Film Room – Solving The Sanchez Problem

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In recent days and weeks there’s been a great deal of attention directed towards the New York Jets search for new staff. Yet while it’s understandable that fans are anxious to learn who’ll be hiring the players and calling the plays next season, arguably the most important addition at Florham Park this year may also be one of the least heralded: with Mark Sanchez’s career now seemingly at tipping point, the man who’s hired to replace Matt Cavanaugh as QB coach could well be the pivot around which the team’s fortunes turn.

Sanchez was bad this season – there’s no doubting that – but to give us a better idea of where it all went wrong (and where work needs to be done this off-season) let’s take a look at a few plays from 2012 that highlight some of his greatest difficulties all too clearly…

We’ll begin by considering Sanchez’s difficulty in making pre-snap reads, and there’s no better example to be found than back in Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins. The game’s tied at 10 apiece in the third quarter, and the Jets are facing a 3rd & Goal from the 7-yard line. Although the Jets appear to be out in a 4 WR set, they are actually in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE) with Jeff Cumberland split wide to the right (Picture 1, below). The Dolphins have responded with their big nickel package.

Image2

The play has been designed with Stephen Hill (yellow route) as the primary receiver while to his outside Cumberland runs a short hook in order that Hill can draw single coverage in the back of the endzone.

As a QB making his pre-snap read, the first thing that Sanchez has to be aware of is his protection scheme. The Dolphins are showing a 7-man pass rush (4 down linemen along with 2 LBs plus 1 safety (circled in red) all showing blitz). Consequently, there’s a very good chance that the Jets’ 6-man protection scheme (the 5 offensive linemen plus RB Bilal Powell) will be overwhelmed.

This initial read should also trigger a red-hot awareness that if the three circled defenders are all blitzing, the center of the field will be left absolutely unprotected. Suddenly, to any QB who’s confident about his ability to adapt a play at the line of scrimmage (Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are masters of this) Santonio Holmes (purple route) becomes the most appealing option on the field.

As the play develops (Picture 2) the abandoned tract of center-field looms large (green area) as Holmes gains a step on his defender and breaks into it. Meanwhile, there’s a problem with the play design as Cumberland has taken his route too deep, meaning that the window where Sanchez had been hoping to deliver the ball (red area) is now effectively double-covered. The play can still be aborted, however, and the lead can be taken via a straightforward field goal if a pass is delivered to either of the yellow areas.

Picture 2

Picture 2

The fact that despite all of this Sanchez dumbly floats the ball straight into the most dangerous area of the field (where it’s intercepted by Chris Clemons) is concerning to say the least (Picture 3). Not only does it indicate an unwillingness to deviate from the playbook by pulling the plug and taking a safe option, it also suggests that he entirely failed to compute how the blitzing LBs and safety would impact on the route being run by Holmes (who is now absolutely wide open in the endzone). This is one area where Sanchez simply must show considerable improvement between now and September.

Picture 3

The second problem that we’ll consider is Sanchez’s difficulty in knowing when to swallow the ball and take a sack. Here we’ll look at why this is such a problem by looking back at the Week 13 clash against the Arizona Cardinals.

Below we see the Jets about to run a play-action pass from 21 personnel (2 RBs, 1 TE) on 1st & 10 from their own 12-yard line, while the Cardinals are in a base 3-4 package (Picture 4). Although the player movements are detailed, they are not that important except for the those of the two middle linebackers (red) who will blitz the A-gap (ie the small space between the center and the guards on either side of him).

Picture 4

Picture 4

In next to no time the blitz has leaked into the backfield and Sanchez is under intense pressure (Picture 5). For reasons unknown, Sanchez apparently becomes briefly seized by the belief that he’s the greatest QB to have ever played the game and attempts a ridiculous throw from an absolutely horrible position where one leg is in the air while the other is balanced on tiptoe. (I often compare playing QB to boxing in that there’s very little difference between the techniques that allow for the throwing of a powerful, accurate punch and a similarly lethal pass. I probably don’t need to point out that Muhammad Ali’s success wasn’t built on a tendency to throw punches while falling over backwards and tiptoeing on one leg).

Picture 5

Picture 5

Unsurprisingly the ball wobbles out of Sanchez’s hand and loops into midfield where former Jet Kerry Rhodes immediately breaks on the throw and makes as easy an interception as he’s ever likely to. Thanks entirely to Sanchez’s difficulty in accepting that sometimes it’s best to take one for the team, the Cardinals have a 1st & 10 from the Jets 26-yard line. If Sanchez is to retain his role as the Jets’ starting QB in 2013 he must come to understand his limitations: while it’s great to believe in one’s own abilities, self-delusion is a surefire road to ruin.

