By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — Everyone keeps waiting for this statement season from Mark Sanchez. My question is: how do you plan to measure it? What will be the criteria? Because if you ultimately think statistics will tell his tale, you obviously haven’t been paying attention to what the Jets have built themselves to be.
Sanchez threw for nearly 3,500 yards and 26 touchdowns last season, clearly the best positive offensive numbers of his first three seasons as a professional. But despite his partial progression his season wasn’t considered anything even remotely resembling a step in the right direction, mostly because of some things you can quantify and some others you can’t.
Sanchez also turned the ball over 26 times in 2011, including 18 interceptions. His penchant for checking down to tight ends and running backs became borderline legendary, and not in a good way.
Was the Jets’ overall helter-skelter offensive production all his fault? No. Sanchez defenders like to point to the offensive line’s woes and they have a point. The guy was sacked a career-high 39 times and often found himself running for his life, which certainly led to many of his turnovers, including the bulk of his eight lost fumbles.
But all that aside — and I assure you I’m not just sweeping it under the rug — we still don’t know how well Sanchez reads defenses even with time. A lot of 2011 featured the strong-armed quarterback locking in on his first read, mostly on slants, quick-outs and the reviled check-down. For whatever reason, either the Jets’ wide receivers had serious problems getting separation deep, then-offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer didn’t call enough plays to stretch the field or Sanchez didn’t have the time or the impetus combined with an understanding of how to throw deep.
Clearly, the reasons for all of this are very complicated and nearly impossible to explain. In truth, you could break down tape of Sanchez’s 2011 season until the cows come home and come up with many different reasons or excuses why Sanchez looked pretty good one minute and god-awful the next.
Of course, the Jets switching offensive philosophies mid-stream didn’t help matters either. Sanchez went from tossing a few 300-yard games to looking, at least statistically, like the quarterback he was during his rookie season.
Which is why numbers rarely tell his true story.
And now, under new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, the Jets plan on being this highly run-oriented smash-mouth club that will try to wear defenses down, while relying on their own defense to keep them in games.
So, how should Sanchez be judged in 2012? I can tell you one way he shouldn’t be judged. Yup, you guessed it, by his numbers.
The Jets’ front office did Sanchez no favors this past offseason. Signing brittle Chaz Schilens, as physically gifted as he might be, was not the move you make if you want to adequately replace Plaxico Burress and improve a quarterback’s options. Drafting Stephen Hill in the second round may prove to be genius down the road, but for now what can you really expect from him in an offense that’s allergic to the passing game? Maybe all we can expect are pedestrian numbers, very good blocking and a lot of decoy route running in an attempt to give the illusion of a vertical game.
On top of all that, Sanchez has had very little time to develop any kind of rapport with his receivers during training camp, mostly because Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley have been injured, while the other guys really haven’t done all that much to distinguish themselves. I mean, how good could things be if the Jets are considering using cornerback Antonio Cromartie even the slightest bit at receiver?
The Jets’ skill position weapons scare absolutely nobody right now.
So, again, back to the criteria to grade Sanchez. It’s no secret the NFL is a pass-happy league these days. Big arms and stud wide receivers win games. The Jets have chosen the complete opposite mindset. They are going to attempt to run the ball, be it out of traditional sets or some new-age version of the “wildcat,” as the rule rather than the exception. Now, you could argue that this philosophy is borderline insanity, especially when you consider that Shonn Greene is a good but not great running back and the Jets really have very little to compliment him short of whatever it is they decide to do with Tim Tebow and Joe McKnight in a non-traditional sense.
All of this said — the weaknesses of the receiving corps, the offensive philosophy, the lack of running back depth, and throw in the offensive line’s quest to rediscover itself — it’s nearly impossible to expect Sanchez to become a statistical juggernaut.
What the critics and fans would be smart to do is judge Sanchez based on more specialized criteria.
First, examine his TD-to-INT ratio. Sanchez just cannot turn the ball over. If he throws around 20 TDs, which is very realistic, the Jets will have to hope he keeps his turnovers in the single digits. That may be asking a ton considering all we know about him and his supporting cast, but in as much as it will improve everyone’s belief in the quarterback it will also keep the Jets’ offense on the field, which is what this team wants — long, clock-eating drives.
Second, pay close attention to this quarterback’s red zone efficiency. Last season the Jets were among the best red zone offenses in the NFL. Two seasons ago, they were among the worst. Considering their assumed margin for error in 2012, they simply have to get into the end zone and not settle for field goals, and that’s regardless of how good their defense figures to be.
Third, analyze how well Sanchez plays in big moments. We’ve already seen him shine in playoff games and during crunch time of regular season games. This quarterback can lead his team back from the depths of despair late. He’s done it far more times than he gets credit for. The problem, however, is his supporting cast doesn’t appear to be as good as it once was, which will put the onus on Sanchez to be smart, efficient and to make big plays, the types of plays that he and he alone improvises and executes.
So, for the sake of argument, what are fair statistical totals for Sanchez, the types of numbers that can be looked at as getting the job done within this offensive philosophy? I say 2,750 to 3,000 yards, 17-20 TDs, a completion percentage closer to 60 percent than his career average of 55.3 and a QB rating on a weekly basis that’s closer to triple digits than his career average of 73.2.
And, of course, a severe cutback in turnovers.
All things considered, including Sanchez’s career arc when compared to other players at his position, that’s not a hell of a lot to ask for. If Sanchez does these things he will be the best quarterback he can be given the hand he’s been dealt by this front office.
Maybe one day Sanchez will be a 4,000-yard quarterback, one that throws 35 TDs with half as many turnovers. I don’t see it happening any time soon, but I’ll tell you this: if by some miracle it does go down this season, the Jets will be playing in February.
In the more realistic interim, Sanchez must play within himself and make the most of every last opportunity he gets on a weekly basis.
In a perfect world, or the galaxy in which the Jets often operate, that’s the only really fair way to assess this particular quarterback at this particular time.
What are your realistic expectations for Mark Sanchez? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …