Breaking Down Why Mark Sanchez Got Benched

Ty Schalter@tyschalterNFL National Lead WriterDecember 18, 2012

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 17:  Quarterback Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets walks off the field after a play in the fourth quarter against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on December 17, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

To use the words of one of New York's most controversial icons on another: Mark Sanchez, "You're fired."

The Donald isn't patient with underperforming employees, but Sanchez has worn out the welcome of everyone in the Big Apple. On Monday Night Football Sanchez did everything but tie the Jets' Super Bowl trophy to the back of his car and drive it around the LP Field parking lot.

Sanchez turned the ball over to the Tennessee Titans five times, including three second-half interceptions and a lost fumble that ended the Jets' final drive. That Titans received five Christmas presents from Sanchez, but only earned their fifth win by a score of 14-10 proves the problem is under center.

Sanchez's biggest supporter, head coach Rex Ryan, was finally left with no other option: the team's official Twitter account announced reserve quarterback Greg McElroy will get the next Jets start.

Spectacular Failure?

Sanchez's implosion was truly spectacular. Even after throwing three interceptions, Sanchez and the Jets still had a great chance to win the game and keep their improbable Wild Card hopes alive. With a fresh set of downs on the Titans' 23-yard line, and two minutes left to score a go-ahead touchdown, Sanchez just needed to eat a few yards and drain a little clock.

Instead, in the words of ESPN's Jon Gruden, he threw up "a prayer":

For a No. 5 overall draft pick in his fourth season, this decision-making is inexcusable and indefensible.

First, Sanchez drops back and executes a play fake, while the Titans blitz both the middle and strong-side linebackers, leaving tight end Jeff Cumberland wide open:

Sanchez clearly sees Cumberland, with nothing but green turf and white stripes in front of him, and appears to put the idea "Cumberland is wide open" on his mental back burner. Then, Sanchez looks left, to see if the deep fly route is there.

It isn't:

Sanchez pump-fakes, hoping the cornerback will peel off the receiver, but it's not happening. Meanwhile, Cumberland waves his wide-open arm, hoping Sanchez will notice he's wide open.

Sanchez finally turns back to Cumberland and rears back to throw, ready to grab that option he put on the back burner a second ago. Unfortunately, Cumberland isn't nearly as open as before, and Sanchez pump-fakes again, even as the pass rush closes in:

Sanchez, falling back on his squared-up heels, arm-punts a floater down the seam. Had Sanchez stepped into this throw and driven it to the back of the end zone, Cumberland could have beaten the defense to it. Instead, it's picked off well short of the target, and the fates of Sanchez and the Jets themselves are sealed.

Remember: it was first down. Sanchez should have read the blitz pre-snap, and anticipated Cumberland coming open immediately. Had he hit Cumberland right away, it would have been sure-fire eight yards, perhaps much more. Had he thrown as Cumberland raised his hand, it could have much farther, perhaps all the way.

But by swinging for the fences at the worst possible time, Sanchez doomed his team.

That's simply unacceptable. A quarterback with Sanchez's tools and pedigree can't take risks like that in general, and Brett Favre himself wouldn't throw up a jumpball in that situation. If he doesn't have better awareness than that after nearly four full years of starting, he never will.

Nope, Same 'Ol, Same 'Ol

Four months ago, I wrote the New York Jets must start Tim Tebow. Not because Tim Tebow is a proven, starting-caliber NFL quarterback—he's anything but—but because Sanchez has proven he isn't.

Take a look at Sanchez's career stats to date, provided by Pro Football Reference:

Sanchez is exactly the same quarterback he's been for his entire tenure in the league. His completion percentage has hovered within a point or two of his career average, 55.2 percent, every season he's played. His career touchdown-to-interception ratio is a perfect 1:1 (68/68). His raw average yards-per-attempt is an anemic 5.6, and it's never been higher than 6.0.

Once adjusted for sacks and interceptions, his net yards-per-attempt is a wheezing 4.37; that's 34th-best in the NFL. Only Matt Cassell and John Skelton have moved the ball more inefficiently this season.

These stats all prove the same thing: Sanchez doesn't have it, and never has. He doesn't have the arm strength to put zip on deep throws, so he doesn't throw deep. He doesn't have the decision-making skills to protect the ball, so even though he's nibbling his way down the field he's turning it over like crazy. He doesn't have the accuracy to place the ball, so he stalls drives with incompletions.

To put it in perspective, Sanchez's career completion percentage, 55.2 percent, is the same as noted deep-ball riverboat gambler Rex Grossman's. Sanchez's career NFL passer rating, is 72.0; just barely above Pro Football Talk's notorious "Kordoza Line," binning good NFL quarterbacks from bad ones by Kordell Stewart's career rating of 70.7.

Not the Sanchize, Never Was

Unfortunately, Mark Sanchez will go on the pile of recent first-round quarterback reaches: players drafted far, far above where their tool set and game film warrants because teams are desperate for a long-term answer at the quarterback position.

Ironically, the Jets set themselves back at the position for years by overdrafting (and overpaying) a player who lacked elite tools and had limited experience in college. Then they traded for another one in Tim Tebow.

Indeed, the best quarterback the Jets rostered this year is probably Colts backup Drew Stanton, dealt to Indianapolis after the Tebow trade.

They could have just picked up Rex Grossman and saved themselves all trouble; instead they'll be ready to mortgage the future again in April 2013, ready to hitch their wagon to another unready prospect.


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