His play is an issue, undeniably. It's never good for a starting quarterback to rank first in the league in apologies and 32nd in passer rating, as Smith does.
But he's far from alone in the blame department, as the Jets have lost to every team they've played not named the Oakland Raiders, most recently via a 31-0 humiliation at the hands of Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers. The Jets find themselves on the doorstep of doom, with Peyton Manning and his band of Denver Broncos playmakers coming to town Sunday, and they recognize that.
Back in mid-August, coach Rex Ryan was asked if the unit, his pride and joy, would be held back by the lack of a proven cornerback on his roster. He scoffed.
"This is going to work; we just don't necessarily know how yet," Ryan said at a podium in Cortland, New York. "But this defense -- one thing we know for a fact (is) that this defense will be an outstanding defense."
He specified that he was talking top-five.
At the moment, the Jets are sitting at No. 6 in total defense, but weighing that figure alone is highly imprecise. New York ranks 21st in scoring defense (25.4 points per game). The average length of scoring drives for Jets opponents this season is 62.7 yards, sixth-worst in the league, and nine scoring drives have covered at least 79 yards. Opposing offenses are converting a ridiculous 47.3 percent of their third-down attempts (eighth-worst).
In the Jets' first four-game losing skid under Ryan, Gang Green has seen opposing quarterbacks amass a 110.4 passer rating -- the worst in any four-game stretch in the Ryan era -- and throw 10 touchdowns against just one interception.
If you suspect there is a talent issue on the defense, consider that the franchise has used its past six first-round draft picks exclusively on defensive players. This year's first-rounder, Calvin Pryor, was drafted for the physicality he displayed as a box safety at Louisville. As a Jet, he's had to play in coverage -- where his learning curve is much steeper -- because of the deficiencies at cornerback.
That Ryan said he did not consider benching Smith for any portion of the Chargers game seems a strange message to send. After the fact, the Jets organization emphasized to reporters that Smith made "an honest mistake," and it was the first time he missed a meeting. To which we ask: What starting quarterback misses meetings? Ever?
That a struggling young quarterback would choose a movie over some type of preparatory measure (film study?) on the day before a game might not be our business, but we do wonder.
We might have been wrong, frankly, about Smith and the progress he made in the offseason and in training camp. He appeared so competent and confident then, comfortable with his relationship with backup Michael Vick and in coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's offense. Smith has been accessible to the media and accountable since Day 1, which is one of his better leadership qualities, and that should not be overlooked.
The Jets hardly showcase the most talented collection of offensive skill players in the league -- an issue that has lingered for years, since Mike Tannenbaum was general manager and now under John Idzik -- but they did sign wide receiver Eric Decker in free agency. In training camp, Vick predicted Decker would help Smith dramatically. But since Aug. 1, Decker has dealt with a hamstring injury; he's made 14 regular-season catches for 204 yards and two touchdowns, and he was inactive in San Diego.
All of this has been Smith's recipe for regression, which neither the Jets nor Ryan could afford this season. Not after an 8-8 finish saved Ryan's job in 2013. And not with Idzik, the second-year general manager whose shaky drafts and unwillingness to address the cornerback position should garner increasing scrutiny, likely interested in hiring his own guy. That could become an easier sell to owner Woody Johnson, always Ryan's biggest advocate, if the Jets miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.
Harrison: Power Rankings, Week 6
With five weeks in the books, Elliot Harrison reassesses the NFL pecking order -- starting with a change at the top. **READ**
These are uncomfortable days at 1 Jets Drive. They're 1-4. Pressure's on. There has to be discontent for any NFL team that hasn't won in a month. There is a chance that neither the head coach nor the starting quarterback will be part of Idzik's long-term plan.
For now, a win would help, and perhaps Jets fans will fuel a rally. But timing is everything, and it seems like awful luck for the home team that Peyton's coming to town.