Through seven weeks, the 2012 season has been a microcosm of Mark Sanchez's career: At times, he makes you wonder how on earth he was ever first-round pick, then he turns around and makes a play that only a seasoned All-Pro veteran could make.
Sanchez is not getting a lot of help from with skill position players, which makes evaluating him more difficult. There is now a negative stigma around Sanchez's name, but if the Jets manage to pull out the win in New England, the national perception of him would've changed dramatically.
The only way to fairly judge Sanchez is through careful film study. Here are a few examples of the good and bad Sanchez over the past seven games:
Going Through Progressions
This is an area that a lot of young quarterbacks have difficulty with. Because of the complexity of NFL defenses, they are often given one or two reads in a play to simplify things.
In his fourth year, it is clear that Sanchez has come a long way in this area. He now makes more than one read when he has the time to do so.
Check out this play in which he hits Dustin Keller on a crossing route. Since Keller starts the play as a blocker, Sanchez looks at other targets before finally hitting Keller as he gets open.
Here, he looks at Stephen Hill out to the right, who is covered.
He turns his head all the way over to Chaz Schilens, who is also unable to get separation. (It looks like he is already staring down Dustin Keller, but when watching the play in motion, his head makes a dramatic snap towards Keller as the play develops).
Remaining comfortable in the pocket the entire time, he finally delivers a well-thrown ball to a crossing Dustin Keller, who then breaks a tackle for a long gain.
Throwing Players Open (Throwing with Anticipation)
Being able to "throw players open" is a necessity in the NFL. Because of the amount of talented coverage players and increased utilization of man-coverage concepts, quarterbacks must be able to anticipate throwing windows and get rid of the ball before the receiver is even open.
When you see a player like Aaron Rodgers perform his trademarked back-shoulder throw to Jordy Nelson, this is exactly what "throwing receivers open" is all about. If executed correctly, these types of throws are indefensible.
Here is an example of Sanchez "throwing" Dustin Keller open in last week's Patriots game:
Here, Dustin Keller is well-covered by the linebacker while he runs a seam route. However, Sanchez is already releasing the ball, and Keller is looking back at him, knowing the ball is coming.
Sanchez's ball is placed perfectly around the defender and in a place where Keller can make the grab. The linebacker, even with good coverage, does not have a chance.
This kind of play comes from repetition and chemistry, which Sanchez and Keller have clearly developed over the last three years. Keller was never open on the play, but Sanchez's throw (where he gets great protection from his line) and Keller's awareness are still able to beat the defense.
Leaving Plays on the Field
One aspect of Sanchez's game that is not often talked about but has a huge negative impact on his game is his lack of an elite arm. Yes, he can make every throw, but his average arm strength prevents him from having faith in his ability to drive the ball down the field when he does not have a perfectly clean pocket to work with.
Here is a play from the Patriots game that looked good on the television broadcast but would actually go down as a "minus" play on the coaches' clipboard during the Monday morning film session.
Here, Sanchez hits Dustin Keller over the middle on a curl route, but Stephen Hill is wide open over the middle for what would have been a huge gain. The Patriots safeties gave him far too much room, and Sanchez either did not trust his arm to make the throw over the linebacker or simply did not see him.
Not only was Hill as open as he was, but Keller had a linebacker only a step away from him. The pass was shorter, but also had less room for error.
The pass was completed for a nice gain, but elite quarterbacks with more trust in their arm would have made the throw to Hill for the more explosive play.
This has been an issue of Sanchez's since his rookie season, and it goes just beyond interceptions. Interceptions are going to happen to every quarterback, but fumbles and mishandles are something they have complete control over.
The fumble to end Sunday's game in overtime is fresh in everyone's mind, but that was not even the only mishandle he had in the game. He nearly threw an pick-six trying to get the ball out to avoid a measly one-yard sack. His unclean handoff to Shonn Greene resulted in a safety.
He has already fumbled six times this season, which is averaging close to a fumble per game. Sanchez tends to hold the ball in one hand, which makes it very easy for blindside sacks to turn into fumbles, even if the defender does not get a hand on the ball.
Mark is simply not a good enough quarterback at this point of his career to overcome extra turnovers. If you are going to turn the ball over, you might as well do it on a long interception down the field, not behind the line of scrimmage on a play that the defense has already won.
Of all of Sanchez's flaws, this may be the most well-known. Which is odd, considering that Sanchez was perceived as the more accurate player to Matthew Stafford prior to the 2009 draft.
Sanchez's accuracy issues were on full display against the Dolphins a few weeks ago:
Here we see Stephen Hill beat his man clean on a triple move. Sanchez actually does a good job recognizing it early and letting go of the ball on time.
However, the pass sails on him, and Hill is unable to reel in what would have been an easy touchdown. By the time the ball hits the ground, Hill has nearly five yards of separation, which is almost unheard of in the NFL.
Mark Sanchez gets a bad rap for playing so poorly last year and being the focal point of the New York media, but he is not the reason why the Jets find themselves with a losing record seven games into the season.
Mark is making difficult NFL throws at times and giving the Jets a chance to win games. At the same time, Sanchez is not in the elite group of quarterbacks that is able to win without a near-perfect environment around him.
From what I have gathered, Sanchez has improved in all of the areas that are coach-able, such as going through progression and throwing with anticipation. However, his limitations in arm strength, accuracy, and awareness are something that players need to develop themselves, but he has not improved in any of those areas.
Sanchez is still an improving player, but he has clear limitations that could designate him to the middle-tier of quarterbacks for the remainder of his career.