There are many here at GGN who believe it is time to move on from Mark Sanchez. It is not a position without merit in terms of his lack of substantial development and his current standing at the bottom of league QB ratings. I personally fall in the let's see how the rest of the year plays out, then evaluate whether a change is called for camp. I am skeptical he will show enough to merit continued support within the organization and the fanbase, but I am willing to continue a one year audition for him to prove his many doubters wrong. I suspect much of the team's staff is currently more or less sharing my view on this. The team continues to play him, so they have not yet given up on him, but they hardly seem enthusiastic about his level of play or prospects for the future. If that indeed is a fair characterization of the organization's collective stance on Sanchez, then the last 6 games of the schedule present an interesting dilemma for the organization.
Over the last 6 games we face the following opponents: NE, AZ, JAX, TN, SD and BUF. Of those games, only the NE game seems out of reach. More interestingly, those six teams collectively represent a horrible string of pass defenses. They are currently rated 31,29, 27, 22, 18 and 15 in opposing QB rating, and 30, 27, 25, 24, 21 and 20 in passing yards allowed per game. Given such a long string of passing defense ineptitude to close the season, it would not be at all surprising to see Mark Sanchez close the season on the best prolonged stretch of his career. I would expect one or more career games from Mark, and an overall look of good bordering on excellent QB play. I might also expect something like a 4-2 record over those games, and maybe one or two thrilling comeback wins to boot. If that were in fact to come to pass, then what?
A sober, analytical, devoid of emotion assessment might conclude that the season ending run was something of an illusion, and that Mark benefited immensely from an exceptionally weak end of season schedule. But there are two problems with this analysis. First, the Jets organization is composed of people, not computers, and like all people no analysis is ever completely rational and devoid of emotion. The Jets WANT Mark to succeed, maybe even desperately want him to. If he were to put together a season ending run like I hypothesize, there is little doubt that his supporters in the organization would point to that as convincing proof that Mark has turned the corner and is finally ascending to the status of above average QB. They would likely put aside the previous 3 1/2 years of general ineptitude and conclude Mark finally gets it; he passed his audition with flying colors, and now we're rolling with Mark for the foreseeable future. Given our salary cap woes, the Jets might even restructure and extend Mark so as to both tie him up as our anointed starting QB and also provide more room under the cap.
The second problem with the analysis is the simple fact that you can only play the opponents on your schedule. If Mark were to put together an impressive season ending run against less than fearful opponents, what do we make of it? You cannot penalize Mark for the poor quality of the opposition. If he succeeds, surely he deserves some credit. But if the rest of this season is truly an audition for the starting QB job going forward, how do we decide if he's passed the audition? Supporters would point to great play down the stretch and say if that doesn't qualify as passing the audition, then what would? Supporters would argue that if he doesn't get credit for his successes, then the entire process is rigged against Mark, and they would have a point. If great play, regardless of competition, does not win the day, then the only fair conclusion is that the audition was rigged and Mark was in a no win situation. On the other hand, detractors will argue that if 6 games against terrible competition overrules 3 1/2 years of mediocre to awful play, then the process was rigged IN FAVOR of Mark, and he was in a nearly no lose situation. Just perform well against some of the worst pass defenses in the NFL over a relatively short stretch and all will be forgiven. We love you Mark and we always knew you had it in you. This, too hardly seems a fair way of approaching the problem.
So, what are we left with? If Mark sucks over the last 6 games, or even if he is just mediocre, I think the picture becomes a whole lot clearer. 4 years in, no real breakthrough, mired at the back of the league's starting QBs, it would then be pretty clear, at least to me, it is time to search for Mark's successor. But if he really blossoms down the stretch, what then? The picture becomes very muddy indeed. Was it a mirage, fueled by bad defenses? Was it a portent of brighter days to come? Has Mark finally turned the corner, or will he fall right back down to earth when tougher competition emerges? Will he be seen as a mistake, or finally the true Jets QB of the future? I don't know if anyone at that point will be able to give really good answers, and I suspect we would then be headed for yet another year of Mark Sanchez auditions, and raging debates about whether he can ever become a good enough NFL QB.
The schedule down the stretch has the very real potential of completely muddying the waters with respect to the organization's Sanchez evaluations. I hope for all our sakes the organization can be clear eyed enough to sift through the mud and make the correct call on Mark, whatever that call may be. Our collective sanity as fans might well depend on it.