By Sean Hartnett
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In a touchdown-less preseason, it’s inevitable that all eyes will turn to the starting quarterback. Fingers are being pointed in the direction of Mark Sanchez. To some Jets fans, he’ll always be their whipping boy.
A crumbling offensive line in front of him, a subpar running game and receivers bobbling balls thrown directly to their chests. Still, the man standing behind center takes the blame.
Shonn Greene enjoyed a breakthrough 2011 season, but has struggled to resemble a 1,054-yard running back throughout the 2012 preseason. Greene has only managed 94 yards on 29 carries.
That’s an underwhelming average of 3.2 yards per carry. Greene has plenty to prove in his contract year.
On Sunday night, Sanchez threw a ball directly between Stephen Hill’s numbers, only to see the rookie receiver bobble the ball into the air — resulting in an interception. Hill’s talents are obvious, but it’s clear he’ll go through growing pains in his rookie season.
Santonio Holmes let a catchable ball slip through his finger and only had a single reception on Sunday. Holmes isn’t a number one caliber receiver these days, and the Jets are only stocked with question marks behind him on their wide receiver depth chart.
Invariably, it all comes back to Sanchez, but it’s easy to forget that his stock was on the rise at the start of the 2011 season. Sanchez was coming off a playoffs where he nearly inspired the Jets to an improbable comeback over the Pittsburgh Steelers to book a place in Super Bowl XLV.
Alongside Ben Roethlisberger, Sanchez is the only other quarterback in NFL history to lead his team into consecutive conference championship games in his first two NFL seasons. Underneath all the criticism, he’s still a promising young quarterback who has already proven his value in the playoffs.
He’s Not Eli Manning, But He’s Not Matt Leinart Either
Sanchez’s numbers in his third season were strikingly similar to Eli Manning’s numbers in his third year as a pro. They both went 8-8 in their third NFL season.
Sanchez in 2011: 78.2 passer rating, 26 touchdowns, 18 interceptions and a 56.7% completion percentage.
Manning in 2006: 77.0 passer rating, 24 touchdowns, 18 interceptions and a 57.7% completion percentage.
No one is expecting him to suddenly become Eli Manning and lead the Jets to a Super Bowl championship in his fourth season. Nor is he going to fizzle into backup obscurity.
Sanchez’s maturation process will probably take longer than Manning.
The Tebow Factor
Rex Ryan holds the key to Mark Sanchez’s development. Should the Jets come out of the gates poorly this season, he can’t hit the panic switch and turn to x-factor backup Tim Tebow.
We all heard the Tebow chants echoing around MetLife Stadium last night. There’s going to be a couple of moments when the pressure is going to be on Ryan to make the switch at starting QB. He must resist the temptation of Tebow.
Whether the Jets start out 5-0, 0-5, or anywhere in between, Ryan must keep Sanchez as the Jets’ starter. Should he turn to Tebow, Ryan will have halted Sanchez’s progress and perhaps end his career as a New York Jet.
Once ‘Tebowmania’ takes over, it could swallow the promising career of Sanchez. There won’t be any turning back.
It’s not Mark Sanchez that’s broken — it’s the parts around him that are failing the Jets this preseason. Paging Mike Tannenbaum — make a deal for a second capable wide receiver and give Sanchez the oportunity to make good on his promise.
Is Sanchez to blame or should the finger be pointed at those around him? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.