Mark Sanchez's recent play is very disappointing. He needs to be better. Let me get this out of the way lest anybody thinks I am absolving him of all blame for his recent work. As much as we want simple answers, though, the truth is frequently complicated. There are a lot of factors in his recent struggles. One of note is his offensive line.
The line has been up and down all year. The past two weeks it has been way down. As much as we can complain about the quarterback and the play calling, bad line play makes having a successful offense next to impossible.
Think about the three games the Jets have beaten New England in the Rex Ryan era. What do they have in common? The Jets have hit Tom Brady and made him feel uncomfortable. Hits pile up. When a quarterback takes shots, they make him rush, speeding everything up to get the ball out before he gets whacked again. His mechanics get messed up, and receivers do not have time to run routes long enough to get open. If even Tom Brady can get rattled, it will happen to a less seasoned guy like Sanchez. Sanchez took six hits against the Broncos and was under duress more than a quarter of the times he dropped back. That is a recipe for disaster.
Not to scapegoat, but the real issue seems to be Wayne Hunter at right tackle. He has already allowed eight sacks this year. He has also allowed too many hits and pressures. D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Brandon Moore are underperforming, but Hunter has been the biggest problem. The overall struggles probably have something to do with Hunter.
Offensive lines are a unit. They are only as strong as their weakest link. When Hunter cannot win his assignment cleanly, Moore might have to help. Nick Mangold has to deal with Moore's man and so on. Somebody ends up in a bad matchup, or an extra man goes unblocked. Hunter draw attention for how spectacular some of his blown blocks look, but he is not getting the job done consistently.
The blame for this probably goes to Mike Tannenbaum. It is not for bringing Hunter back. Wayne is a journeyman who looks great at times and terrible at times. He is servicable as a backup. The problem is the team seemed to be expecting Vladmir Ducasse to make a leap and be ready to compete for a starting job. No matter what excuses he has about being raw and not getting OTA's, a second round pick in his second year should have shown more progress than Ducasse has. If you want to give some of the blame to Bill Callahan, I am fine with that. It just does not seem like Ducasse has shown an ability to learn much at all. Tannenbaum thought he had the goods and has been proven wrong so far. Hunter was a stopgap insurance policy. The Jets have needed him to be more. Maybe Vlad will develop one day, but again, a team that cannot get anything out of a second rounder in year two probably could have used the selection more wisely.
Unfortunately there do not seem to be any easy answers. Early in the year, I thought the Jets should give Hunter a lot of help. When they have tried recently, he has blown his assignments a lot and left Matthew Mulligan in mismatches one on one against pure pass rushers. Ducasse still has looked raw when he has been in there.
I fully expect Wayne Hunter to play well against an anemic Buffalo pass rush. The questions are bigger the rest of the way. The Jets should call more long developing passing plays down the field, but those only work if protection holds. If Mark Sanchez keeps getting hit the way he has been, he may never find a groove in 2011.