After weeks of fans crying for the head of Mark Sanchez, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan finally bit the bullet and announced that he was starting second-year quarterback Greg McElroy in Week 16 against San Diego.
While Jets fans everywhere were rejoicing because Sanchez wasn't starting, McElroy still has to prepare for the first start of his still-young NFL career. It is easy for fans to be excited about a quarterback being benched, but the replacement still has to perform.
Since the Jets' playoff hopes ended last week, the pressure on McElroy would seem to be minimal. This is already a lost season, so losing one or two more games won't hurt. But McElroy is also playing to show the coaching staff and front office what he can do.
As McElroy prepares to make his first career start, here are the things that the Jets need to see from him over the next two weeks.
Poise and Leadership
We really have no idea what kind of leader Sanchez is in the huddle, but somewhere along the way, he lost all confidence in himself and what he was supposed to be doing.
The Jets are making this change, in part, because they believe McElroy gives them the best chance to win games right now. In order for him to do that, the other 10 players in the huddle have to know that he understands his job and is confident enough to handle it.
McElroy was never the best quarterback in college football when he was at Alabama, but when he was asked to make a play with his arm, he gave Nick Saban more than he could have hoped for. That is exactly what the Jets are looking for.
Limit the Mistakes
The biggest reason Sanchez fell out of favor with the Jets is because he kept killing any momentum they hoped to build with his mistakes.
Sanchez's accuracy has been dreadful since he came into the league—he has completed just 55 percent of passes in his career—and that has played a huge role in all of the turnovers we saw this year. He had a 13-17 touchdown-to-interception ratio this season.
No one expects McElroy to come in and thread the needle like Aaron Rodgers, but as long as he isn't forcing the ball into triple-coverage and running into his own lineman trying to save a busted play, he should be fine.
There is nothing worse for a quarterback than throwing an interception. Sanchez wasn't accurate enough to limit the mistakes. It would be hard to imagine McElroy being much worse than that, even with such limited experience.
Don't Try to Do Too Much
This last one is the most important for McElroy, because he could feel the pressure to audition for a starting job heading into 2013.
With Sanchez under center, the Jets knew that they could not open up the playbook because he was not likely to make the right decision with the ball. For McElroy, the play-calling is likely to be very conservative to accentuate his strengths.
As a result, McElroy has to go through his progressions and find the receiver able to make a play with the best possible result. He can't get caught trying to show off his arm strength down the field, or trying to play the hero.
The Jets don't need a hero right now; they need someone who isn't going to continue handing the opposition victories on a silver platter. McElroy is an incredibly smart, astute football mind. He understands what his role on this team is, and that will benefit him greatly in these next two games.