The New York Jets were supposed to take off in 2011 with quarterback Mark Sanchez piloting the way. However, with New York’s offense sputtering, the criticism is starting to surround the quarterback formerly known as the Sanchise.
At this point, Sanchez hasn’t lived up to the hype and has failed to become the elite quarterback many fans envisioned he would blossom into. And in a situation where the New England Patriots and their defense were ripe for the picking, Sanchez failed to make them pay.
For that, I must take away Sanchez’s “elite quarterback” card. Here are four reasons why.
In case you haven’t noticed, the New England Patriots have been pretty bad defensively in 2011. Throughout most of the season, the Patriots have ranked dead last in both pass defense and total defense statistically. However, if you’ve watched the Patriots play Mark Sanchez and the Jets, you wouldn’t know it.
In two meetings with the rival Pats, Sanchez failed to capitalize on a reeling New England pass defense. He threw for a combined 472 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions and an average quarterback rating of 85.15.
By comparison, Sanchez’s counterpart Tom Brady has feasted on New York’s pass defense lately, one that’s statistically ranked as one of the league’s best. In his past four games against the Jets—including New York’s 28-21 playoff win last season—Brady has completed 68 percent of his passes for 1,275 yards, 10 touchdowns, two interceptions and an average rating of 114.25.
Perhaps that’s the most-telling sign regarding the difference between an elite NFL quarterback and Mark Sanchez. One consistently shreds a strong secondary while the other struggles to pick on a suspect one.
If blind Mark Sanchez apologists still believe he is an elite NFL quarterback, let me ask this question. Do any of the elite quarterbacks ever check the ball down as much as the New York Jets’ quarterback does?
Obviously there’s nothing wrong with dumping the ball off to running backs for short gains if nothing presents itself downfield. However, there’s a difference between playing astutely and timidly. Three years into his pro career Sanchez is still stuck in the latter.
Whether it’s Drew Brees to Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston, Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, or Tom Brady to Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski, the league’s elite passers are constantly looking to strike on deep or intermediate aerial plays each week.
After watching Sanchez’s most-recent performance against New England, I get the sense that his favorite targets are running backs Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson as opposed to the playmaking duo of Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes.
No more was this evident than on Sanchez’s two second-half interceptions. On the first one, Sanchez’s dunk pass bounced off of Greene’s stone hands before falling into the mitts of Pats linebacker Rob Ninkovich. On the second one, Ninkovich anticipated Sanchez’s conservative manner.
He read the quarterback like a book, stepping in front of a short pass intended for Tomlinson and marching into the end zone untouched to put the game out of reach. By the time Sanchez finally connected on a deep throw (a 35-yard strike to Jeremy Kerley), the game’s outcome was already decided. That’s simply not going to get it done if Sanchez wants to be called elite.
Not only was the Patriots’ pass defense pretty paltry coming into their game with the Jets, they were banged up to boot. With cornerback Leigh Bodden off the team thanks to back surgery and safety Patrick Chung missing the game to injury, the Pats’ secondary was reduced to a starting shell of Devin McCourty, James Ihedigbo, Kyle Arrington and Sterling Moore (who?).
Plus, McCourty left the game with an apparent separated shoulder. Still, Mark Sanchez failed to capitalize on New England’s injuries.
Although he did have 300 yards passing, Sanchez didn’t inflict as much damage upon New England’s secondary as some thought he would. Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers would’ve had a field day on this hurting pass defense, while guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chad Henne already did this year. Sanchez dropped the ball on this one.
It must frustrate Jets fans knowing that they have the pieces in place needed to thrive in the passing game. Maybe the receiving trio of Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes and rookie Jeremy Kerley isn’t the greatest out there, but they’re no slouches by any means.
Yet the Jets only rank 20th in passing yards per game. To me, that’s on Mark Sanchez. It’s nice that he and Burress have developed solid chemistry in the red zone, but where is the connection in between the 20s?
And what happened to Dustin Keller? The Jets’ tight end usually kills the Patriots but he did virtually nothing against them this season, grabbing just two passes in the Meadowlands. If Sanchez didn’t have anybody viable to throw to that’s one thing. However, Jets fans have to be troubled knowing that Sanchez seems to get less out of more. That's not the sign of a great quarterback.