It's Time to Talk About Geno Smith
NFL Week 4 - Name a feel-good story from this NFL season better than Geno Smith's.
In the aftermath of the Seattle Seahawks moving on from star quarterback Russell Wilson, the team gave three-year Seattle backup and nine-year NFL veteran Smith a chance to earn a season-long starting role alongside the recently acquired Drew Lock. The quarterback battle seemed to be of little consequence to the national media. Prognosticators had already relegated Seattle to the basement of the NFC West, placing them in competition for the top overall pick in the 2023 draft.
The Week 1 matchup between Seattle and the Wilson-led Denver Broncos was just that: a matchup between the Seahawks and the quarterback who used to lead them. Most of the narrative was focused on Nathanial Hackett's coaching blunders, the most prominent members of Seattle's Super Bowl XLVII team chirping Wilson on Twitter, and Seattle essentially winning their own proverbial Super Bowl in Week 1. Hidden within that, though, was a beautiful moment for Smith, getting to chance to truly command his own team for the first time since 2014. He has started games since then, but those came as a backup in temporary roles. This, at least for one season, was all his.
Smith even had the chance to cap it all off with an iconic mic drop of a quote: "They wrote me off, but I ain't write back."
That's where the national interest in Seattle ended. The Seahawks dropped back-to-back games against San Francisco and Atlanta, the former of which served as a momentary feel-good welcome back for Jimmy Garoppolo. It wasn't until this week, in the bargain bin version of 2018's Monday Night Football fireworks show between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams, that the Seahawks made their triumphant return to national consciousness with one statement: Geno Smith looks for real.
According to Stathead, Smith was in rare form Sunday. Only one other player has thrown for at least 300 yards on 75% completion with at least 40 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground, all without turning the ball over: Patrick Mahomes, in the "13 Seconds" game against Buffalo. Smith did all this in a real passing offense. His Next Gen Stats passing chart is about as good as you can ask from a quarterback on any team, let alone one written off like Seattle's.
going to go door to door handing out printouts of geno smith's next gen passing map pic.twitter.com/TzoFizAK4u
— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) October 3, 2022
One-third of Smith's passes were targets beyond 15 yards. The one pass he threw 50 yards downfield was actually 60-plus air yards. Geno threw the ball with his front heel on his own 45-yard line, and the ball hits DK Metcalf in the hands 4 or 5 yards deep into the end zone. Metcalf is draped in double coverage by the time the ball gets to him, yet the throw is placed in a spot only Metcalf could come up with it.
On distance alone, this is a pass few quarterbacks can throw. Throwing it in-time with this level of accuracy truncates that list even further. Had it not fallen through Metcalf's outstretched gloves, that might have been an early candidate for Throw of the Year. (I'd nominate it for Catch of the Year, too, but nobody's coming close to George Pickens' Thursday night snag.)
As an aside, the coverage on this play was one of the better showings by either defensive unit in Sunday's contest. That's not saying much. Seattle and Detroit entered this weekend in the bottom-third of defensive DVOA. With this game behind them, coupled with team adjustments finally kicking in after Week 4, the Seahawks and Lions now sit 31st and 32nd in defensive DVOA, respectively. Jeff Okudah, who put the clamps on Justin Jefferson the week prior, did not do the same against Metcalf this weekend. Metcalf and Jefferson are different kinds of receivers with different skill sets and body types, but that doesn't hide the fact that Metcalf dominated the matchup for most of the afternoon.
Seattle is not without its defensive faults, either. The Seahawks had missed assignments in the secondary that resulted in massive plays for Detroit. Jared Goff had one of the best days of his career without emergent star receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, starting running back D'Andre Swift, or deep threat DJ Chark active for the game. All told, 167 of Goff's 378 passing yards came after the catch. A plurality of that YAC total came from one T.J. Hockenson reception, a 7-yard out route taken 81 yards because of bad tackling by the Seahawks secondary.
OK, back to Geno. With the acknowledgment that Smith benefitted from a sieve of a Detroit Lions defense, it should be noted that this was not a one-off fluke against a bad defense. The numbers show that this has been a season-long campaign. Smith currently sits second among quarterbacks in DVOA behind only Tua Tagovailoa and third in DYAR behind Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes. Smith currently leads all quarterbacks in RBSDM,'s EPA+CPOE composite metric, finishing fifth in EPA/play. According to Next Gen Stats' calculation for CPOE, Smith is not just leading the league, he has almost doubled up on second place and quadruple-lapped third place.
Smith has eclipsed an 80% completion rate twice this year, with his worst outing coming in at 72%. He has managed to string together back-to-back games with over 300 yards and two touchdowns. Sunday, he added another dimension to his game, not just scrambling out of pressure but actively seeking out the run at moments. This is inspired football.
Smith has led the Seahawks to the third-best offensive DVOA in the league in the first week Football Outsiders has a sample size large enough to adjust for opponent. They have done this while also managing the eighth-hardest offensive schedule in the league. Football Outsiders Almanac 2022 projected Seattle to be 30th in offensive DVOA.