Our last consideration is a problem that’s haunted Sanchez throughout his professional career, namely an inability to look off a safety so as to secure single coverage for a receiver running a deep pattern. Let’s look at an example taken from the Week 15 match-up against the Tennessee Titans…

We’re into the final quarter and the Jets are trailing 14-10. The Jets are once again in 21 personnel and are matched up against a 3-deep zone defense run from the Cardinals’ 4-3 under package (Picture 6). Braylon Edwards (circled) is the intended target on the play, and safety Michael Griffin is highlighted in green.

Picture 6

Picture 6

Although he briefly scans center-field to establish whether or not both safeties have dropped deep (thereby giving himself an easy read of the coverage scheme) Sanchez soon switches his gaze towards Edwards (Picture 7).

Picture 7

Picture 7

Griffin backpedals but keeps his head turned towards Sanchez so that he can read his eyes as he continues staring at Edwards (Picture 8).

Picture 8

Picture 8

This enables him to commit towards the direction of the throw before it’s even been released, with the result that despite Edwards’s wily attempts to act as defender and knock the ball away, Griffin is in exactly the right place at exactly the right time and is consequently able to collect an easy pick (Picture 9).

Picture 9

Picture 9

In conclusion, although these problems are by-and-large correctable through coaching it would be foolish to presume that the new QB guru – whoever he may be – will have an easy task in helping to resurrect Sanchez’s tarnished reputation. Because while it’s possible to identify the errors and implement drills that are designed to correct them, the only person capable of righting these wrongs is Sanchez himself.

Will he ever learn? I guess that’s the eight million dollar question.

  • Jet4Life

    Superb breakdown. The sad thing is that this was Sanchez’s 4th year and he can’t do the basics like looking off a safety or make presnap reads. Pete Caroll was right in that he wasn’t ready for the NFL. You know Caroll knows what he is talking about because he saw something in Wilson that the rest of the league didn’t.

    In addition to improving his football decisions, the next coaching staff need to build his mental toughness. He can’t look like he lost his puppy every time something bad happens on the field. There are grown men around him that are looking to him to lead. Whether he likes it or not, he is the leader of the football team and needs to act like a grown man.

  • Big Al

    whats really sad , i see hs QB’s down here in SC that can do this in their sleep,, hes a 4th year pro,, very scary

  • JetsFaninNH

    All makes sense but on points one and three, how much is this related to lack of confidence, whether in himself or his teammates?

  • http://www.roypickering.net Roy Pickering

    Excellent breakdown. How did you decide on these three examples when Sanchez provided SO MANY cases of horrendous decision making to choose from? This fantastic blog post cries for a least a Top Ten Dumbest Sanchez Decisions of 2012. The three you selected are an excellent start. I find it difficult to believe any quarterback coach, offensive coordinator, or head coach would have done anything to steer Mark towards some of the particularly poor decisions he made this past season. He took the mistake prone quality displayed in his first three seasons to an all new level. Even if given no guidance whatsoever beyond drawing up plays and prioritizing a #1, #2, #3 option on each of them, Sanchez made some inexcusable mistakes that the quarterback for a struggling Pee Wee team would not have made. Yes, Mark wasn’t helped by the loss of his most trusted receivers, the inexperience of those left to throw to, working with yet another new coordinator, being dumped by Eva, or Tebowmania perhaps rattling his confidence. But he did absolutely nothing to help himself prove he is a 1st string NFL caliber QB.

  • keator

    Great article steve! and thanks for reminding me how much i hate mark sanchez as a qb…

  • Jay D

    Great write up, I always feel like I’m learning something when I read through these posts.

    Any chance of a “What Went Right” post with Sanchez, showing what he can do? Or is all hope lost…

  • http://ng4 Jets Ville

    ENOUGH ALREADY! You cant honestly believe that the Jets would be stupid enough to let Mark start anothger game with the Jets. Mark has no pocket presence and makes poor reads. No coaching can change that. ITS IN HIS DNA! Jason Cambell or Vince young or Matt Moore are BETTER options for the Jets next year because they are affordable and Cambell does not turn the ball over. Even if Mark is a better option… he still should not start because the fans HATE HIM! Mark will be a BACK UP next year where he BELONGS. It will be CAMBELL, Young/HENNE, MARK.

  • twoshady

    Sanchez was just never developed properly. He was not the type of athlete to come right out of college and start in the NFL, like a Luck/Griffen/Wilson. He needed to sit behind a veteran for a bit and slowly build confidence and understanding of the position. At this point he may be beyond repair for the Jets. A fresh start elsewhere may do him some good. But that being said, i think New York is stuck with him for one more year. He’ll need to do a complete turn around or his days as an NFL starter are over.

  • Anthony

    Is it worth it to spend the time and the reps attempting to rebuild this dude? Well, he’s owed 17 million over the next 2 years garunteed. So the answer becomes another question: is Mark Sanchez at all economically incentivized to get better?

    Does Mark Samchez care enough about football to get better?

    That’s a question I do not believe Rex Ryan can honestly answer, and needs to be answered by the new GM.

