There's no doubt, especially in the minds of New York Jets fans, that quarterback Mark Sanchez has vast potential as an NFL player. In just two seasons, he has compiled a playoff record of 4-2 without the benefit of playing any of the six games at home. What confounds most Jets fans is the fact that Sanchez tends to play his best when the lights are brightest.
Coming from a storied college program like USC, the lights are always bright in Los Angeles, which made Sanchez a great pick to play in New York. However, going back to his rookie season, the young quarterback has flashed his vast potential in big moments of games. He has also inexcusably disappeared in others. More times than not, these disappearing acts occur during the regular season.
Playing in the AFC East has never been easy. It is one of the tougher divisions in football. With the perennial powerhouse Patriots seemingly winning the division every season, it is imperative for the Jets to win the games that they're supposed to win. That's not to say that the Jets, or any contending team, can win all the time. It goes against the nature of the sport, but when the Jets have to come from behind to beat struggling teams like the Lions, Browns and Texans, one has to wonder where it begins and where it ends. It almost always falls on the quarterback.
Let's take a closer look at the numbers of those three games:
What's the weakest aspect of Sanchez's game?
@Detroit: 22-39, 336 yards (56.4 percent), one touchdown, one interception.
@Cleveland: 27-44, 299 yards (61.4 percent), two touchdowns, one interception.
vs Houston: 22-38, 315 yards (57.9 percent), three touchdowns, one interception.
By no means are these terrible numbers, but against three poor defensive units, a team that has been picked to be a serious Super Bowl contender must play better. The Houston game, in its own way, is an aberration of sorts, simply because the Jets surrendered the lead to the Texans late in the game and had to rally to beat the most porous secondary in the NFL.
Granted, Santonio Holmes came through in the clutch three consecutive games to bail the Jets out from three potentially humiliating losses. Some may argue that Sanchez is young and still learning what it means to be an elite NFL quarterback. At this point in his career, he still has way to go if he wants to be considered elite.
Sanchez does not possess elite arm strength and it shows on certain throws, particularly when throwing intermediate passes outside the numbers. Arm strength can't be taught. Accuracy, on the other hand, is an acquired trait—one Sanchez needs to learn to make better use of. His subpar completion percentage is not that of an elite quarterback. In today's passing league, completing at least 60 percent of one's passes is paramount.
Others may argue that the Jets running game was inconsistent, as was the defense. In many cases, that was most certainly the issue, but if the running game is a non-factor, then Sanchez has to step his game up. He rose to some occasions, but the time in the games when Sanchez goes from game manager to capable starter happens too late in the games. By improving his accuracy, he will get into a better passing rhythm throughout the course of the game, as opposed to when his team is down and he is forced to pass the ball.
As the passing game of the NFL continues to evolve, it becomes more apparent that arm strength is overvalued in a quarterback. A quarterback that can throw a ball through a wall is not a serviceable starter if he cannot hit a smaller, moving target. Accuracy is far more important than arm strength in the larger aspect of the game because elite accuracy keeps the ball away from the opposing team's defenders, therefore keeping opposing offenses off the field.
Until Sanchez takes that next step to improve his accuracy and decision making, he will not be considered an elite quarterback, no matter how many playoff games the Jets win.