Patriots focused on keeping Smith in pocket

Patriots focused on keeping Smith in pocket
October 17, 2013, 5:00 pm

FOXBORO -- Inside Patriots defensive meeting rooms, in all likelihood, they've seen the film of both plays. And if they haven't seen both, they've seen two like them.

The first came with 46 seconds left in a Week 5 game between the Jets and Falcons, with the Falcons leading, 28-27. On a second-and-one play at the Atlanta 44-yard line, Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith took a shotgun snap, and Falcons defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi provided pressure from the left edge, forcing Smith to tuck the ball and run. Smith quickly ducked inside and then bounced around Atlanta defensive end Osi Umenyiora on the right side, picking up six yards and a first down. Seconds later, New York kicker Nick Foles nailed a 44-yard field goal for the 30-28 win.

The second play came in last week's game between the Jets and Steelers. In the third quarter, with the Jets down 16-6 and hoping for another comeback, Smith dropped back to pass from the Pittsburgh 23-yard line. He patted in the ball, well-protected in the pocket, and threw into triple coverage. The pass was intercepted by Steelers safety Ryan Clark at the goal line. The Jets eventually lost the game, 19-6.

Though these two plays were not the lone deciding factors in the outcomes of either game, they illustrate the best and worst of Geno Smith. The Patriots defense knows that if he's allowed to get outside the pocket -- whether he throws or runs -- he's dangerous.

Of course the Patriots don't want Smith running down the field unaccounted for as he did in Atlanta. Keeping him in the pocket would guard against that.

And although Smith has had some success throwing from the pocket -- he made a pinpoint throw in the first quarter of New York's Week 2 loss to New England when he hit Santonio Holmes for a 25 yards while taking a huge hit from Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones -- there always looms the possibility that he makes a rookie mistake in there.

Against the Patriots in Week 2, Smith was 15-for-35 for 214 yards and he threw three interceptions. He also ran three times for 17 yards. Since then, the Jets have gone 2-2 behind Smith, and the Patriots have seen their rival's quarterback make strides in the read-option offense.

"We just have to make sure a guy like that doesn't hurt you with his legs as far as extending a play," Ninkovich said. "Whenever the receivers can look back and see that their quarterback is out of the pocket, they just kind of scramble and try to get open so at the defensive end position, it's your job to keep him in the pocket and not let him get out of the pocket and run for a first down or throw it for a deep pass."

Ninkovich and Jones have been two of the best at their position in terms of setting the edge and not allowing plays to get to the outside. While both can pass rush, neither is limited to that job. According to Pro Football Focus, each ranks in the top 15 in the NFL in both pass-rush productivity and run-stop percentage among 4-3 defensive ends.

Against a running quarterback like Smith, both Ninkovich and Jones -- and Ninkovich especially since he's not coming from Smith's blind side -- know it's important that they remember their responsibilities.

"He can see that if I get too far up the field, and step up in run," Ninkovich said. "I have to just make sure that he doesn't have a big open area to step up into and run. I'm just a little more conscious in my pass-rush lanes and just being tighter in everything that I do. Again, it's kind of ingrained in your head how to rush those types of guys."

And if it isn't, a quick look at the film should do the trick.