No matter how you feel about Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow and the New York Jets' non-existent quarterback controversy, the fact remains that if Sanchez underperforms, there's a viable alternative waiting in the wings.
Stats can be misleading, but there are several indicators that Sanchez is getting the job done.
Sanchez's volume stats (passing yards, touchdowns) have increased, while some of his efficiency numbers have slipped (yards per attempt, yards per completion, interception percentage).
It's obvious that the completion percentage and passer rating have to be higher; the Jets can't afford to have one of the four or five most inefficient quarterbacks in the league on their team if they're going to march long drives down the field for touchdowns. Instead, here are some less obvious stats Sanchez will need to improve.
Yards Per Attempt, Completion
Big plays have not been a part of the Jets' aerial arsenal for what seems like eons. Really, though, it's only been a year.
In 2011, Sanchez ranked dead last among 33 qualifying quarterbacks with just two pass plays of 40 or more yards. It would help if the Jets had legitimate downfield threats, though, as Sanchez tied for fifth in such big plays with 10 bombs of 40-plus yards in 2010, when the Jets had wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who was responsible for five of those 10 plays.
That helps explain the selection of wide receiver Stephen Hill in the second round, but that hasn't helped yet. Through two preseason games, Sanchez is averaging 4.7 yards per attempt to go with 6.2 yards per completion. The sample size is small at just 17 passes, but both of those numbers would have been the worst in the league last year.
It's still early, but early signs are not good. Sanchez must take more downfield shots, but the receivers must give him good reason to.
He doesn't need to be lethal, but he must make opponents respect throws beyond 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. It's difficult for offenses to march 10- and 12-play drives consistently, so Sanchez's deep-ball accuracy will have to improve, and the Jets receivers will have to improve in that area with him.
If the Jets are going to ask their quarterback to be a game manager, he has to be efficient with the football on a play-to-play basis.
Pay no attention to the number of first downs, but the rate at which they come and the moments in which they come. Only 31.5 percent of Sanchez's throws moved the chains for the Jets offense in 2011. That's not good, considering third-down conversions were a rough spot for the offense as a whole last year, ranking 22nd by converting 34.7 percent of its third downs.
His lowest percentage of throws for first downs comes in the first quarter (28.7 percent). His second lowest? The fourth quarter (31.3 percent). That means that Sanchez isn't helping his team move the chains at the beginning and end of games.
Look at the list of quarterbacks that ranked in the 10 spots above Sanchez in percentage of throws for first downs. Ideally, he'd be ranking higher than the likes of Matt Moore, Kevin Kolb and Rex Grossman.
The Jets can't count on the running game to get it done for them all the time. They need Mark Sanchez to step up and be a leader on the field by taking them down the field and moving the chains consistently.
Completion Percentage Under Pressure
If Wayne Hunter is still going to be the right tackle for the Jets, Sanchez is going to have to improve his ability to complete passes while under pressure.
According to Pro Football Focus, Sanchez ranked dead last among 24 qualifying quarterbacks in completion percentage under pressure at just 36.4 percent.
Drops factor into the equation sometimes as well, which is why PFF calculates "accuracy percentage" to account for passes that were dropped. Sanchez was still dead last among NFL QBs, as the only quarterback in the league with an accuracy percentage lower than 50.
Another indication that his performance under pressure must improve is the number of passes he had batted down at the line of scrimmage. With 15 batted passes (per PFF), Sanchez tied for the league lead out of 37 qualifying quarterbacks.
Oftentimes, Sanchez shows difficulty reading coverages. This could be lending to his poor completion percentage under pressure, if he simply doesn't know what to do with the ball against the defenses he's seeing. He needs to go through his progressions and get the ball out quickly; if the pressure is closing in, he needs to get it out to his hot read.