WRITTEN BY BRYAN FONSECA
The dilemma in which we all could have foreseen is finally upon us.
It was all good a couple of months ago, then $600 and one broken jaw later, the 2015 season of the New York Jets was destined to be just another side-show.
Or was it?
The (3-1) Jets and their passionate fan base may suggest that the season has been a success up to this point.
Or has it?
Which brings us back to the dilemma that has arrived just in time for the all-important bye week, and now we can discuss who should be the man for the job at the starting quarterback position moving forward.
In one corner, we have the very-bearded Ryan Fitzpatrick; a 32-year-old Harvard educated comme ci comme ca 11-year pro who has “led” the Jets to this mildly surprising (3-1) start.
In those four games, Fitzpatrick has thrown for 924 yards, seven touchdowns, and six interceptions (third in the NFL) while completing just above 60% of his passes.
For the record, Fitzpatrick has completed just above 60% of his passes for the duration of his career.
It should be noted that the 6-foot-2, 223 pound Ivy Leaguer is reunited (and it feels…so-so) with offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, the same Chan Gailey who, as a head coach, oversaw Fitzpatrick’s best career stretch up in Buffalo.
This stretch in upstate New York helped solidify the former seventh-round pick as a serviceable NFL quarterback.
Fitzpatrick threw for 3,000 passing yards for three consecutive seasons (2010-2012) with Gailey’s guidance. Fitzpatrick also threw 71 touchdowns and 54 interceptions in those three seasons.
In the other corner, we have Geno Smith; the soon to be 25-year-old West Virginia University alum and former starting quarterback for the Jets, until his jaw was broken by former teammate Ikemefuna (IK) Enemkpali in what was described as a “sucker punch.”
Smith, the Jets 2013 second-round selection, has had one hell of a ride in his first few seasons at the big apple to say the very least.
As a rookie, Smith was hot and cold; at times he’s looked like a future pro-bowler, and at other times he’s looked like a career back-up.
So in essence he’s looked like, you know, most other rookie quarterbacks that were forced into the starting role; which he himself was in the aftermath of the untimely injury to former starter and equally scrutinized Mark Sanchez.
At one point Smith had been benched, and returned to play his best football at the end of the season which included a four-game stretch where his QBR (78.9) ranked second only to Peyton Manning (85.1), during that same timespan.
In year two, the 6-foot-3, 225 pound Smith played as bad as a quarterback could possibly play during one game in particular at home against the Buffalo Bills.
Smith completed two out of eight pass attempts (25%) for five yards and a whopping three interceptions.
Smith was benched again, and returned to play his best football…again. This was highlighted by his season-ending performance against the Miami Dolphins where Smith completed 20 out of 25 pass attempts (80%) for 358 yards, three touchdowns to zero interceptions, and a 158.3 perfect passer rating.
The enigmatic Smith produced both of these acts in the same season and was due to begin 2015 as the Jets starting quarterback before getting his jaw broken.
And now with Smith back and healthy, Fitzpatrick holding down the starting position, and the Jets bye week looming, that begs for the discussion as to who should be the starter; Smith or Fitz.
Fitzpatrick has looked as he always has throughout his career; serviceable, not great, not terrible, but just enough to run your offense and get you along.
An easy argument can be made that the Jets’ offense has somewhat underachieved, but we’re not necessarily certain that Smith is the man to take this offense to another level.
‘Good Geno’ is really good, and at times the potential packed developing quarterback has shown the ability to play the position with success.
The problem is that the success has not been sustainable, and when ‘bad Geno’ arrives on the scene, you might want to bench him before it’s too late.
Here’s what we do know.
Fitzpatrick is not going to be a long-term solution at quarterback considering that he’ll be turning 33 next month, and also is in the final year of a short-term contract he signed with the Houston Texans before they shipped him out to New York.
Smith, while bipolar, was the starter throughout the summer before he got his chin checked.
The aforementioned Gailey was brought in by current Jets head coach Todd Bowles with the idea that the best version of Smith would be brought to life in a new and improved offense.
In an effort to help the QB to be, general manager Mike Maccagnan brought in legitimate star wide receiver Brandon Marshall to team up with another solid wide-out in Eric Decker.
