Playing Sanchez in the 3rd Preseason Game: A Fair Decision

Hey guys, I wrote this piece a little while ago but I never posted it here. Let me know what you think of my evaluation - because Heavens only know no one on ESPN or NFLN will....

Despite having the Jets fans' "dream" come true and seeing Mark Sanchez play what may be his final snap as a Jet, many pundits and writers have criticized the decision to put Sanchez in a situation where he could get hurt. But there is far more logic to the situation than most people care to accept.

Yes, Jets fans that were more than happy to find an excuse to move on from Mark Sanchez after the 2012 season finally got their wish in the 3rd preseason game against the Giants (albeit in a very unfortunate way). And yes, the game was meaningless (except for bragging rights and a trophy with Snoopy on it – not exactly the Lombardi, but Rex always takes what he can get). But for some reason, many powerful football people believe that the decision to put Mark Sanchez in that game was both stupid and insulting to Mark Sanchez. Let’s explore that notion, shall we?

Mark Sanchez was not "leading" the quarterback battle.

For the duration of the offseason and preseason he was in a neck-and-neck competition with Geno Smith. Now let’s look at that situation: Mark Sanchez, a four-year starter with 68 games and 4 playoff wins under his belt, was unable to distance himself from a rookie who had never played in anything resembling a pro-style offense, who had never even played a game against an Big-10/PAC team, and who was ignored in the first round of the draft over mental toughness and character concerns.

That is the guy Sanchez was struggling to overcome in the preseason. That is the guy who, when he eventually replaced Sanchez with a receiving corps worse than anything Sanchez ever had to work with – was able to put up 3 TDs and a near-perfect passer rating on Monday Night against the Falcons.

The decision to put Mark Sanchez in the game was reasonable.

Perhaps the most subjective point one can make in this argument – while the game itself was pointless, the need for Sanchez to get reps in the preseason was not. Here are the facts: It was the third NFL preseason game. The designated starting QB for the game was Geno Smith, the designated backup was Mark Sanchez, the designated 3rd-string QB was Matt Simms. In the 4th quarter, the only potential starter still on the field for the Jets was Geno Smith – everyone else was a backup or a roster hopeful. This was Mark Sanchez’s chance to get more reps with players Geno Smith was struggling to make anything work with – can you imagine how much it would help Sanchez’s case if he was able to raise the game of the team’s second- and third-string players?

If Sanchez had finished the game well, he could have been named the starter immediately after. And if he didn’t want to put himself at risk, he could have just audibled for a run play or quick passing play. The door was thrown wide open for Sanchez to blow the competition out of the water.

Mark Sanchez’s poor decision making led to his injury.

As much as it may seem okay to blame Rex or the backup O-Line for the injury, Sanchez’s injury was almost entirely the result of his own poor decision making – an ironic end considering it was that exact thing that held him back in the prior four years. Most people who know about the injury probably didn’t actually watch the play – but those who did may have noticed that Sanchez was doing what he had always done: holding onto the ball for an eternity, waiting for something to open up and force it in if it wasn’t.

Sanchez held the ball for at least 6 seconds – almost twice the amount of time any QB should be holding the football before getting rid of it – and instead of throwing it away in the face of pressure or trying to make a play with his legs, he tried to set his feet outside the pocket and force a big play. As usual, when he forced something it blew up in his face – literally this time. Sanchez does not have the athletic tools to make plays outside the pocket. He never has. And yet, as usual, Sanchez tried forcing something that was beyond his abilities to achieve. This brings up the following subpoint:

Don’t blame the O-Line.

Let’s get one thing straight – the Jets offensive linemen may have been backups and roster hopefuls, but guess what? So were those Giants defensive linemen. Sanchez wasn’t injured by Jason Pierre-Paul, Mike Patterson, Shaun Rogers or Justin Tuck – he was injured by career backup Marvin Austin, who couldn’t even make the Giants final cuts and was on the couch until he got picked up by the Dolphins two weeks ago. Not to insult Austin, but he isn’t exactly someone known for making the big play – so there was no reason to expect he would get to and injure a QB. He made one big play that really hurt the QB – but nobody would be insulting those linemen if not for that one play that got away.

And one more thing: If those linemen were really so bad, A) why didn’t Geno Smith or Matt Simms get hurt playing behind them too? And, B) why did the Jets still dominate up front in the final 5 quarters of the preseason? Sanchez allowed Mark Sanchez to get hurt in that game, not the offensive linemen.

Sanchez could have asked to not play.

Sanchez has stated on numerous occasions that he felt he won the quarterback battle. So if the game was really as "meaningless" as everyone thought, why did Sanchez even dress for the game? If he was so confident, why go in the game at all? If he really was playing as well as he thought, then refusing to play would have had no consequences – he would still be the uncuttable starter. This brings us to the final point:

Sanchez needed to prove himself.

If Smith had gotten hurt in the first quarter, isn’t it likely that Sanchez would have played? Beggars can’t be choosers and designated backup quarterbacks can’t choose when they want to go in the game if they want any chance of playing at all in this league. In the past two weeks, look at the flak Jadaveon Clowney has received for not giving his all in college football. The guy is dropping out of the Top 10 of many NFL draft boards because of his attitude. If Sanchez had refused to play, wouldn’t the NFL tear him a new ******* for believing he was above competition?

The fourth quarter move itself was necessary – but the result was simply unfortunate.

There is plenty of blame to go around on this move – Rex for the timing, the O-Line for not protecting perfectly, maybe even Geno for playing so poorly. But Sanchez deserves his share of the blame as well. If he was really as good of a player as everyone wants to pretend he was at the time, he never should have been in a position where he needed to go in the fourth quarter of a meaningless preseason game to get a leg up in a competition with a rookie QB.

There was no "mistreatment" of Sanchez – they gave him every opportunity to blow Geno Smith out of the water, and he failed at every turn. They put him on short-term IR because he wanted a chance to rehab and come back - but he failed. Now, less than 8 games into his NFL career Geno Smith already looks like a hardened veteran that is a far better QB than the last one the Jets drafted early. Mark Sanchez, meanwhile, will be fortunate if he ever starts in the league again – and that’s not even due to the injury - because he is simply not as good as he thinks he is.

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