The New York Jets travel to Cincinnati Sunday to take on the 5-2 Bengals.
It will be a tough task as the Bengals’ record stands at 5-2, leading the AFC North, and they are currently undefeated at home.
But on the Jets side, the focus will be on their team, and the struggle to become consistent behind a rookie quarterback.
Geno Smith has shown great presence and potential over his first seven starts, but he has also shown the tendency to be spectacularly bad as well. His “gunslinger” tendencies are what make him an exciting, big-play quarterback, but they are also the reason why he is third in the NFL in interceptions.
As Geno goes through his rookie struggles, so does the Jets. They have alternated wins over the course of the season, never winning two in a row, never losing two in a row. Much of that rests on the performance of Geno.
In wins, Smith is throwing 60.8% for a 7:4 touchdown to interception ratio. In losses, that percentage lowers to 55.3% and a disastrous TD:INT ratio of 1:7.
In a season where the defense has been stronger than expected (unless you realized early enough that Rex Ryan is still breathing), it has been the offense which has been the key to victory. Against a stout Cincinnati defense, the Jets are facing the most important game of Geno Smith’s career. Take down one of the NFL’s top teams and he can get a new tag placed on him: dependable.
The run game should be able to help him. While Bilal Powell was given less work for a week, the off-season’s projected starting running back, Chris Ivory, rumbled to 104 yards on the ground – by far his best performance since coming to New York. If the Jets can figure out the rotation between their two successful RBs, they will have the ground and pound foundation Rex Ryan has always wanted for his young quarterbacks.
If the Jets win today, they will be 5-3. Before the season, the focus was getting to 4-5 by their Week 10 Bye Week. With a weaker second half (Bills, Ravens, Dolphins, Raiders, Panthers, Browns, Dolphins) eking out five wins seems possible. But if they can get to 5-4 (or somehow 6-3) the road to a possible playoff berth in Geno Smith’s first season is possible.
As reported by Rich Eisen, Rex Ryan is the only head coach in the last 70 years to start two rookie quarterbacks for 7 games to start a season each over a 5-year span. He could also become the first one to get them into the playoffs in both seasons as well.