The lights flicker on and the film starts to roll. Tony Sparano sits down next to Mark Sanchez and handles the clicker as he watches the tape. He stops it, and starts to ask questions.
“Mark, what did you see here?” Sparano asks like a frustrated parent.
Sanchez confusingly replies, “What do you mean?”
“Why didn’t you look off the safety?” Sparano rebuts.
Coming out of the University of Southern California, Mark Sanchez had, I believe, 16 career starts at the college level. He deemed that enough to declare early, much to the chagrin of head coach Pete Carroll, but it wasn’t enough to start in the NFL. He benefited from a very talented USC team with an offensive scheme that suited both his talent and limitations. An abundance of short passes that are so often seen in West Coast Offenses was the norm for Sanchez, who also did a lot of boot action and rollouts in general. Simplified reads for a simple quarterback in a complex and dangerous game.
Four years after being selected fifth overall by the Jets, he’s struggling mightily. Most of the world saw it coming and one could say that the Jets did too. They lobbied hard to sign premium free agent Peyton Manning in the offseason and were turned down in favor of the Denver Broncos. Once Manning landed in Denver, the Jets did what they thought was the next best thing (besides trade for Tim Tebow). They gave Sanchez a confidence boost with a grand contract extension. Brian Billick once said “need is a terrible negotiator and an even worse evaluator.”
More money, more problems, and no development. That’s what the Jets’ slogan should be when it comes to their quarterback, who has unfathomably regressed in his four years since coming into the league. He’s become a very unbecoming quarterback. Turnovers, in general, have come to be expected weekly, and interceptions are a sure-fire occurrence. He’s not solely to blame for his downfall as his instruction, once led by Brian Schottenheimer (who is now in St. Louis) and now Tony Sparano, hasn’t been much better. He’s learned how to play the position from play callers who aren’t sure how to play call. But the majority of the blame has to fall on Mark Sanchez because if not him, then who?
His sub-par receivers aren’t throwing the football and neither is his play caller. It’s Mark Sanchez who’s throwing the interceptions, and for that, we can only blame Mark Sanchez. On Monday Night Football he threw another one — well, four to be precise. It raised his total count for the season to 17, one short of the league high, and it illustrated just how little he’s developed as a passer.
So with just over seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, and the Jets down 14-10, Sanchez was under center. There were two wide receivers split out each to a side, both of whom were going to be running go-routes, and behind Sanchez, there were two backs. The Jets were in “21″ personnel and were to go up against the Titans’ base 4-3 defense, who accompanied their front with off-man coverage and one deep safety.
One of the mistakes that underdeveloped or undeveloped quarterbacks tend to make is they aren’t conscious of the down and distance. This was 1st-and-10 at the 33 or so yard line, and a situation which the quarterback has to make a play or simply live to play another down. By that, I mean he simply can’t turn the ball over because a) he’s in his own territory, thus giving quality field position to the opposition and b) he has another down to make a play if he doesn’t on this one. It appears that Sanchez didn’t keep that in mind when he dropped back.
As he took a five-step drop, he briefly looked to the middle of the field to locate how many deep safeties there were (it tells him the coverage) and at the tight end, who was going to be running across the field. Then Sanchez switched his focus to his far right where newly signed Braylon Edwards was running a go-route. While watching his receiver, Sanchez should have had a timer in his head that screamed “ABORT! ABORT! ABORT!” because he was staring far too long and was unaware that safety Michael Griffin was following his eyes.
The good to great quarterbacks in the NFL do a wonderful job of not only executing their job but putting themselves in the shoes of the defensive players. They know the responsibilities of the defenders who they are throwing the ball towards so they are able to mislead and control them with their eyes. Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning are among the league’s best at doing this, and Rodgers has commented on occasion that looking defenders off is one of the final lessons of master quarterbacking.
Sanchez went from (briefly) reading the middle of the field to staring at Edwards, instead of reading the middle and watching Michael Griffin. Griffin’s responsibility as a deep safety was to keep his shoulders squared as he backpedaled, and once he’s given an inkling — the eyes or up-field shoulder — of where the quarterback was going, he would open his hips up and make a beeline for the ball. Griffin was given a shortcut by Sanchez however, going from a short backpedal to a quick run in the direction of Edwards without a misstep. Sanchez was supposed to look him off, perhaps in the direction of the far left deep receiver, before turning his focus to Edwards.
When the ball finally left Sanchez’s hands, it landed in Griffin’s. The patrolling safety turned his body back toward the inside and as he fell away, he caught the ball before bringing it in near his right elbow.
In the aftermath, head coach Rex Ryan revealed to Sanchez he would be benched for the following week and that the team would be going with seventh-round rookie Greg McElroy. It’s too early to surmise that McElroy is the answer, seeing that he’s only had a handful of snaps, but it might be safe to say, unequivocally, that Sanchez is not. This raises dozens of questions as to where the Jets turn to now that Sanchez has officially not lived up this billing.
If Ryan returns for a fifth season, his offensive philosophy will remain intact. The offense will be ball-control based, meaning it heavily relies on the power running game, and a quarterback who will not turn the ball over. Sanchez clearly won’t be able to handle that responsibility as he’s still a thrower and not a developed passer, and the jury is still out on McElroy. And frankly, Tim Tebow is not worth discussing. So what’s next for the Jets?
Well, they have to get a quarterback they can rely on to manage (and win) games so they don’t fall behind in the division. The Patriots still have Tom Brady and the Dolphins have invested in Ryan Tannehill, while the Bills have made it crystal clear — though they obviously didn’t need to — that they plan on going after a quarterback, which only leaves the Jets to go after one as well. They will have plenty to choose from, but will they make the right choice this time?