It's The Quarterback, Stupid

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First a few updates:

1. David Harris is the only player who didn’t practice today. However, the Star-Ledger (http://www.nj.com/jets/index.ssf/2010/01/ny_jets_lb_david_harris_is_exp.html) reported that he is going to play on Saturday and that the sprain is only mild. Rex Ryan didn’t refute that report today. Obviously, this is very good news and I think we are all looking forward to David Harris introducing himself to Cedric Benson.

2. Punter Steve Weatherford was a full participant in practice today.

3. Good article on ESPN.com by Tim Graham on the impact of the Jets pass rush on opposing quarterbacks, along with Carson Palmer’s handling of the blitz all season. (http://espn.go.com/blog/afceast/post/_/id/8743/cincy-might-consider-riot-gear-for-jets-d).

4. The latest line I have seen on the Jets/Bengals game is Cincy at 2.5 favorites. The latest odds I have seen for the Jets winning the Super Bowl is 45 to 1, which is of course the lowest out of any NFL playoff team.

It’s The Quarterback, Stupid

The primary reason for the Jets ending the season winning 5 of their last 6 games was because they finally embraced their identity as a run first offense that was going to rely on their defense to win games. Mark Sanchez’s early season success led to Brian Schottenheimer embracing a more balanced approach and putting too much in his rookie’s hands too early, leading to losses against the Saints, Bills, Jaguars, and Patriots. It has been a weird ride for Sanchez this season, culminating with a 6/12 63 yards Wing-T high school quarterback stat line. I know the Jets are built on their running game and defense but they are going to need more than 63 yards from Mark Sanchez if they want to do any damage in these playoffs. Sanchez is easily the 12th best quarterback in these playoffs but if he could somehow duplicate his early season play for stretches of games, the Jets have enough talent around him to rip off a victory or two or maybe even three? I don’t want to push it. First, let’s run through the odd 2009 season of #6:

Week 1 At Houston: 18/31, 272 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT – Arguably Sanchez’s best all-around game of the season. He was unbelievable on third down in this game and showed good movement in the pocket, poise, and confidence.

Week 2 Vs New England: 14/22, 163 yards, 1 TD – If this wasn’t his best all-around game, it was his most impressive performance since he was going against Bill Belichick and outplayed Tom Brady. He protected the ball and elevated his play in the second half, including two beautiful passes to Jerricho Cotchery and a nice touchdown pass to Dustin Keller.

Week 3 Vs Tennessee: 17/30, 171 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT – Another good performance, although ball security issues began to surface in this game with the interception and a couple of fumbles. Sanchez also added a rushing touchdown this game.

Week 4 At New Orleans: 14/27, 138 yards, 3 INTs – Oh boy…Sanchez directly hands the Saints 14 points and basically costs the Jets a victory wasting a terrific performance by their defense.

Week 5 At Miami: 12/24, 172 yards, 1 TD – A good bounce-back performance, Sanchez threw the ball well down the field in this game. If he can play like this against the Bengals, the Jets will win.

Week 6 Vs Buffalo: 10/29, 119 yards, 5 INTs – I’m not sure I have ever seen a quarterback play a worse game.

Week 7 At Oakland: 9/15, 143 yards, 1 TD – Week one of the “stay the hell out of the way Sanchez” game plan. However, he played well and added a rushing touchdown.

Week 8 Vs Miami: 20/35, 265 yards, 2 TDs – Probably his best game of the year and the second half of this game was easily the best we have seen Sanchez all season. However, this was probably a bad thing because it led the Jets to give him too much freedom the following two weeks.

Week 10 Vs Jacksonville: 16/30, 212 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs – Played a good fourth quarter but beyond that was pretty bad.

Week 11 At New England: 8/21, 136 yards, 1 TD, 4 INTs – The low point for the Jets season and Sanchez who regressed back to Buffalo game.

Week 12 Vs Carolina: 13/17, 154 yards, 1 INT – The color code system begins and the Jets embrace the “stay the hell out of the way Sanchez” game plan again…if you remove the INT, the Jets could win this Saturday with these numbers from Sanchez.

Week 13 At Buffalo: 7/15, 104 yards, 1 TD – The numbers don’t show it but Sanchez was playing well this game before he got hurt…don’t forget Braylon Edwards dropped an easy 80 yard touchdown pass this game.

Week 15 At Atlanta: 18/32, 226 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs – Too many passes by Sanchez leads to too many turnovers.

Week 16 At Indy: 12/19, 106 yards – Stay out of the way Mark…although he made some key third down throws in this game.

Week 17 Vs Cincy: 6/12, 63 yards – He didn’t need to throw at all because of the Jets running all over the field…Edwards should have caught a 50 yard touchdown from him.

PhotobucketSo, what do the Jets need from Sanchez to beat the Bengals? They aren’t going to get away with 12 passes. Their offense needs to put Sanchez in third and shorts, which he has shown a decent ability to convert throughout the season. There are going to be opportunities for the Jets to hit big plays down the field and if he could hit one (and this is also on you to catch the damn ball Braylon) it will go a long way to a Jets victory. If Sanchez turns the ball over, the Jets don’t have a chance. Yes, maybe they could overcome one interception but beyond that, they aren’t good enough to win with Sanchez throwing two INTs and having a fumble. We need:

  1. A good third-down conversion rate (aided by the running game setting up third and short/medium).
  2. A big play down the field or at least some intermediate completions to soften the defense.
  3. No turnovers.

The weather is going to be crappy but if somehow Sanchez could duplicate his Monday night performance (12/24, 172 yards, 1 TD) the Jets will beat the Bengals. It may be asking too much for those numbers but the Jets could probably even survive with a 13/18, 130 yards, 1 TD type game. If Brian Schottenheimer is smart he will start Sanchez off with some quick screens to Cotchery and Edwards to get his confidence up, and then gradually move him to some slants/hitches. There is going to be a spot in this game when it is 2nd and 3 from the Bengals 47 yard line and they are going to have 8 in the box, and Sanchez is going to have hit a play down the field. When he is dropping back to throw that pass you want him to be 4/6 for 40 yards or something, not 1/7 for 2 yards with two near interceptions.

Could you imagine if Sanchez hopped in the time machine and played like he did back in weeks 1-3…that would be a scary, dangerous team in the playoffs. Why can’t he do that? Because this is the Jets and that would be too easy…instead we have to cross our fingers for a 55 completion percentage, 130 yards and no turnovers.

Mark Sanchez…Playing Like A Quarterback Who Could Win The Playoffs

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