The New York Jets face a conundrum over which quarterback to play as they wind down the NFL season.
Fighting for their postseason lives at 5-7, the Jets will likely need to win every remaining game on their schedule to keep their playoff aspirations alive.
In a matchup displaying abysmal quarterback play, Jets signal-caller Mark Sanchez defied the odds and found a way to produce fewer points than Arizona Cardinals third-stringer Ryan Lindley. Sanchez tossed three interceptions before head coach Rex Ryan yanked him for his third-stringer, Greg McElroy.
Although McElroy saved the team’s season by leading them to a 7-6 win, Ryan announced on Wednesday that Sanchez will keep his starting role today against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
While many fans will grumble over Sanchez maintaining his job, ESPN.com’s James Walker defended Sanchez before Ryan made the call.
“Let’s start with a disclaimer: This will not be a popular column with New York Jets fans,” Walker wrote. “But the Jets are making a terrible mistake if they do not go back to starting quarterback Mark Sanchez as soon as possible.”
Even a New York Giants fan can quickly grow sour to Walker’s opinion.
Sizing Up Sanchez
To be fair, Walker presents some valid points, mainly regarding the Jets’ depleted wide receiving corps that has stymied Sanchez’s progression. Their top threat, Santonio Holmes, went down for the season with a Lisfranc injury and trusted tight end Dustin Keller missed significant time.
Is Greg McElroy better? Unfortunately, last week’s sample size proves insufficient in evaluating his merit. He rejuvenated a dejected fan base by throwing a game-winning 1-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Cumberland, but a middle schooler could have completed that throw to the wide-open tight end. Despite completing five of seven passes, he only tallied 29 passing yards making short, simple passes. The seventh-rounder’s playmaking ability still remains in question.
However, almost four years of evidence exists to support that Sanchez is not a worthwhile starting quarterback. His 71.4 quarterback rating in 2012 ranks 32nd, lower than the recently benched Blaine Gabbert. A 55.0 completion percentage rates him 33rd, which is especially discouraging since the NFL contains 32 teams.
These numbers are not an aberration either. Sanchez has posted a 72.9 quarterback rating and 55.2 completion percentage throughout his career. Neither is indicative of a capable franchise quarterback, or even a passable starter for that matter.
Since entering the league, Sanchez has registered 79 total touchdowns alongside a staggering 81 turnovers. If not for the Jets success during 2009 and 2010, management would have shown Sanchez the door a while ago.
Football is a Team Sport
The most egregious line from Walker is one commonly cited by those who adamantly stand by Sanchez. As the fourth-year quarterback continues to struggle and show no signs of maturation, his supporters point to the team’s success early in the passer’s career.
“Sanchez provides the Jets with the best chance to win next season,” Walker wrote. “He’s the only quarterback who has led the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship Games.”
When evaluating quarterbacks, it seems easy to forget that football is a team sport. Players at other positions are judged based on their individual performance, but quarterbacks are praised and condemned based on the team’s record. Although the Jets thrived during Sanchez’s initial two seasons in the NFL, the young quarterback does not deserve the credit.
Sanchez has not stepped up his game the way that everyone in the Jets organization hoped, but he also not taken the nosedive fans clamor about because of the Jets’ losing record. Worse production around Sanchez explains the team’s spiraling decline to mediocrity.
When Sanchez arrived in New York, he played behind a powerhouse offensive line that led the way for a premium rushing attack. Thomas Jones headed the Jets’ league-best rushing attack in 2009 with 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. Even after Jones departed that offseason, they rated the fourth highest with 148.4 rushing yards per game in 2010.
This season, the Jets have averaged 115.2 rushing yards per game on 3.8 yards per carry. As much as they try to enforce a prolific ground-and-pound offense, their running backs cannot match New York’s productivity during their AFC Championship years.
Defense Makes the AFC Championship Game
Their defense also reigned supreme during that two-year stretch. In 2009, they allowed a league-best 14.8 points and 252.3 yards per game to mitigate Sanchez’s poor rookie effort. Continuing to impose their dominance the following season, Gang Green’s defense ranked third in the NFL with 291.5 yards allowed per contest. Their play, along with a strong running game, carried the Jets to a playoff bid despite Sanchez completing just 54.8 percent of his passes.
This season, however, they have failed to stop anyone without star cornerback Darrelle Revis. They have allowed a pedestrian 24.7 points per game, placing 29th in the NFL with 137.7 rushing yards allowed per game.
During his first two seasons, Sanchez had an exceptional supporting cast that masked his flaws. This year, an average team has drawn scrutiny to Sanchez’s limitations as a game-manager who can’t play the role of savior like Peyton Manning or Drew Brees.
Pay to Not Play?
Walker used Sanchez’s bulky contract as a clutch to keep him atop of the depth chart. He feels the Jets are compelled to stay loyal to Sanchez because he will earn a guaranteed $8.25 million next season.
“Sanchez will be a Jet next year, whether New York fans like it or not, and that kind of money has ‘starter’ written all over it.”
So since the Jets misjudged his worth years ago, they are now forced to stick with their mistake?
Ryan could take a page from Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll’s playbook and put sunk costs aside to make the move most beneficial to his club. After signing quarterback Matt Flynn to a $26 million deal over the offseason, Carroll still named rookie Russell Wilson his starter. Wilson, a third-round draft pick, has completed 63.4 percent of his passes and earned a 95.2 quarterback rating to propel the Seahawks to legit playoff-contender status, especially after defeating the Chicago Bears on the road last week.
What’s done in the past cannot be changed. Sanchez is going to make $8.25 million whether he takes the field or carries the clipboard, but the only thing that should matter is which player provides the team with better production that sets them up more favorably to win football games. If a reserve earning a minimum salary can outplay a multi-millionaire, then so be it.
FINAL VERDICT: The jury is still out on McElroy, so it’s possible that Sanchez currently remains the team’s best option at quarterback. However, since Sanchez should not play a pivotal role in their future, they might be better served giving McElroy an extended tryout to close the season.