I wonder if Mark Sanchez longingly studies the depth chart of the quarterbacks drafted in the same year as him or the years right around him. Does he complain to Eva Longoria about Joe Flacco handing the football to Ray Rice and throwing the ball as far as he can to Torrey Smith while Anquan Boldin cleans up underneath? Does he shake at his head at Sportscenter highlights of Calvin Johnson leaping 18 feet in the air to pull down a Matthew Stafford pass? Does he go home in the off-season sit by the beach and imagine what it would be line up under center, look to his left and see Julio Jones, look to his right and see Roddy White and then look back to his left to see Tony Gonzalez. Does he take out the calculator and try to figure out how the small market Tampa Bay Bucs can provide Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin to Josh Freeman? He’d be crazy not to, right?
Nobody is saying that Mark Sanchez would be the same quarterback as Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, or Matthew Stafford in the same situation. You might have argued that in 2010 when Sanchez led a 11-5 team to the AFC Championship Game and seemed to be growing as he outplayed Tom Brady in his own building in the playoffs. Those days are long gone now. Gone like the days when the New York Jets had one of the league’s best offensive lines, a rushing attack that could average more than 2.8 yards per carry and wide receivers who didn’t belong on a UFL roster.
Even a self-professed Sanchez Apologist has to admit there has been a clear regression in his play. Stats don’t need to tell the story because the game film does. In 2011, we saw the same inconsistencies we saw from Sanchez in 2010 except he didn’t rally in a big spot the way he traditionally did. He tanked in the team’s three biggest games of the season and didn’t offer a signature win all year.
It was also clear by the end of the season Sanchez’s supporting cast needed a tune up. The Jets were no longer a feared rushing attack and they didn’t have enough weapons in the passing game. Their once dominant offensive line had sunk to mediocre. Financially, the Jets doubled down on Sanchez by guaranteeing his money the next two years and proclaiming him their franchise quarterback. The next logical step was improving the rest of the offense to make sure that investment was a wise one.
We all know what happened. The Jets overvalued their own talent, believing Shonn Greene was a 1,500 yard back, Wayne Hunter and Matt Slauson would improve, and that Santonio Holmes could carry an inexperienced group of receivers. The only addition was Tim Tebow. We were given a cute story about how Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan discussed the acquisition in an airport , realizing it made perfect sense with Tony Sparano now the offensive coordinator. Tebow would fill the talent gaps because the Jets had a unique plan to mix him into their offense which would provide a spark to both their running and passing game.
It has been pretty apparent through four games that it was a line of bullshit. The Jets coaching staff is completely clueless when it comes to mixing Tebow into their offense, failing to even take advantage of him in obvious situations, like 3rd and short. With each passing week, the Tebow acquisition is looking more and more like a 100% money-grab business decision. The reports are already surfacing now about Jets owner Woody Johnson pushing for Tebow in the starting line-up and now it seems like only a matter of time until #15 is under center full time.
Where does all this leave Sanchez? The guy who started out the season on fire for 5 quarters, followed it with 6 abysmal quarters, rallied late against Miami and then bottomed out against San Francisco. It leaves him facing the league’s best team in primetime with the worst collection of skill position players in the NFL, no seriously. Go bring up every depth chart in the NFL and tell me who has a worst group of running backs than Shonn Greene, Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight. Go bring up every depth chart in the NFL and tell me who has a worst group of wide receivers than Jeremy Kerley, Stephen Hill, Chaz Schilens, and Clyde Gates. There isn’t a worst starting tight end in the NFL than Jeff Cumberland. There isn’t a worst fullback in the NFL than John Conner.
(For the record, Jeremy Kerley is a very talented slot receiver. He is seriously miscast as a number one receiver at this point of his career though. Stephen Hill has a very high ceiling as a big play wideout but right now he is a rookie from a triple-option college offense)
It almost seems like Mike Tannenbaum is setting Sanchez up to fail…almost. I don’t buy into the conspiracy theories, I just think Tannenbaum is incompetent as a talent evaluator. Sanchez has been dealt a crap hand and needs to find a way to make it work. He needs to hold Tebow off for one more week, so he can remain under center for the Jets final three games before the bye where they have a puncher’s chance of going 2-1 to hit the halfway mark at 4-4.
If Sanchez duplicates his performance against San Francisco on Monday night, how could you not support calls for him to be benched? He must protect the football. He must be more accurate. He must show command of the offense. He doesn’t need to pull the upset off, he just needs to keep the Jets competitive against the league’s best team with his excessively weak supporting cast. It is sad expectations but they are realistic.
Why show any hesitance in handing the team off to Tebow? The reason is a 8-8 season from Tebow will be considered magical and create a media firestorm, the type of media firestorm that will encourage Woody Johnson to bring him back as the team’s starter next year. Where I believe you will be looking at another 8-8 type season. I will take Tebow more seriously as a starting quarterback than Sanchez when he shows he can beat New England, not lose by 30 points. I will take Tebow more seriously as a starting quarterback when he can win double digit games in a season and a road playoff game. If he does that as a starter for the Jets this year, then by all means make him your long term starting quarterback.
Ultimately, I’m still of the belief that if Sanchez is surrounded with a competent supporting cast that the Jets ceiling remains higher than it would with Tebow running a read-option offense. With no supporting cast? Maybe Tebow is a better option cause of his diverse skill set but knowing the history of this franchise, there is a reasonable fear the Jets will double down on Tebow if he is just decent the rest of 2012 dooming themselves to a few more years of mediocrity. I could see myself writing the same article at this time next year when the Jets are 1-3 because they didn’t upgrade the offense around Tebow and thought he could just carry it on his own.
Mike Tannenbaum’s recent failings as a General Manager and his own inconsistencies have pushed Mark Sanchez to the brink of his career as the New York Jets starting quarterback. Can he get off the mat one last time?