After decimating the Buffalo Bills last week, it looked like Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez was finally going to make good on the promise and potential that led to him being the fifth pick in the 2009 NFL draft. The Jets fans I talked to after Week 1 were even cockier than usual, believing this would be the year that the offense would stop sabotaging a remarkable defense, the year the team would finally put it all together.
Those of us without a dog in the Jets quarterback drama just sat back and grinned. Because disappointment was inevitable—soon enough, the Jets would be forced to suck it up and deal once again with the bitter sting of regret and defeat. It took all of one week.
Against the depleted Pittsburgh Steelers defense, missing All-World standouts James Harrison and Troy Polamalu, Mark Sanchez showed why he will never be the man who leads the Jets into the postseason promised land. They might get there despite him, but it won't be his stellar play that leads the charge.
It's not because of intangibles or leadership or any other platitude that plays better in the broadcast booth than it does on the field. It's because Mark Sanchez is not a good NFL quarterback.
It's important to get that out of the way up front, because arguments to the contrary are, incredibly, still being made despite this being 2012. Despite three years of data arguing the opposite case.
Why people insist on standing up for Sanchez boggles the mind. Every conceivable metric tells us he's bad at his job.
His completion percentage, just 56.7 percent last year, is consistently several percentage points below the league average. Worse still, according to Football Outsider's advanced DVOA metric, his value to the team is actually 12.5 percent beneath that of the average quarterback.
I can understand the team not using that as a slogan to sell season tickets. "Mark Sanchez: Not Quite Average" doesn't have the ring of a successful campaign. But facts are facts. Why some Jets fans and select media buy in, insist on burying their heads in the sand, I don't quite get.
You don't have to be a stats nerd to see clearly that Sanchez isn't a top quarterback. His panic under pressure against the Steelers was palpable. Watching him play, you can practically see his eyes grow large, can almost feel his heart rate elevate when things get tense.
Unfortunately for Jets fans, he doesn't perform well in any circumstance. His deep ball is inaccurate, so bad that the Jets don't even trust him to throw long except under the most desperate of occasions.
That alone doesn't necessarily make him unfit to lead a contender. Teams with great defenses have often gotten by with merely competent quarterbacks, game managers who don't excel, but keep their team on an even keel.
Sanchez can't even do that much.
Last year, he committed 28 turnovers, untenable for a team that just needs their quarterback to accomplish careful mediocrity. The New York Times' Andy Benoit explained before the season why he thought Sanchez was "iffy:"
Sanchez is very good at deciphering defenses before the snap. He mixes his cadences well and is fairly fine-tuned when it comes to dummy gestures. He has a good feel for determining where to go with the ball. The problem is, once the ball is snapped, Sanchez becomes his own foil. If his first read isn’t there, his focus often shifts to what’s happening around his pocket, rather than what’s happening downfield. Occasionally, this frenetic approach will lead to a fantastic sandlot-style third-and-long conversion. But, more often, it is what puts the Jets in third-and-long in the first place, and most of the time, it leads to stalled drives.
What's interesting about Sanchez is that he often makes the appropriate decision, he just makes a bad throw. He's just not an accurate passer and his arm lacks the zing to make the tough throws. All the film study in the world isn't going to make that problem go away.
It's time for the Jets to consider what's best for their franchise. They are committed to two more years of Sanchez, having guaranteed him $20.5 million over the offseason, essentially a confidence booster to salvage his ego after the team picked up Tim Tebow to become the franchise's savior in waiting.
Despite new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano's use of the Wildcat offense in Miami, Tebow's presence as Sanchez's backup may actually buy Sanchez some extra time to continue his unexceptional play. Tebow statistically was one of just seven quarterbacks who was even worse than Sanchez in the conventional passing game. If your problem lies in the passing attack, Tebow may not be the best solution.
With Tebow as your backup, it's not as simple as just pulling out one quarterback for another. Sanchez and Tebow aren't replaceable parts—going with Tebow requires a seismic shift in offensive principles and game-planning. The focus would shift immediately to the run, requiring a rewrite on plans for the entire season.
It's not a move that can be undertaken lightly. But the clock, have no doubt, is ticking on Sanchez's time in New York. Another Sanchez stinker will bring us within shouting distance of what will become media and tabloid overload. This week's showdown with the Dolphins is simply one game on the road towards the inevitable.