Monday, December 13, 2010

Sanchez struggles in second straight setback

Anybody who knows me knows I like Mark Sanchez. I think the kid has a lot of potential, but lately even I have been questioning when and if he's ever going to realize it.

Over the past two weeks Sanchez has been downright awful, struggling with confidence, poor decision-making (4 interceptions), severe inaccuracy (34-for-77 just won't cut it) and an inability to hang onto the football (4 fumbles this week!). When you discuss the league's top quarterbacks, what are the four traits that come to mind? They are supremely confident and even cocky, make good decisions with the football, put passes right where they need to be and protect the ball against pressure in the pocket.

My defense for Sanchez's detractors has been this: He started just one season in college and was instantly thrust into an NFL starting role, mainly because the Jets had nobody better on their roster. Sam Bradford was thrown into a similar situation this season with less to work with, albeit after starting for three years in college, yet Bradford has already enjoyed more success and looks like a better NFL quarterback than Sanchez.

Bradford was put into a no-pressure situation, while the Jets had playoff expectations. Sanchez almost killed those expectations last season before calming down in the playoffs and leading the Jets to two wins. This year he looked to be making strides, leading multiple fourth-quarter comebacks and bailing out his defense after they saved him so many times last season.

But the last two games have been atrocious to say the least. Sanchez is locking onto receivers and refusing to go through his progressions; just look at his interception early in the second half last week where he made the pre-snap decision to throw to Santonio Holmes and didn't adjust when Holmes was covered by four Patriots. The post-progression regression is on and as an NFL quarterback you need to improve every week and not ride the roller coaster, as Sanchez himself said.

Opposing defenders have dropped as many interceptions in the past two games as they've caught, as Sanchez could easily have 7-8 interceptions rather than 4. And while he has proven time and time again his ability to improvise inside and outside of the pocket, that's not the trait that's going to make him even an average NFL starter.

His offensive line and running game have done him no favors, as LaDainian Tomlinson is slowing down and Shonn Greene looks plodding and just falls into the line. It's painfully obvious that this team misses veteran Alan Faneca, who they inexplicably released before the season started. Second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse is far from ready and Matthew Slauson is a backup. Add an aging right side and injuries and this whole offense is struggling.

Is it just Sanchez? No, it's not, but everything starts with the quarterback and his blatant lack of confidence seems to seep through to everybody else. His receivers have been dropping key passes left and right; maybe they're surprised when the ball hits them in the hands?

Either way, if the Jets don't pick it up right away on that side of the ball (the defense did what they had to against a bad offense), they will be staring 9-6 in the face after dates with Pittsburgh and Chicago.

Sanchez has struggled with cold weather and pressure, two things that he will see plenty of going on the road against the Steelers and Bears. I don't see the Jets being able to run the ball particularly well either and Pittsburgh and Chicago defenders must be salivating at the chance to play this team and get after Sanchez.

If his struggles continue, we could see Mark Brunell under center at some point like we almost did this week. Week 17 against Buffalo is looking more and more like a must-win, as it's hard to have any confidence in this team's ability to score points right now. Really, really hard.

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