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Mark Sanchez: Stay or Go?

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2011 was an extremely disappointing season for Mark Sanchez. Sure, he had some incremental improvements in some of his stats, but he was still below average in most important categories. 2011 was to passers in the NFL what 1998 was to baseball homerun hitters. It was a year of unseen production with three quarterbacks throwing for over 5,000 yards. Sanchez had six games against bottom ten pass defenses and still only put up pedestrian numbers. He also turned the ball over more than anybody not named Josh Freeman, which contributed to the Jets allowing over 100 points off turnovers.

If you are looking for reasons the Jets underachieved this year, it probably is not the defense. Yes, there were some series or individual plays where the unit failed that changed a game. Yes, some spots need to be tweaked and upgraded. At the end of the day, it was still the fifth best defense in the league and bailed out the Jets a number of times when a turnover gave the opponent a short field. The problem was also not the running back who had a 1,000 yard season with a 4.3 average. The issue was the quarterback. The Jets were expecting to lean more on Mark this year. He did not deliver, and eventually the team had to scale back the offense. You cannot really say that stats don't matter, and Sanchez was a success in his first two years because he is a winner and then write off the team and him underachieving because his numbers are a tad better in 2011.

Mark Sanchez was not dealt the best hand this year. We all know how suspect his coordinator and playcalling were. We know about the offensive line, particularly at right tackle. The problem is these things only account for part of the problem. Maybe the Jets should have taken more shots deep, but on the rare instances they did, Sanchez looked like he was just chucking the ball off his back foot as far as he could with no aim and praying a receiver came down with it. There were a lot of times he had a clean pocket and still missed his passes or did not see open receivers in time before the window closed. Even simple screen pass freqently ended with Sanchez throwing rockets into the ground with his back right in front of him. The receivers got some flack for dropping passes and running bad routes. Watch the games over, though, and you will see much more frequently on replay angles Sanchez not seeing a passing lane before it closes. With good quarterback play, Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller could have been 1,000 yard receivers. The most glaring moment came in the red zone against the Giants where the Giants left Plaxico Burress uncovered on a play, Burress jumped up and down trying to get his quarterback's attention, and Sanchez never glanced his way.

In the NFL, good quarterback play covers weaknesses. Nobody gets perfect protection all the time. Nobody has receivers running open by five yards. Separation frequently means a tight window that requires a precise throw. Sanchez regularly did not hit open guys. He ran himself into a number of sacks this year showing a lack of pocket presence when a simple step up in the pocket would have meant more time. These are things that cannot simply be hung on coaching. Sanchez also seemed to get rattled whenever he was hit. Yes, there are some games where a pass rush gets to a quarterback, and even the best guys get rattled. Think of Tom Brady against the Jets in the Playoffs last year. Brady also has had a number of great games where he has taken shots like Week 5 against the Jets this year. Drew Brees on Saturday was constantly pressured but hung in and made plays. Sanchez was pretty much done whenever he took a hit this year. Again, good quarterbacks compensate for weaknesses. Bad quarterbacks draw attention to weaknesses.

Sanchez would save the Jets $9.2 million against the cap if he is cut or traded. He will probably be back, though. I also think he should be back. It is unlikely the Jets will be able to find a guy unquestionably better. More than this, the fourth and fifth years tend to be when it clicks for quarterbacks if it is ever going to. Drew Brees raised his completion percentage almost 8 points between his third and fourth years. Ben Roethlisberger hit 65% of his passes, which he had approached before but with 100 passes more than his previous 60% seasons had. It took Tom Brady until his fifth year and fourth year starting to crack a 90 passer rating. It is easy to forget, but Brees was considered such a bust that the Chargers drafted Philip Rivers. Also as easy to forget is Brady and Roethlisberger were not always considered elite quarterbacks. A sizable chunk of football fans used to think the Patriots and Steelers won because of their defenses and that their quarterbacks were along for the ride. You know how Trent Dilfer is the posterboy for bad quarterbacks winning the Super Bowl? People used to say Dilfer and Brady prove you don't need a franchise quarterback.

These are reasons for patience. The thing is that Sanchez is certainly behind where Brady and Ben were at this point of their respective careers. These bad signs from Sanchez also cannot be ignored. Sure, he faced adversity, but even when everything was going right, the protection was good, and his receivers were open, he missed more often than not this year. On top of this, overcoming adversity is part of the job description. The Jets picked him fifth overall because they wanted a guy who could deliver even when everything else was not ideal. He did not need to be John Elway this year, but asking him to torch a horrible Patriots secondary or not constantly miss open guys against the Giants was not a lot to ask. I counted no less than five completions this year that would have been touchdowns had he led his receivers in stride instead of putting it a tad behind, forcing them to slow down and giving defenders a chance to catch up. There is a lot of hidden yardage lost in off target throws.

I vote stay, but Sanchez has more questions than answers at this point. There were two areas where he was really good this year. His red zone play was a lot better, which led to an increase in touchdowns. He also looked good making kill calls and changing the play at the line when he saw something in the defense. He was more effective making presnap reads than reads after the snap. There was not much else to be positive about. The excuses are done. He is not raw any more. He has over 50 starts under his belt. Brian Schottenheimer is gone. What we saw this year was not good enough. Yes, he has succeeded in big spots in the past, but he had a lot more to do with the team's failures this year than he had to do with the 2009 and 2010 successes. That isn't hate. That is the truth.