In Defense of Mark Sanchez (Or, Taking the Road Less Traveled)
I have been always been a sort-of Mark Sanchez apologist, and while it certainly is a not-so popular stance, I’ve actually grown to enjoy arguing with people about their unreasonable disdain for a guy who has basically won football games (28-17, including 6 playoff games).
For the past 2 years, the narrative surrounding the Jets quarterback has been that of a “game manager” and a quarterback that only keeps his team from losing rather than helping his team win.
No one has faced more scrutiny in the New York media than the Sanchize, and that comes with the territory when you’re a first round draft pick playing for a New York sports team. But the fact is, the young quarterback has dramatically improved in his 3rd season and the real story is getting lost in a sea of bad jokes and flashy headlines. It’s time to sift through the brainwashing and understand that the popular and widely accepted opinion that Sanchez is a “bad” quarterback is old, lame and just plain ignorant.
So no, this is not going to be a supremely long post making excuses for the 3rd year QB but rather, I am merely going to point out that the dialogue surrounding him needs to change and grow in the same manner as the quarterback himself.
To start off, I would like to point out just how erroneous the commentary on Sanchez is by directing your attention to an article written by my good friends at Pro Football Talk (I’m obviously being sarcastic when I refer to them as my good friends, as I have a well-documented dislike for the site). PFT recently released their bye week assessment of the Jets, as they have done with all of the NFL teams, and one of their biggest criticisms of the team up to this point was their allegation that Sanchez has taken “a step back.”
I’m not a mathematician, but since when was an increase in passer rating, total yards per game, TDs per game, and an improved TD-INT ratio considered a regression? Am I missing something?
Sanchez’s QB Rating, which is still by and large the main statistic used when comparing NFL quarterbacks, is based on a passer’s completion percentage, passing yardage, touchdown percentage and interception percentage. Sanchez’s QB rating was 63.0 as a rookie, 75.3 last year, and is currently at 83.0. Again, I’m not math genius, but that looks to me like an improvement.
Hey, speaking of TD-INT ratio, one thing that Pro Football Talk (and every other media outlet) failed to mention in their bye week reports is that Mark Sanchez and Mr. Tom Brady himself actually have the same TD-INT ratio, and that Brady has actually thrown more total interceptions than Sanchez. And since interceptions are everyone’s favorite joke to make about Sanchez, I thought it might be appropriate to point that out. Granted, Brady has also thrown more touchdowns but the point is that Sanchez’s ratio is not a regression but rather a progression.
Then we have everyone’s favorite sports journalist, Bill Simmons, who recently posted his 2011 NFL Quarterback Power Rankings, placing Sanchez 15th in the NFL, in a division titled: “The Older Steve Grogan Division (Game Managers). Simmons explains that, “We’re judging these guys by their ability to win in 2011,” and then places Phillip Rivers and Tony Romo (two guys that have had struggled to help their teams win 2011) ahead of the Jets QB and basically rips on every person not named Tom Brady. So, you’re actually not basing it on their ability to win in 2011, are you Bill? Oh and why does it always somehow come back to Tom Brady (Wait — I’ll get to that in a second).
I could point out about 6,678,998, 576. 459, 000 million other articles that say that same thing as Simmons and PFT, but you get the point. It’s obnoxious, relentless and obsolete.
So, while Sanchez’s numbers have actually improved, we all know the evaluation of a quarterback extends far beyond the numbers on a stat sheet. But what writers and analysts consistently fail to point out when assessing Sanchez’s performance is that there are several factors contributing to the troubles with the Jets offense that are independent of the quarterback.
The first, and most obvious, is that the Jets rolled out an entirely new receiving core for Sanchez in the pre-season. Only Santonio Holmes remains of the 2010 wideouts and Derrick Mason, who replaced Jerricho Cotchery, was ultimately replaced with yet another new face. The Jets let Braylon Edwards go in favor of Plaxico Burress (to provide Sanchez with a big red zone target) and with Burress’ extended absence from the game and a shortened pre-season, the QB and his receiver are still working on their chemistry. (which appears to be improving).
So, in total that makes 3 new receivers for the quarterback. 3 new guys that he has get accustomed to, create chemistry with and distribute the ball to. Let’s see how you would do.
While we are on the subject of the wide-outs, don’t let me forget to mention that the Jets receivers are fifth in the NFL with 14 drops. Not only that, but the Jets receiving core in general lacks speed, often runs poor routes and appears to have trouble getting separation. All of these issues could be products of the shortened pre-season and a lack of chemistry but it is certainly not all on Sanchez (even though it directly effects his completion percentage). It goes both ways.
There is also the matter of the offensive line, which has struggled at times (particularly against the Baltimore Ravens, Sanchez’s worst game of the year) but is beginning to regain their 2010 form. Sanchez’s success under center this year seems to go hand-in-hand with the play of the line and not only because they are now giving him better pass protection and keeping him upright ,but because they are also supporting the running game. A legitimate threat to run helps balance the offense, thereby helping Sanchez.
