of his drop, it'll be time to go to the third read. But for now, Jake's got maybe 2-3 more steps to try and get inside leverage and come open.

On an unrelated note, you can see the guy with the Orange zone in the previous picture blowing his assignment and following Bobo well outside of his area of responsibility. He's doing it on purpose... by mistake. As a deep defender you don't want to stand around defending empty grass. If nobody is threatening your zone, you should help where you can. What this guy's mistaken about is JSN, who's about to come flying into the empty area this guy is supposed to be defending.

Geno is now at the bottom of his drop and needs to decide what to do with the ball. His first two reads are well covered. In the video you can see his head beginning to come around towards JSN. Had the pass-rusher in orange not been coming free, I've no doubt that Geno would have reset his feet for an easy TD. As is, he's got to climb the pocket to avoid a sack before he can make the throw.

Between the last still and now (maybe 3/10ths of a second) Geno's head has clearly finished snapping around and he's looking directly at JSN. As that happened he climbed the pocket, both to reset his feet, and to escape from the pass rusher.

Unfortunately, new defender (circled in orange) has now come loose, and is impacting the throw.

When Geno is on his A game, he probably still let it fly here. Sure it's a cross body throw to the left sideline by a QB drifting right. Yeah, the ball's got to go 45-50 yards downfield (back half of the end zone) and to the sideline. Maybe 55 total yards of distance. It's a VERY difficult throw. One that maybe 2/3rds of starting NFL QBs can't make reliably. And with the defender finally seeing what's happening, any under throw is likely to result in an interception. But none of those things matter, because when Geno is on his A game he makes that throw 9 times out of 10.

The key to that last paragraph is the twice repeated conditional clause. When Geno is on his A game. Geno wasn't on his A game yesterday. Imagine a baseball pitcher who - for whatever reason - cannot locate his fastball on a particular night. Instead of throwing the fastball in a fastball count and getting it clobbered, he throws a change up, looking to get a swinging strike.

That's what Smith did here. His best pitch wasn't working, so he went to something else and was effective with it. It's not like he didn't see JSN. He looked at him. He maneuvered in the pocket to set up the throw, and would have had it if a new defender didn't break free to disrupt things.

At this point, Smith was faced with two options. He could try the high degree of difficulty throw, even though he'd been struggling all day. Or he could take the first down.

I don't fault Smith for having enough self-awareness to realize he didn't have "it" yesterday. In Seattle we've seen what happens when a QB decides to take the long-odds hero ball instead of the first down play. This wasn't a bad play by Geno Smith. In fact, it's precisely this sort of high-level decision making where he's marked better than his predecessor.

I don't disagree with Mookie very often. But this wasn't a bad play. This was a goddamned good play.