Mark Sanchez Proving to Be the Insurance the Eagles Desperately Need at QB

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistAugust 16, 2014

Aug 15, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez (3) throws a touchdown against the New England Patriots during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles are pretty sure they've found their long-term franchise quarterback in Nick Foles

Pretty sure. 

That's the way things have to be for now, because the simple reality is that Foles has only delivered for one NFL season. And while he did deliver in a big way, Foles was a third-round pick for a reason, and there's absolutely no guarantee that a) he'll stay healthy and b) his remarkable 2013 season wasn't a flash in the pan. 

And that's why the most encouraging development out of the Eagles' preseason loss Friday night in New England is that new backup Mark Sanchez was nearly perfect. 

Sanchez followed up an impressive 7-of-10 performance in Philly's preseason opener by completing 11 of his 12 attempts for two touchdowns and a single pick against the Patriots. Now, midway through the preseason, the former No. 5 overall pick is 18-of-22 with an 8.9 yards-per-attempt average, a 115.2 passer rating and a gaping lead over fellow former USC signal-caller Matt Barkley in the battle to back up Foles. 

I know—those numbers have been accumulated against reserves from Chicago and New England, but it also has to be taken into account that Sanchez has been throwing to less proven targets like Jordan Matthews, James Casey and Damaris Johnson, rather than the departed DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper (both injured). 

It's extremely encouraging that the USC product is establishing good chemistry with rookie Matthews, who caught all six of the passes Sanchez threw his way in a breakout performance Friday night, as well as second-year tight end Zach Ertz, who has caught all four of his passes from the former Jets starter two weeks into the preseason. 

He came into Friday's game late in the second quarter and immediately looked like a trusted veteran. On his first snap, he smoothly side-stepped pressure and dumped it down to Darren Sproles

NFL Game Pass

One play later, he threw a perfect strike to Ertz.

NFL Game Pass

Then, running the hurry-up during a two-minute drill, he effortlessly went through his progressions before hitting Matthews for another first down.

NFL Game Pass

Two plays later, the Eagles were in the end zone. It was methodical. His third-quarter pick wasn't pretty, but the guy certainly can't be expected to do much more than he did Friday night. 

Sanchez probably was never cut out to be a regular starter in this league, which is why his reputation took such a hit when the Jets tried to make him their "Sanchize." But a failed starter can make one hell of a backup, and his performances early this summer have led me to believe that the 27-year-old could serve as one hell of an insurance package for Foles in the years to come. 

"He just looks confident, in control, accurate," wrote CSN Philly's Reuben Frank. "If something happened to Foles, the Eagles are in good hands with Sanchez. He’s been impressive."

After all, we're talking about a guy who has played in two AFC Championship Games. He's been there, done that. Did he always do it well? No, but the guy has nine touchdown passes and only three interceptions in six career playoff games, four of them wins. 

So he's the kind of guy you can turn to if something were to happen to Foles. He might not be capable of carrying this team, but he doesn't have to. As a spot starter, he might be exactly what the doctor ordered. 

That's what this team had in Michael Vick, too, but Vick is 34 now, and it was time to move on. Now, with Sanchez, they have a hungry kid with top-end talent looking to prove himself on a one-year deal. That's always a good thing. And unlike in New York, he has all of the support necessary to succeed working with Chip Kelly and that jacked-up offense. 

There's time left for Sanchez to screw this up. But for now, the Eagles can at least take solace that, three weeks from opening day, they've got a backup plan in case of emergency under center.