Last season, on short preparation and in an offense more designed to take advantage of the talents of quarterback Russell Wilson, Seattle's Geno Smith was made pedestrian by a New Orleans Saints defense that pedestrian-izes quarterbacks who've had far more preparation and effectiveness than Smith had shown in his NFL career.
Smith completed 12 of 22 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions, and was sacked five times for minus-38 yards in the Saints' 13-10, nationally televised road victory.
Entering Sunday's game against the Saints (1-3) in the Caesars Superdome, this Geno Smith hasn't been that Geno Smith for the Seahawks (2-2).
This year's version, having earned the starting position in training camp after Wilson was traded to Denver in the offseason, is an edition that has completed 77.3 percent of his passes (102 of 132) for 1,037 yards and six touchdowns, with two interceptions. Smith, who also has run for 64 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, only has been sacked six times this season.
"One more year of comfort in the system that he's in," Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said. "You feel like last year he was more like, I wouldn't call him a fill-in, but a fill-in for Russell. And now Russell is over with the Broncos and now it's Geno's team and he got the go-ahead early on and I think they've been riding with him."
Jordan had a sack, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit and four tackles in the victory last season, when New Orleans limited Seattle to 219 yards. In Seattle's most recent game, a 48-45 victory over Detroit, Smith completed 23 of 30 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions, and ran for 49 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. He wasn't sacked by the Lions.
"He's operating the offense very well," Saints Coach Dennis Allen said of Smith. "He's almost at 78 percent completion percentage right now. He's making good decisions, he's getting the ball out. They've got a lot of speed at the receiver position and he's doing a good job of operating the offense. I think he's playing extremely well.
"I think they've tailored the offense around some of things that he can do really well. They get him on the move a lot, let him use his feet. A lot of bootlegs and play-action passes and things of that nature. He's really playing well and they've done a really nice job offensively of putting a good scheme around him.
"He's playing at a high level. He's always had the ability. I think this year, he's comfortable in what they're doing and the scheme, he's got a lot of weapons around him, they're running the ball exceptionally well, which opens up some of the play-action and bootleg game that they like to run. He's a talented player and certainly playing well right now."
Running back Rashaad Penny (17 carries for 151 yards and two touchdowns against Detroit, 49-292-2 this season) leads a run game that averages 115 yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry. But Smith is operating at a high level to help make it possible.
"This year he's getting the ball out of his hand quickly, making decisive decisions," co-defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen said. "He does a great job with his pocket presence, moving to evade pressure. He's in real command of their offense right now and his numbers are showing it.
"He's the starter now and he's been the entire season, and it's just maybe him getting comfortable in the offense and the system. He's playing really good football."
"At the end of the day, it's still going to be about us," Jordan said. "It's still going to be about our defense and how we can affect him. I do think that they've changed up the offense a little bit, and I think Penny is running really well right now. I think (receiver) D.K. Metcalf (23 catches, 284 yards and a touchdown), in his roles that he excels in, they utilize that. And then of course you've got Tyler Lockett (27 catches, 302 yards), so there's things that we have to be aware of to try and get a win.
"Geno is deceptively faster than what you think he is. We have a gameplan that's being put in and I think that it's going to do well for us."