The Jets are having quite the rough stretch of luck so far this season. They've lost both their best player and their best receiver—Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes respectively—to season-ending injuries. Meanwhile, starting tight end Dustin Keller and de facto No. 1 receiver Stephen Hill are still missing practices with hamstring injuries.
To top things off, star nose tackle Sione Pouha is still dealing with a back injury that has prevented him from being effective this year.
With his most important teammates picking up injuries left and right, Sanchez is in a very rough position. He is in his fourth year in the NFL and is reaching a point in his career where he needs to be able to lead.
On the one hand, Jets fans should not panic quite yet. It would be a little bit foolish, given that their team is still in first place in the AFC East. As linebacker Bart Scott said:
Mark is our quarterback. It’s [the media’s] job to push the panic button. If [the media] had [the ability to], you would change it from week to week. I don’t think we’re at that point yet. Mark is our quarterback. We believe in him and the team will rally around him. It’s not all his fault. We have to run the ball better. We have to play better defense. We have to set him up with better field position. [Those] are all things that our team thinks that we have to do.
Scott stands by Mark, as the entire Jets organization has all year. He makes a valid point in reminding us that all of the Tim Tebow talk has come from external sources and never from anyone related to the organization.
On the other hand, wins and losses are still the most important thing in the NFL. Realistically, Sanchez is going to be the Jets starter for the rest of this season. However, that is not his most important goal. He wants to be the Jets franchise quarterback and to win more playoff games.
Even if the Jets lose on Monday night to the Houston Texans—which they probably will—there are three things Sanchez needs to accomplish in that game.
First, he needs to establish communication and rhythm with one healthy Jets receiver. He has pretty good communication with Keller and Holmes, but most likely neither of those guys will be out there. With the rest of his receiving corps, his timing and communication are very poor. We have all seen Sanchez throw balls in the opposite direction of his receiver's cuts or into the back of his receiver's helmet.
In his one game with his starting receivers this season, Sanchez had a completion percentage over 70 percent. In each of the three games he has played with backup receivers, he has completed less than 50 percent of his passes. That 20 percent gap is huge; it is the difference between wins and losses.
The best bet for the Jets on Monday is Jeremy Kerley, who might find himself stepping into the No. 1 receiver role now in his second year in the NFL.
The second thing Sanchez needs to do is a get a little confidence back. Sanchez's biggest problem is a lack of decisiveness. He hesitates and often gets sacked or pressured as a result. Sanchez needs to put together a few drives and complete a reasonable percentage (55+) of his passes.
The final thing that Sanchez needs to do on Monday is avoid sacks. He has been hit too much this season and he is already getting shell-shocked. It is visibly affecting his play in the pocket and his efficiency as a passer.
Sanchez is playing under New York expectations, and that means that an 8-8 or 7-9 season would be a train wreck. He needs to lead the Jets back to the playoffs for the third time in four years.
A bad season will almost certainly lead to a quarterback competition in the summer of 2013. Second-year backup quarterback Greg McElroy has looked good in each of the past two preseasons. While Tim Tebow is the official No. 2 quarterback, he has that position primarily because of his role as the Wildcat back and in special teams. McElroy is the second best quarterback on the team right now.
The Jets can afford a loss against the Texans on Monday. However, Sanchez cannot afford another bad game. He cannot afford to lose his position as the leader of the Jets. If he does, you can expect a two-way or even three-way competition for the job next summer.