  • Samson

    It’s very simple, if the Jets start Mark Sanchez next year then they will again be one of the worst teams in football. He is a backup in this league and not a very good one. He’s not a leader and he telegraphs most of his throws. The Jets would be foolish to keep him as nothing more than a backup, if not the seats in Met Life will be empty. Jet fans ain’t buyin what the Rex is cookin.

  • Steve Bateman

    There’s a lot of interesting comments here. I guess it all boils down to whether or not Sanchez is capable of learning from this season and using it as a platform to grow. Mistakes are valuable so long as they’re acknowledged and used for self-development.

    I think it’s possible that Sanchez has been mismanaged in the sense of having people try to reinforce his self-belief by telling him how wonderful he is. Maybe that’s interfered with his own self-appraisal.

    If he’s to bounce back from last year – and it’s far from guaranteed that he will – then he has to get honest with himself and see that he’s capable of being a good, not great QB.

    But before he can do that he has to be provided with an environment that suits him – let’s face it: nobody would plant an oak tree in a desert and expect it to flourish.

    My belief, for what it’s worth, is that he needs to operate within a system that he’s comfortable with – that’s why I’ve suggested elsewhere that an up-tempo West Coast-style offense (similar to the one he ran at USC) might make all the difference.

    With the right scheme, some self-honesty, and a huge work ethic I think he can still make it. What’s for certain is that it would be in the best interests of the New York Jets if he does.

  • bob

    SANCHEZ AND THE JETS ARE DEFINITELY AT A CROSSROADS IN HIS CAREER DO THEY HOPE HE FIGURES IT OUT OR LET HIM RIDE THE BENCH. BUT LETS FACE IT YOU LOOK AT THOSE FILMS AND YOU DO NOT SEE MUCH SEPARATION BETWEEN THE RECEIVERS AND THE CORNERS LOSING HOLMES AND KELLER FOR MOST OF THE YEAR KILLED HIM NOT MANY QB,S WOULD OF BEEN SUCESSFUL IN THAT OFFENSE. I THINK WITH A HEALTHY OFFENSE AND HARD WORK IN THE OFFSEASON OF STUDYING FILMS HE CAN GET THE JETS BACK TO THE PLAYOFFS . HE NEEDS HIS CONFINDENCE BACK AND TEBOWMANIA KILLED IT HANGING OVER HIS SHOULDER ALL YEAR.. GO JETS

  • http://Yardbarker.com Joe

    It seems like Bob is the only one that makes sense. Really? Chad Henne?
    Jason Cambell or Vince young or Matt Moore are BETTER options? REALLY? Come on, its obvious you’ve never played the game competitively to understand that with anyone of those QB’s the results would have been the same or worst, Not only was Antonio Cromartie right about him being the best WR, but our offense line was the worst in the league. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck any modern day QB would not have success with the Jets offense. How did McElroy do when he played an entire game?

  • Anthony

    Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are HOF QBs, and would have absolutely played better than Sanchez, regardless of the situation. Andrew Luck had a much worse offensive line than Sanchez did and still managed to make more plays. He elevated a 2 win team to make the playoffs. Sanchez, at his peak in 2010 took an 11 -12 win team and won 9 games with them. Are Jason Campbell or Matt Moore better? That is a ridiculous proposition (though campbell is interesting). Are they worse? probably not though, and I think that is the point everyone should aspire to make. Sanchez was limited by personel, off the field and on the field distractions, horrendous coaching, poor decisions and ultimately appeared to quit.

    I am trying to think of the most talented players to enter the league at the QB position and ultimately fail, and most of them did so despite situations that were not even as awful as Sanchez faced this season. David Carr is probably the only one I can think of in recent memory who came into a situation worse than Sanchez this year, and he was sacked like an avg of 5 times a game his rookie season.

  • Chris Cosma

    Nice Breakdown — BUT What Happened Just Before This Play — Was the playclock down to zero because they were shuffling Tebow in and out? Was Sperano still trying to get the play in?

  • Alex in Denver

    I’d argue that the author cherry picked plays from what was a tough season for both the QB and team.

    To say that Sanchez is not a good decision maker from the plays above might be a good conclusion. However, pull in the season before. Mark was the #1 rated QB in the red zone (which is the toughest place to execute in the passing game).

    I’d agree that Sanchez made some forehead smacking decisions but I think most of this is due to a lack of trust at WR, line, and unfamiliarity in the coaching staff.

    Andrew Luck played better, but he had nothing to lose. To make the argument that Luck had a worse line may make sense on paper, but his play calling, personnel swaps, and help at the specialty positions was a major upgrade from the Jets.

    Give Mark another season with decent playmakers, he’s already proven he can play at a high level.

    The offense will look completely different with a healthy Holmes, Keller, and Hill/Edwards/Kerly.

    Things are not as bad as they appear.