Sanchez Breakdown: Jets Offense Grounded in Pittsburgh

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Stat Line: - 10/27, 138 Yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions – 66.6 QB rating, 37.0 completion percentage (yikes)

Season Stat Line - 29/54, 404 yards, 4 touchdowns, 1 interception – 95 QB Rating, 53.7 completion percentage

To put it as simply as possible, two good drives are never going to be enough to win an NFL game. Ditto, just two trips to the red zone, as illustrated in this fancy graphic that all the stat-heads out there will surely enjoy. The Jets had issues in all three phases of the game, and the issues on offense weren’t only a function of poor quarterback play, but this is the place we discuss Mark Sanchez, so discuss him we will.

The Best: The first drive seemed to be a continuation of the week 1 success against the Buffalo Bills. This is what I expected the Jets to do most of the game to a Pittsburgh defense that was missing two of its impact players.  Sanchez and company responded to Pittsburgh’s opening drive field goal by marching right down the field, keyed by a big 45 yard hook-up with Jeremy Kerley where Sanchez again utilized a pump-fake to send Ryan Clark the wrong way before dropping a perfect, in-stride ball over three Steelers defenders for the big gain. Three plays later, a deft play-action fake and easy pickings on a quick slant to Santonio Holmes had the Jets up 7-3.

The Worst: Pretty much everything after the first drive was troublesome.  All of a sudden, Sanchez was out of synch with his receiving corps. Notable miscues happened with Jeff Cumberland and Jeremy Kerley, and after a solid opening drive, Santonio Holmes dropped a slew of catchable passes and in the end caught just three of the 11 balls thrown his way. The chemistry issues between Holmes and Sanchez have been discussed at length, but they’re worth noting again here. This is simply something that must be solved in order for the Jets to have a successful 2012 season. For better or worse, Holmes is the most experienced playmaker the Jets have, and if he and Sanchez aren’t on the same page, the offense will continue to sputter.

After the first drive, Sanchez completed just 6 of his next 22 passes (that’s 27.2%, for those of you scoring at home). The Jets did not enter the red zone after their second drive (they got to the 19 yard line), coming closest on their final, garbage time drive which ended at Pittsburgh’s 30 yard line. Sanchez also took some legitimate hits (including a rightly-penalized blow to the head), which was to be expected against Dick LeBeau’s defense. While I don’t think he was ever downright skittish, it’s clear that Sanchez was less decisive with the ball as the game wore on and Pittsburgh’s defense asserted itself.

The Key Moment: While I would love to harp on the Jets’ lack of aggressiveness at the end of the first half, I’ll keep the discussion to Sanchez, who said after the game that running the clock out was ultimately Tony Sparano’s decision.  A colleague of mine pointed out that after Sanchez missed Holmes for a would-be touchdown on the Jets second drive, everything seemed to stall out thereafter. It’s a good point. Watching the play again, it’s a terrific play-call on 1st and 10 from the 24, and the execution is there until the throw.  Sanchez playfakes, then bootlegs to the outside, which pulls Ryan Clark up the field. Santonio Holmes gets separation from Ike Taylor and runs into a fully vacated Pittsburgh endzone.  If Sanchez lays the ball out in front of Holmes, it’s an easy touchdown the Jets grab a 14-6 lead. Instead, the throw is high and a little behind #10, and the Jets settle for the three points that would be their last of the game. Sanchez has always been praised for his ability to throw on the run, and this play put him in his sweet spot, but the quarterback simply didn’t make the throw.

So now the question is, how will Mark Sanchez respond?  The Jets return to the place where their 2011 season officially and mercilessly went up in flames. Sanchez has a spotty history and just a 2-4 career record vs. Miami. Intriguing times ahead for the Jets’ quarterback.

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