The Seahawks found the right opportunity to move on from one of the most storied quarterbacks in franchise history, and they couldn't have landed a better quarterback to fill in for the interim. At age 32, Geno Smith has earned his moment in the sun, elevating the Seattle offense far beyond where many of us assumed it could go given the circumstances of the offseason.
By the DVOA
Most of the league-wide DVOA ramifications of this game were touched on in the above section, but this game was further apart than the final score would suggest. Detroit's aggression helped the team stay in the game. The Lions converted a fake punt (one of their three fourth-down conversions on the day), punched in two two-point conversions, and forced a fumble on a Tyler Lockett punt return. They even came just shy of recovering a late onside kick. Their special teams DVOA would have been better had Lions kicker Dominik Eberle not missed two of his four extra points.
Restoring the Roar [Completion Date TBD]
The Lions have become America's darling team. It began as soon as Dan Campbell stepped up to the podium at his introductory press conference and started talking about biting kneecaps. He came up with enough quotables to earn his own section in the Football Outsiders Almanac 2021's Year in Quotes just three months into his coaching tenure. While the Lions weren't competitive last year, they were a good story, making the occasional appearance in an Any Given Sunday column. Detroit rose to national consciousness off the heels of their Hard Knocks stint this past summer, and while success hasn't necessarily manifested yet, those who follow know the Lions has the early makings of a competitive football team.
The theatrics and the funny one-liners are endearing, but in his year-plus of coaching, Campbell has been a genuinely solid football coach. He's aggressive and analytically sound. Per StatMuse, Detroit has both the most fourth-down attempts (53) and conversions (29) since the start of 2021. Lions kicker Austin Seibert led the league in onside kicks in 2021; combined, Seibert and Eberle have helped the Lions stay tied atop the onside kick list in 2022. The aggressiveness isn't just for the sake of aggressiveness, either. The fourth-down fake punt conversion was the recognition of a good look by Detroit's punt unit.
Ben Johnson called two excellent two-point conversion schemes, the first of which was a well-designed option play that baited Seattle into a bad run fit with the linebacker crashing down, creating a great running lane for Goff on the keeper. Pushing for both two-point conversions and making both is a testament to Johnson's good play calling allowing Detroit to put their money where Campbell's analytically backed mouth is.
Last year, the aggressive play calling was a result of the Lions being an outright bad football team. Think back to the Los Angeles Rams game last year, where Campbell called two onside kicks in the first quarter in order to get a jump on the eventual Super Bowl champions. The Lions knew they were out-matched and needed every advantage they could not to get run over by a superior opponent.
This year, though, things are different. Some parts of the Detroit roster are known commodities, and good ones at that. Even without major names available, Detroit was able to keep up offensively with what they had. Jamaal Williams certainly held his own. Josh Reynolds was a reliable WR1 in a pinch. T.J. Hockenson quite literally had the best game of his career, setting a career-high in receiving yards and notching two touchdowns for the first time as a professional to boot. Even finding a guy like Tom Kennedy—whom the Lions have kept around on-and-off as a UDFA since 2019 but did not catch a pass until Campbell arrived—to come up clutch with multiple first-down receptions on Sunday is a testament to Detroit's evaluation of talent.
There are still elements of bad football on this team, though. There are some good individual players on this defense, but the unit at large is still very bad. Rashaad Penny broke open some gashing runs, and despite relatively tight coverage, the Lions have not been able to make stops on defense. Detroit ranks 30th in defensive DVOA on third- and fourth-down while also ranking 31st in defensive DVOA in the red zone. The Lions finished Sunday's game with eight penalties, all of which just felt careless: two false starts, two defensive offsides, and five holding penalties by the offensive line (one of which was offset). Those are mistakes made by bad football teams, a label Detroit is actively trying to escape.
One of the simplest ways Detroit can improve is at quarterback. Goff, admittedly, has played well in 2022, but he hasn't played at a ceiling-elevating level. The offense on Sunday was mostly predicated on short and intermediate passes—again, recognizing the limitations of not having two of the top three receivers available. It's serviceable enough on a league-average team, but then mistakes like Goff's pick-six to open the second half come up.
Credit to Seattle's Tariq Woolen for trailing the receiver tightly and turning on the jets to get good positioning on the pass as soon as Goff releases. But the quarterback either a) needs to get that pass in quicker if he has the strength, b) loft it a bit deeper if he has the arm so the receiver can get vertical separation from Woolen's coverage, or c) not throw that ball if he has neither. The Lions will eventually get Jameson Williams added to the fold of St. Brown, Hockenson, and a stable of good running backs and backup receivers. The offense has a whole lot of upside, and Goff is a serviceable stopgap until they find someone to help achieve that upside.
In the long term, Detroit is on the right path, but the effort to Restore the Roar at Ford Field is still very much a work in progress. Finding pieces such as St. Brown in the draft or Williams in free agency is a great start to the rebuild, but the Lions are still showing a few too many signs of sloppy football for this stage of the process. The aggressive decision-making they have utilized to stay in games has been a massive aid in hiding some warts, but until those warts get addressed, the Lions will remain the scrappy underdog we love to root for but don't have any real faith in.