Unlike the first two seasons with a receiving core led by Jeremy Kerley (seriously), and then Decker in 2014, the Jets seemingly and finally accumulated the offensive weapons needed for a young QB to prosper.
The Jets also spent their 2015 second-round choice on Ohio State receiver Devin Smith, which has yet to pay dividends in large part due to Smith’s previous rib and lung injuries that kept him out from training camp until week three.
It doesn’t help that the former Buckeye, a vertical receiver with solid speed, is being thrown to by Fitzpatrick.
It’s worth noting that Fitzpatrick completed a mere two out of 19 pass attempts and threw three interceptions on passes that were at least 20 yards downfield before week four.
Interestingly enough it was Geno Smith who, in spite of having vertical “threats” like Stephen Hill and Santonio Holmes (both of whom are out of the league now), had the seventh most accurate deep ball in the NFL as a rookie at 46.7%.
To simplify matters we can just do this.
Although Fitzpatrick has been running the offense with the team at (3-1) so far, the Jets have been successful because of their total defense, which is statistically the second-best in the league at the moment.
The Jets have also allowed a league-best 13.8 points per game, followed by the Denver Broncos who have allowed nearly four more points.
The Jets have also had a solid running game, which was spotlighted by running back Chris Ivory’s amazing performance against the Dolphins in a week four victory: 29 carries for 166 rushing yards and one touchdown.
Am I saying that the defense and running game has carried Fitzpatrick?
Well quite frankly, yes, and that’s okay.
This isn’t slander because football is a team game.
Hell, a defense with Darrelle Revis, Muhammad Wilkerson, Antonio Cromartie and Damon Harrison (among others) should carry your quarterback, especially if he isn’t that good.
The problem lies with former starter Geno Smith, because is he that good?
We still don’t know.
We haven’t gotten the chance to witness Smith throw to this combination of offensive weapons.
This is nothing like the the unit he had been previously working with which at one point included David Nelson (currently a free agent) as the number two-receiver on the team.
The guy who made that happen is fired, and that applies to whoever you believe that is between former head coach Rex Ryan, and former general manager John Idzik.
Idzik, the man who drafted Smith, didn’t do a good or decent job of surrounding the former Big-12 star with enough talent for a young quarterback to thrive.
Over two years after the Jets drafted Smith, he remains a question mark.
Fitzpatrick is the safe choice. He doesn’t have a strong arm, manages the game, and is a seasoned veteran who is respected by his peers.
Smith is a high-risk, high-reward prospect. He has every physical took imaginable for a quarterback; including size, speed, arm strength, and mobility. He’s also eight-years younger, and still developing.
Fitzpatrick, 32 (for now), is what he is, and we’ve witnessed the best of what he has to offer.
What he did in Buffalo, and what he’s doing now in New York, this is it.
Fitzpatrick hasn’t done enough to completely lose the job so it may be wise to continue with him because he seems to have the command of the offense.
Another thing to be cognizant of is that teammates may not all be in favor of a change at (3-1).
Fitzpatrick has been the decent quarterback has been for a decade, but Smith was the starter before being sidelined.
I for one am too intrigued by what Smith can offer in this offense not to give him a look, and if there’s a time for the change, it may be now with an extra week to prepare for an opponent.
Understanding the message it can send, but hell, the Texans were complementary of Brian Hoyer all off-season long before giving him the starting spot over Ryan Mallett.
After a subpar week one showing, Mallett has been the starter ever since.
We just don’t know about what Smith can truly do in year-three, the year where young quarterbacks usually start to “get it.”
Although Fitzpatrick has coasted, I’m too interested in seeing how well the almost 25-year-old can do with Marshall (his former roommate), Decker and others.
For the record, if Smith were near the top of the interception list, Jets fans and others would be calling for his head left and right.
Fitzpatrick is near tops on that list, and not a sound.
Moving forward, as risky as it is, I’d roll with Smith.
My belief would be that the coaching and talent around could get the most out of Smith, and the most out of him is an upgrade over Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick is low-risk, low-reward, and Smith is high-risk, high-reward.
What’s life without risk?