With his season-opening performance against the Buffalo Bills a distant memory in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of the NFL, Jets QB Mark Sanchez knows that he very well could be playing for his job on Monday night.
Unfortunately for Sanchez, the deck is stacked against him—in three different ways. The first part of the problem has to do with the players around him.
He's without his biggest weapon, WR Santonio Holmes, who was lost for the season with a foot injury. His second-favorite target, TE Dustin Keller, hasn't played since Week 1 and remains questionable for Monday night's showdown (as is rookie receiver Stephen Hill, who is nursing a hamstring injury).
The Jets can't run the ball, and that allows defenses to send their first wave of defenders after Sanchez while dropping everyone else back in coverage. This takes away his passing lanes and forces him to take chances when there's little chance for success.
Sanchez hasn't been bad over the past three games, he's been awful. Over the past three games, Sanchez has completed 43.5 percent of his passes (44-of-101) for 547 yards to go along with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Sure, there was a 300-yard performance in there against the Miami Dolphins, but Sanchez has been largely ineffective under center for the Jets over the past three games.
Part 2 involves the presence of Tim Tebow—perhaps you've heard of him?
Tebow isn't a traditional QB in any sense of the word, and the questions and criticisms of his ability to throw the ball are both accurate and fair.
But it's become clear as the season progresses that the Jets' "plans" of using him in a Wildcat formation are pretty baseless, considering how infrequently they go to that package.
Why trade for him—and pay him—if you aren't going to use him?
You do it when the general manager and head coach aren't the ones calling the shots.
Jets owner Woody Johnson has, on multiple occasions, made comments about his affinity for the "golden boy" from the University of Florida.
Johnson was defiant shortly after trading for Tebow, telling reporters, "I'm going to be very clear: Mark Sanchez is our starting quarterback. Period. That's it. He's our starting quarterback."
However, he wasn't as quick to defend the current starter under center for the Jets when asked about his 2012 performance this week (h/t ESPN), claiming, "(Tebow playing) is a question that will be asked more frequently if this progresses because this is unacceptable playing."
For what it's worth, as ESPN's Rich Cimini points out, Johnson didn't use Sanchez's name in his latest statements, referring to him simply as "the quarterback."
That's not a good sign, and considering that Johnson is the one who ultimately calls the shots, Sanchez needs a big-time performance against the Texans to keep Tebow firmly planted on the sideline.
The final piece of the puzzle, of course, is the fact that Sanchez needs to have the game of his life against what's arguably the best defense in the NFL.
Houston ranks second against the pass, allowing only 182.8 yards per game through the air on average, and there isn't a more dangerous defensive player in the league right now than Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who has 7.5 sacks through the first four games of the season.
Sanchez is confident in his abilities, as he explained to Cimini:
I don't feel threatened to lose my job at all. It's no different, whether it's Tim or Mark (Brunell) or Kellen (Clemens). It doesn't change. I'm really not worried at all.
I mean, you get frustrated when you lose football games, so I think everyone in the locker room, when you lose games, you're a little frustrated, but I think that's natural. Other than that, (I'm) just trying to work hard, get better and we're 2-2. The season's not over.
That's all well-and-good to say, and maybe Sanchez believes it. Maybe he's in denial.
Maybe it's a little bit of both.
But he has to realize that it's a no-win situation.
If he performs well, he does nothing but hold off Tebow and his critics for another week.
If he performs poorly—a likely scenario given what we just talked about—he could very well find himself on the bench holding a clipboard with no guarantee of reclaiming his former job.
Whether it's his own fault because of lackluster play, the fault of GM Mike Tannenbaum for not giving him the weapons he needs to succeed or the owner's fault for forcing Tim Tebow upon the coaching staff, one thing is clear: Sanchez is playing on borrowed time.