A Love Song For Mark: Why New York Is Wrong For Giving Up On Mark Sanchez
Nowhere else in the United States are things as overstated as in the sports world of New York City. There are only two choices there in describing athletes: Either they are the best. Ever. Or they suck, and should be dumped. Immediately.
Patience is not a virtue here.
When the Jets drafted Mark Sanchez, pretty much from the second he got off the draft stage he was dubbed "The "Sanchize" and every Jet fan in the tri-state area instantaneously put all their hopes on him. Fair or not, the 23-year old rookie was now the lightning rod for how the Jets did. If the Jets won, he'd be a god and would never have to buy a drink or pay for a cab ride ever again. If he didn't...well...as previously stated, New York fans are not forgiving.
And Sanchez performed...well, like a rookie. Flashes of brilliance at times. Clueless at others.
To New York, though, being a rookie is no excuse. Either you are a prodigy or a waste of time. And, now, towards the end of his second season, articles from around New York City have been questioning Sanchez. Is he really the savior: Will he ever turn into the second coming of Bart Starr? Is he ever going to win the Super Bowl—He's had two frickin' years! And so on.
Like I said: completely unfair. Mark Sanchez just turned 24 and would still be a rookie had he stayed in school. But this is New York and the fans don't care about that. I'm sure there are some days Sanchez wishes he'd be drafted by Jacksonville or Arizona where he might not be hung in effigy after a loss to New England.
Is he as bad as some New Yorkers make him out to be? Well, Sanchez's biggest problem is accuracy, and if there's an area to improve, it's that. His accuracy is almost exactly where it was last season, at around 54 percent—low for starting quarterbacks.
To be fair, his receivers have had a serious case of the dropsies during Sanchez's time at quarterback. Just two weeks ago, Cotchery, Holmes and Keller had four drops on passes they should have caught that would have resulted in a likely Jets win instead of a loss.
Lack of accuracy and drops aside, Sanchez has made great leaps in lowering his interception percentage. Last year, it was a whopping 5.5. This year, however, he has more than halved that to 2.6. Combine that with the fact that Sanchez is being asked to throw far more often than last year. Last season the Jets offense was 'run the ball, then run it some more'. This season, with one fewer game played, Sanchez already has over 100 more pass attempts. Yet his interceptions are down from 20 in 2009, to only 12 so far in 2010. Nice improvement.
What does that tell us? It tells us that while the Jets were asking more of him, Sanchez is reading defenses much better than he had in the past. And that's something that usually takes quarterbacks a long while to do. Peyton Manning's INT percentage went from 4.9 to 2.8 in his second season—comparable to Sanchez. Joe Montana's went from 5.5 to 3.9. Drew Brees' actually went up.
Also, Sanchez's TD passes are up; his sacks per drop-back has decreased; his average yards/attempt has improved dramatically; and his QB rating is up. Is he Tom Brady yet? No. Is he improving? Without question.
And you can see the result of Sanchez's better play in league standings. After Week 15 last year, the Jets were 7-7 and scraping for a playoff spot (which they only earned when the Colts rested their starters at the end of the season). This year, they are 10-4 and masters of their own playoff destiny. And the better record comes with lesser team play—the Jets rushing offense is down from last year, when they were the best rush offense, to just sixth best this year. Same for the defense which was ranked first last year and is ranked fifth this year.
So with a lesser supporting cast and much more asked of him, Sanchez has responded with fewer INTs, more TDs, less sacks and better yards per pass attempt. Sounds like solid improvement to me.
Again, he is not Drew Brees. But then again, Drew Brees wasn't Drew Brees in his second season, when he regressed sharply from his rookie season. And look what a little patience did—now he's an All-Pro QB.
The same could be said for Sanchez. He's not there yet, but he is improving. Give him time, New York. I know patience is hard for you, but it may yield a Sanchize yet.
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