Film Study: Comparing New York Jets Quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Greg McElroy

Alen Dumonjic@@Dumonjic_AlenContributor IIDecember 3, 2012

Rex Ryan finally did it: He benched Mark Sanchez.

It may be temporary or it could be for the remainder of the regular season, but it's big news in the Big Apple. Ryan's support for the young signal-caller finally caved when he went to rookie third-stringer Greg McElroy in the second half against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 13.

Sanchez's performance was quite appalling on Sunday; he threw three interceptions in the first half, including two in the first interval. Conversely, McElroy was without an interception and generated the game's only touchdown.

Now that there's officially a quarterback controversy with the Jets, who deserves to start and why? It's too early to say McElroy is the answer to the quarterback woes, but is it too early to dismiss Mark Sanchez as a starting quarterback?

I'm not sure it is. Sanchez has regressed weekly as a passer, which is alarming considering he had to improve for the Jets if they were going to make a deep run into the playoffs once again. He appears to be on path for more interceptions than touchdowns for the second time in his four-year career and the first since his rookie season.

Against the Cardinals on Sunday, Sanchez's interceptions were very poor and, honestly, surprising. There were some truly bad throws made, particularly his first two interceptions. The first one highlighted the growing concern of his diminishing vision.

Mark Sanchez came into the NFL as an inexperienced quarterback but he was making improvements in seeing the field and finding his targets. However, in recent weeks, his performance appears to have nosedived when he's faced with pressure, as he's not aware of where all of his receivers or the defenders are.

His first interception came on the first play of the first drive. The Jets were backed up in their own territory with the ball on the 13-yard line and Sanchez was under center with "21" personnel, which consists of two backs and one tight end.

When the ball was snapped, Sanchez executed a play-action fake to running back Bilal Powell and then looked down the field. As he surveyed the defense, he was abruptly faced with pressure from the Cardinals' defensive linemen as they collapsed the pocket from the interior.

In a situation where Sanchez could only check it down or take the sack, Sanchez chose to throw deep despite having two options underneath wide open. The resulting play was an interception by safety Kerry Rhodes, who went down after contact.

The decision-making is the main concern that the Jets should have with Sanchez. He continues to make poor decisions, especially when under pressure. It's not going to get any easier for him going forward because teams will start to blitz him more and he'll always have to deal with the pressure. If he can't, then can he start?

If not, maybe Greg McElroy can.

McElroy was a seventh-round selection from the University of Alabama and fits the type of quarterback that the Jets brass likes: tough, smart and takes care of the football. Like Sanchez, McElroy also doesn't have the strongest arm, but he has enough to force defenses to account for the deep ball.

On Sunday, he was largely limited to the short passing game and fared well, completing 5 of 7 passes, including one smart throwaway. He took care of the football and made the necessary throws to drive the team down the field to score.

Although he made some good plays, there were times where he left a couple of throws on the field. This is likely because the game was too fast for him in his first start; here's one play where he could have done better.

There was just under six minutes left in the fourth quarter when McElroy lined up under center. He was accompanied by "12" personnel, consisting of two tight ends and one running back. The play-call was a designed rollout to his right, where there would be two targets for McElroy to choose from.

One of them was the running back, who ran a flat route, while the other was a wide receiver from the backside of the formation, who ran a shallow cross to the playside.

McElroy was smart not to throw it to the flat receiver because he was covered by two Cardinals defenders, but he had the crosser open for a first down. Instead of throwing the football, he chose to scramble and set the team up for a manageable third down opposed to immediately getting a first down. 

This is a simple throw that needs to be made by McElroy, who did a good job of managing the game for the Jets but left some throws on the field. Similarly, Mark Sanchez does the same, although I expect McElroy to make smarter decisions on the field than Sanchez because he has shown more poise and vision in the past.

Overall, Rex Ryan is going to have a tough decision to make because he is not only deciding which quarterback to start but also due to the financial handicap that is Mark Sanchez.

Sanchez is guaranteed the next two years of the extension he received in March, which pays him $20.5 million according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. Another concern that the Jets have to deal with is the locker room. Are the players entirely on board with replacing Mark Sanchez with rookie Greg McElroy?

The question that has to be asked is if it's best for the team that McElroy starts. If so, there shouldn't be questions in the locker room, and judging by the player performances once Sanchez left the game, it appears that they would be on board with it.

If it's truly about what's best for the team and winning games, the starting quarterback should be Greg McElroy. Mark Sanchez has regressed as a passer, particularly in his field vision, and he continues to be an inaccurate quarterback who makes far too many mistakes.

It was only one half of play for replacement McElroy, but he handled the offense well enough, generating a touchdown and what should be a first career start.