In Defense of Mark Sanchez (Part 02)

Here we are on the eve of another Jets game, and I’m writing another article defending Mark Sanchez. I didn’t think I’d feel obligated to write another one of these this season (and I was doing it before it was cool), but here we are.

The Jets have been so mediocre and Sanchez has looked so terrible that Tim Hasselbeck (yes, that Tim Hasselbeck) went so far as to question Sanchez’s work ethic.  That’s not really fair, since Hasselbeck said that he had no idea what Sanchez’s habits were, but hey, he was doing it anyway.

Anybody watching the Jets this year for any period of time sees the inconsistencies, the flaws, the faults.

But the amount of blame Mark Sanchez is getting, to the point where he was getting booed by the home crowd before the game last week, before he’d even done anything, is completely ridiculous.

No, Sanchez has not made the great leaps that the organization and fans were hoping that he’d make in his third season. But let’s be fair here, too. For a lot of the season, he’s been running for his life. Some of Sanchez’s poundings have come from holding the ball too long, but most of his poundings happen because the offensive line is barely providing any protection.

Denver’s Von Miller was fined $25,000 for leading with his helmet in a hit on Sanchez, which ended up causing Sanchez some neck pain. The Oakland Raiders broke Sanchez’s nose. He was fortunate he escaped Baltimore without major injury. The Jets are lucky Sanchez has made it this far without injury because, with no real backup quarterback to replace him, the Jets would be done. Not like they’re currently “done,” where the playoffs are a long shot. They’d be done like a frozen turkey in a deep fryer. So done. And don’t give me any Mark Brunell nonsense. Brunell might have been a good backup at one point, but he would die taking the hits Sanchez takes.

Before the Bills game last week, the offensive line issued a itself a challenge: protect Sanchez better. They had their best game of the season thus far; Sanchez was not sacked and only hit once. The Bills’ pass rush is kind of a myth (10 of their 12 team sacks came against the Redskins), but it was encouraging.

[caption id="attachment_363" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Mark Sanchez (6) throws a touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress as Bills linebacker Arthur Moats (52) applies pressure. Photo by Julio Cortez // The AP."][/caption]

The effort paid off: Sanchez didn’t have very impressive numbers last Sunday, but he did throw 4 touchdowns. He settled down more in the second half, possibly from knowing he wasn’t going to get clobbered a second or so after taking the snap. And the 4 TDs should have given the Jets a much better chance to win than it did, even with his interception deep in Jets territory.  The special teams have gone from being pretty good to fumbling a kick every game. The defense had a couple of drives where it looked like they couldn’t stop a nosebleed (thanks for that description, Bart Scott).

Speaking of the defense, they’re just not as good as they were. By the numbers:

2009: 153.7 pass yards/game (1st in the league), 98.6 rush yards/game (8th), 14.8 points/game (1st).

2010: 200.6 pass yards/game (6th), 90.9 rush yards/game (3rd), 19 points/game (6th).

2011: 204.6 pass yards/game (7th), 114.1 rush yards/game (16th), 21.9 points/game (17th).

On the offensive side, the faults haven’t been all Sanchez’s. In addition to the offensive line not playing well…nobody’s playing very well.

An article by Rich Cimini on ESPN had this description from an opposing scout on Sanchez’s situation: His running game is mediocre, his pass protection is shaky and his receivers can't get consistent separation. They can get open on play-action passes, but play-action doesn't work without a running game. It's a Catch-22.

So the running game is average, taking away one of Sanchez’s best weapons – his play action passes. The receivers can’t consistently get separation, and then Sanchez is screwed. Sanchez doesn’t look confident? It’s pretty hard to be confident when nobody is doing their jobs.

Sanchez turns it on in the fourth quarter and under pressure. In that same ESPN article with the scouting report, ESPN Stats & Information has Sanchez with 4 touchdown passes of 15 yards or more in the 4th quarter. In the first three quarters, he has none.

Sanchez's 16 yard TD pass to Santonio Holmes against Buffalo can be found at the NFL website, here.

Then there’s the whole “Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is killing the Jets with boring, predictable, conservative play calling and making Sanchez look worse than he is” debate, which is for another day.  Why the Jets’ system never seems to adjust for player strengths and weaknesses (Sanchez is good outside the pocket when he scrambles but isn’t being chased due to poor protection) is beyond any of us, but it’s a whole separate issue.

Right now, all Sanchez can do his try to help his team pull something out of this close to lost season.

One positive sign is that Sanchez isn’t delusional. He knows he has to be better or the Jets won’t win. He insists he’s not down, he’s just focused, and he’s feeling more comfortable than ever. He knows he has to improve.

Rich Gannon, calling the game on CBS last week with Marv Albert, mentioned things that Sanchez does – throwing behind guys, under throwing guys, training his eyes – that all sound like things that can be helped with coaching. Trent Dilfer mentioned on the Michael Kay show that all of Sanchez’s errors are things that are fixable.

They need to make it work. Sanchez is the Jets’ biggest investment and they keep saying he’s their QB. They snatched him out from under the Washington Redskins, who also wanted him as their quarterback. His coaches and teammates have come to his defense lately. They should be.

If nothing else, Mark Sanchez is the Jets’ best soldier. He speaks to the media after every game, win or lose. He never throws his teammates under the bus even when they do it to him and even when they deserve it. He never calls out his coaches. He doesn’t take much credit for winning and always accepts all the blame for losing.

With the way the Jets team has performed, everyone else should be standing there with Sanchez in the interview room after games, giving him more credit for wins and taking more responsibility for every loss.

Back to the New York Jets Newsfeed