If you did not watch last night's preseason opener, you might look at the box score and feel a tad encouraged about Mark Sanchez. He was 10 of 13 for 125 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. That looks pretty good. Unfortunately, stats can be deceiving. Last Thanksgiving against New England, Sanchez hit over 70% of his passes, averaged over 8 yards per throw, and put up a quarterback rating a touch below 95. His actual play was awful in that game. He was not as bad last night, but he was not very good.
Sanchez was given a steady diet of easy throws either on checkdowns, screens, or busted coverages. There isn't anything necessarily wrong with that. You want an offense to be quarterback friendly. Last year's offense made life absurdly difficult on the quarterback. Sanchez's stat line was not a function of spectacular play, though. It was about simple passes. It was similar for Geno Smith when he was in there. He was 6 for 7 on a bunch of basic passes. His yardage was not as much because there were not as many broken coverages as Sanchez saw. There frankly was not much to be taken away from most of the throws either quarterback made.
There was a big problem with Sanchez, though. In three drives, he threw one interception returned for a touchdown on a screen and then would have had a second one had his receiver not bailed him out with a big hit on a defender about to pick off another screen pass. It's easy to say things like, "It's only preseason," or, "They were only a couple of bad passes." You can't do that, though. Here's why.
One of the biggest problems with Mark Sanchez through the years has been the backbreaking mistake on what should be a routine play. You can't give away 7 points as a quarterback. When you do that, you need a touchdown drive just to break even. When you are giving up 7 points on what should be a safe play, it is a disaster. Sanchez has yet to master the idea that if a screen is not there, you throw the ball into the ground and live to see another play. When he was interviewed on the sidelines during the game, he just attributed the interception to a great play by the defender, not his carelessness in floating a screen pass with no open receiver. Bad things happen when you softly lob the ball high into the air with no receiver open.
Yesterday I talked about how people read too much into preseason, but there are a few exceptions. This was one:
The things we do learn tend to be bad ones, such as a bad tendency a player worked hard to shake in the offseason but still has not been able to.
For Sanchez, that is turning routine plays into game-altering mistakes. He did it not once but twice. Just the fact the defender did not intercept the second one does not make Sanchez's play any better. If you throw the ball like that, it is going to be picked off more often than it isn't.
It's great that there was a touchdown drive and all that jazz, but when 2 of your 13 passes are screens that hit a defender in the hands, you have played poorly. Your team will lose almost all of its games with a quarterback playing at that rate, and hitting screens and checkdowns will not make up for it. If this was Aaron Rodgers, we could write it off as an isolated preseason mistake. He would be shaking off the rust. When the quarterback who keeps killing his team with boneheaded turnovers is so reckless with the ball in the first preseason game, it is a bad omen.