But what would a discussion of Sanchez be without a discussion of an offensive coordinator who truly defies any explanation. It’s hard for me to say that Schotty is bad and it’s hard for me to say that Schotty is good but it’s very easy to say that he is not having his best year calling plays. Schotty often makes questionable decisions that almost appear to be almost hindering his quarterback’s growth.
I understand why Rex Ryan, Brian Schottenheimer and the staff felt that a change to a passing-heavy offense was a good idea in the off-season, but with the dramatic personnel change, Sanchez and the offense weren’t ready. The experiment was over before it really started.
We all know the story of how Ryan approached Schotty before the New England game asking for a return to “ground and pound” (ugh..can we stop calling it that) and since the revision, the offense has found their footing. While many claim that the offense was simplified for the sake of Sanchez, the fact remains that the entire team was not ready for such a dramatic shift in identity (and yes, that includes Sanchez).
It’s highly possible that Sanchez will never be an air-it-out quarterback, but that doesn’t make him bad. That said, I would be remiss if I did not point to the areas where Sanchez still needs to step it up. His passer rating on 20-plus yard attempts is 26.9 (poor). He also needs to vastly improve his accuracy and better distribute the ball to his play-makers.
But it’s not as if these shortcomings have prevented the team from winning games. Let us not forget that Sanchez has lead this team to two back-to-back AFC Championships, no small accomplishment. Ben Roethlisberger is the only other quarterback in NFL history with as many playoff wins in his first two seasons.
Sanchez proponents have pointed to his performance in these playoffs games as a more appropriate sample of what he is truly capable of doing and the young QB has continued to develop his “clutchness” in the regular season by staging several come-from- behind wins and putting it together in difficult situations (interestingly enough, those that like to poo-poo this regard the come from behind wins as a direct result of his failures to produce early in games).
In fact, Sanchez’s excellent play under pressure if particularly evident when the team is in hurry-up mode, something they have experimented with more this season. His ability to read defenses and make decisions on his own in the no-huddle have been some of his best moments, proving that when it matters most he is at his best. Moreover, when Sanchez gets into scoring position, his is extremely effective: He has a 104.6 passer rating in the red zone in 2011.
In addition to his statistical improvements and his well documented success in big games, Sanchez has also managed to show us a few things this year that perhaps we did not know about him before. Sanchez has demonstrated surprising mobility and has really excelled with the play action in the revised system, showcasing his pump fake more than ever before.
If I haven’t convinced you yet that Sanchez has improved, it’s likely I never will. But perhaps part of the problem is the way in which we discuss the quarterback position all-together.
The main issue with the entire analysis of quarterbacks in this league is that too many players are being compared to Tom Brady in every conversation. While Brady is one of the best QBs in the NFL (I would actually argue that Aaron Rodgers is better), the quarterback landscape is rapidly changing with the development of unique players, conventional pocket passers are no longer the the only accepted style of play. We can no longer define a player simply by his ability to sit back, look pretty and distribute the ball but by an infinite number of other things that are difficult to define with statistics alone.
But the bottom line is that in today’s world of instant gratification we are more concerned with cracking a joke and tweeting out a zinger than we are with factual information and reasonable thinking. Just last week, during the Chargers game, several high-profile NFL analysts (I won’t name names but let’s just say I saved it for a rainy day) tweeted out that Dustin Keller’s stripped ball, which was taken to the house, was a Sanchez pick-6. And here is where the problem really starts: That isn’t even what happened. It was really more like a strip six and let’s credit the defender for getting the ball from Keller instead of blaming Sanchez for not getting the ball to his receiver.
At the end of the day, it’s not just Mark Sanchez I am defending here. It’s every player on every team who is not being given a chance to grow and change. And in a news landscape where we are so obsessed with writing the headline before the story is over, most journalists refuse to erase the Mark Sanchez story they started writing 2 years ago. Either because they are too lazy to erase it or too boneheaded to admit they were/are wrong.
It should be noted that Sanchez is a class act and always conducts himself professionally, gracefully and is always a team player. He handles criticism with humility and often puts the teams shortcomings on himself. I unfortunately cannot say the same for so many others.
While you don’t get gold stars in the NFL for acting like a responsible and respectful human being, I bring it up for two reasons: One, it’s not as if he is a terrible human being that deserves to be trashed and two, no one knows more than this kid that hard work and a good attitude will get you far in this life.
Listen, I am not saying I think Sanchez is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He has had his fair share of bad games, bad plays and bad moments and unfortunately for him, each and every one of them where broadcast on National Television.
But I think we have yet to see exactly what he is capable of being and only time will tell exactly what that will be.