Before I dive into my argument, let me just say that I don't feel like a quarterback wins championships. I think that teams win championships, and if you don't believe me, look at the 2008 Giants. With that in mind, let me share my opinion on Mark Sanchez.
Thesis statement: Mark Sanchez's poor playing is a direct result of the poor play surrounding him.
Explanation/Excuse No. 1: Poor play calling
Since 1999, I have not seen this bad a running game from the Jets. It's far worse than that 2006 season that featured Leon Washington, Kevan Barlow and Cedric Houston as the tandem. Yesterday I watched in humiliation as the line would open up a fairly large sized hole for Greene to run through and he disregards it, only to gain three yards on the play.
But the funny (well, not funny) thing about this all is yesterday Shonn Greene actually had a higher YPC than Frank Gore did. The problem was that the Jets ran the ball 17 times all game. What happened to ground and pound? The strategy that they talked about all offseason? It's already gone after four games.
Running the ball is not optional for a team like the Jets, it is more than necessary. As Cris Collinsworth would say in Madden 2012: running the ball sets up play action, and keeps the defenses on their toes. Even more importantly, running the ball is important in tiring out a defense, specifically the line and linebackers.
Exhibit A: Look at the Jet defense from yesterday. In the first quarter or two, they really stopped everything that the 49ers were bringing. However, as the game went on, players became lazy, they started arm-tackling.
Exhibit B: Look at the Jet defense from Week 2. They did a pretty good job of stopping the Pittsburgh offense, but couldn't stop them at all in the second half. Don't believe me? Check out the Steelers's long fourth quarter drive.
So what do the Jets need to do? Run the ball 30-35 times a game, especially in the first half. Tire the defense until they start arm tackling, and that will happen over time. That's going to set up the bootleg, the play action and most importantly, defenses will be honest enough that Mark Sanchez will be able to make a smart throw. On that note, I move to my second point.
Explanation/Excuse No. 2: Lack of surrounding talent
Do me a favor: name the Jets's starting offense (excluding the offensive line) in yesterday's fourth quarter? Can't do that? Well, here was the group:
WR - Clyde Gates
WR - Chaz Schilens
WR - Jeremy Kerley
TE - Jeff Cumberland
RB - Bilal Powell
Did any of them play well? I mean, just based on skill, there was little chance of them actually producing, and they met that lack of expectations. So why is everybody chastising Mark Sanchez for going 7/19 in the fourth quarter?
And even if you disregard stats, let's think of it in a different way: Sanchez, in garbage time against one of the best defenses in the NFL, with some of his worst wide receivers in, went 7/19. Besides the fourth quarter, Mark Sanchez went 6/10.
If you're just going to look at his stats then yes, he did play a bad game, but how honest will a defense be in a game when you're down by four touchdowns in the final quarter?
What are the Jets to do here? It's difficult. They don't really have the cap room to trade for a starting wide receiver. They could however try to trade back for Braylon Edwards. He would be less expensive than a seventh-round pick and I wouldn't mind seeing him in the starting lineup across from Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill.
Why such a lack of talent at this? Injuries are a pretty significant factor, but even more so...
Explanation/Excuse No. 3: Mike Tannenbaum and Woody Johnson's fixations on Tim Tebow
As a frequent viewer of New York Jets articles, I've read all there is to read about Tim Tebow. Why? Because seemingly everybody cares about Tim Tebow. In the list of millions, include Mike Tannenbaum and Woody Johnson. In all fairness, Woody Johnson might like him because he sells tickets, but that's no excuse to lose 4.5 million dollars, a fourth-round pick and a seventh-round pick for him.
If the Jets never traded for Tebow, this season would likely be different. Instead of only having three picks in the first five rounds, they'd have four. With that extra pick, they could've taken another receiver (Nick Toon, Greg Childs) or a CB (Brandon Boykin).
While none of them would've been difference makers (aside from Boykin), they'd all be better injury replacements than players like Ellis Lankster, Clyde Gates and others.
But anyway, the 4.5 million would've been great money to save for the end of this season, as the Jets approach salary cap doom. There would be no quarterback controversy, and Sanchez's confidence would not have been compromised. Why are the Jets in such trouble regarding money? That leads to my final reason.
Explanation/Excuse No. 4: Mike Tannenbaum's long term contracts
Everybody was excited to see the Jets aggressively pursue Free Agency from 2006-10. However, with all of the five- and six-year contracts given to 28-, 29- and 30-year-olds, it was only a matter of time before the Jets entered salary cap doom.
Take for example, the Bart Scott contract. After a standout season aside from Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and coach Rex Ryan, Scott seemed poised to take over the league as one of the premier 3-4 ILBs. In order to appease Ryan, Tannenbaum outbid every team and handed Scott a six-year, $48 million contract.
What happens when you give a 29-year-old a six-year nearly ironclad contract? He'll be playing out a deal that averages $8 million per year at age 35. Calvin Pace signed a six-year, $42 million contract and he'll be making $11 million in 2013-2014 at age 32.
So what's the point? Tannenbaum can not just throw out back-loaded contracts. A somewhat even mixture between the two is essential. For example, if Pace was given a front-loaded contract, he'd be age 32 playing on a less than $1 million dollar base salary. He'd be more motivated to take in one more big contract.
And the worst part of these large foreign contracts? They leave little cap room to re-sign some of the Jets's core draft picks: Darrelle Revis, Shonn Greene, Brandon Moore, Dustin Keller and Matt Slauson could all be hitting free agency (sans Revis) this year.
How does this affect Sanchez? With so many defenders on massive payroll, there's little room for the Jets to make a blockbuster trade at the deadline to salvage their season.
So what can the Jets do about it? This is by far the stickiest situation of the four. The only ways for the Jets to move out of this are by trading a lot of their older players (Calvin Pace, Bart Scott, Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes), but more than likely, none of them will be dealt because their fat contracts may very easily turn into cap saving cuts.
Now what does Tannenbaum do? He could wait three more years and let them finish out their contracts, or take advantage of the next season by cutting all of the veterans, which besides Holmes and Cromartie, would shave a ton of cap room.
I don't know if Mark Sanchez can be a top-10 quarterback in the league. He has played like it a couple of times but will never be taken seriously until he can do it consistently, and play like a top-20 quarterback against good defenses and poor receivers. But is there hope? Well, I guess that's for you to decide.
Thanks for reading!