Before We Attack Mark Sanchez…

To give some context: the New York Jets lost last night on Monday Night Football 14-10 to the Tennessee Titans and eliminated themselves from playoff contention.

(DISCLAIMER: I am just a fan on the outside looking in; I have no special knowledge.  Where I’m speculating, I’ll try to make it clear)

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Photo by TexKap/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Mark Sanchez was horrible last night.  Four interceptions do not give your team much of a chance to win the game.

But what happened?  When he was drafted, Sanchez was touted as the golden child; the “Sanchize.”  Now, he’s so horrible, he can’t even string together a drive without a 3 and out or an interception.

It would be good to remember some history here, to understand how this happened.

For the first two seasons Sanchez was in the NFL, the Jets made it to the playoffs both seasons.  This was because of a couple of things: The Jets defense was one of the best in the NFL at the time (now they’re merely “OK”), so even if Sanchez made a mistake, the defense could get him the ball back pretty quickly. Also, he had a pretty solid backfield, and a decent receiving corps.

Not only was this all dismantled (some of which was due to mismanagement–see Eric Barton and Chris Baker), but there was something that happened to Sanchez himself.

For the first three seasons, the Jets’ offensive coordinator was Brian Schottenheimer.  It is my belief that Schottenheimer was content to let Sanchez be Sanchez; to let him play the way that had gotten him so much success in USC.  However, halfway through Sanchez’s second season, Schottenheimer was pressured into making Sanchez a more “traditional” NFL quarterback.  It was at this point, I believe, Sanchez started to fall apart.

Then, last season, Sanchez had one of the worst seasons ever.  He had a total of 18 INTs last season, fifth worst in the NFL.  His QB Rating was 78.2, 17th worst of the 44 QBs that had more than 100 attempts last year.  Again, I believe this is because the coaches and management were trying to make Sanchez into something that he’s not: someone who takes unnecessary risks; in the first 1.5 seasons, he would have just run with the ball, now he’s trying to throw it into questionable situations.

After such a lackluster season, he was concerned about his job, and rightly so.  Then, two things happened: they replaced Schottenheimer with Tony Sparano, a guy who was fired from his previous job as head coach of the Dolphins because he didn’t seem to have a basic grasp of tactics; and they traded for Tim Tebow for a six-pack of beer and a pack of smokes.

Now, think of this from Sanchez’s perspective: he has just had a very bad season.  He knows that the very instant he throws his first interception, or makes any other questionable play, the fans will call for “Tebow Time.”  He knows he’s operating on borrowed time, and he has to perform.  Essentially, the only way he can keep his job would be if he were to suddenly become Joe Montana.  It won’t happen, but I believe that’s what he’s thinking.

During this past season, Sanchez has been spotty at best, but the coaching hasn’t helped; the minute he starts to get into a rhythm, it seems he gets pulled out and Tebow gets put in.  It happened last night: he strung a couple of decent plays together (I think it was one for 12 yds, followed almost immediately with one for 22 yds), and Sparano pulled him out, and put Tebow in.  I don’t know how he responded to it, but I know I would have been frustrated.

So, before we attack Mark Sanchez (I know there’s nothing Jets fans love to do more than dump on our QBs), we have to ask ourselves this question: What has gotten him here?  How did this happen?

The answer to me is obvious: Sanchez has been poorly mismanaged from the beginning, and Schottenheimer was probably the only good thing that happened to Sanchez since coming to the NFL, and they traded down to get Sparano (who wasn’t a good head coach and is not a good offensive coordinator in my lay opinion).  So if any change has to occur, it must happen with the coaching staff.  Sparano definitely needs to be fired, and probably Rex Ryan, too.  This should happen before the Jets get rid of Sanchez.

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