Assessing Mark Sanchez: Experts don't pull any punches

Mark Sanchez calls an audible during the second

Mark Sanchez calls an audible during the second half of a game against the Dolphins. (Oct. 28, 2012) (Credit: David Pokress)

Everyone has an opinion on NFL quarterbacks; former NFL quarterbacks now working in television are no exception. So Newsday turned to some of them for insight into the biggest issue facing the Jets: Mark Sanchez's abilities, or lack thereof.

They helped us break his game into key components, without ignoring the larger question hovering over the franchise. That is, in his fourth season, is Sanchez on track to someday be a Super Bowl-winning quarterback?

"No, no,'' said Rich Gannon, an analyst for CBS games and CBS Sports Network's "NFL Monday QB'' who worked with Sanchez two offseasons ago. "How could you say that? People say, 'Well, he took them to two AFC Championship Games.' But look at that football team and how much better they were than they are now.''

Hence another general consensus regarding Sanchez - that while he has limitations, the Jets have not helped him overcome them with a strong supporting cast and/or a scheme that suits him.

"I don't think there's been much improvement the last couple of years; I think that is the most concerning thing,'' ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer said. "I think he's culpable for much of that, but it's also circumstantial . . . It's sad when you look back at the missed potential.''

Said ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski: "Right now, it's a mess, for a number of reasons.''

Let's break them down, shall we?

 

ARM STRENGTH

It isn't everything, but as in baseball pitching and javelin throwing, it helps and it can minimize other deficiencies. In Sanchez's case, it is plenty good enough.

Tim Hasselbeck: "From a physical standpoint of being able to make every throw, able to get the ball out of your hand quickly, work a hard play-action pass, push the ball down the field, there is no question he's more than sufficient in that area. I think he has above-average arm strength.

"There are more accomplished players either currently playing or who played in the past that don't play with the amount of arm strength that Mark possesses.''

Trent Dilfer: "He never had a great arm, probably a very average NFL arm, which is enough if you build an offense that maximizes other aspects of his game.''

Ron Jaworski: "Mark, in my opinion, was never going to be a great quarterback. He doesn't have the Aaron Rodgers-type skill set to throw the football, those 'wow' types of throws. That being said, his arm is good enough.

"Arm strength is so critical now as the game continues to progress because of the multiple defensive backs on the field, guys who react to throws a lot faster.''

Rich Gannon: "I think you look at his athleticism in and out of the pocket, his maneuverability, his arm strength, those types of things, I don't think that's an issue at all.''

 

ACCURACY

Throwing with authority is essential, but so is throwing in the proper direction, especially in today's high-completion-percentage NFL. Sanchez's statistics in that category have been poor.

Rich Gannon: "His completion percentage still bothers you. He still misses throws, still makes mistakes. There is such a fine line in our business between 8-8 and 11-5.

"The difference between even 7-9 and 11-5 could be six or eight plays in the course of a season. It seems like every game he has six or eight plays that hold him back.''

Trent Dilfer: "His lack of accuracy in my opinion is because of his indecisiveness. He's been very indecisive and allowed the demons on his shoulder to grow and become too loud. I know it because I lived it.''

Tim Hasselbeck: "I would put him in the middle of the road at best, probably a little bit under that. In fairness to him, especially this season, part of being accurate is having guys that can catch the ball out of the framework of their body.''

Dan Fouts: "He's very accurate on the run, so I think that's a positive.''

 

MOBILITY

Not everyone can be Robert Griffin III, but not everyone has to be to succeed. That means you, Eli Manning! But being able to escape pressure always is a plus, especially if you can throw on the run. Sanchez can.

Dan Fouts: "I have always thought he was better moving out of the pocket. That was his strength when he came out of USC.''

Trent Dilfer: "I think his mobility hasn't been used well. Here's a guy who when he came out he threw the ball on the run and from multiple launch points as accurately as I'd seen in a college player. How often do you see that in this system?

"Most of his signature plays have been second-reaction plays, where his athleticism has been allowed to come out in him. It's a choppy system, at best. It's inexcusable not to use that aspect of his game.''

Tim Hasselbeck: "When they move him around he's at his best, no question about it. I don't know they necessarily have done enough of that.''

Ron Jaworski: "I've always liked his ability in the red zone, and a lot of that was his movement within the pocket.''

 

HEAD

Most of us don't have to make rational, split-second decisions with 300-pound men preparing to knock us over. But NFL quarterbacks must, and some handle it better than others. Sanchez? Meh.

Rich Gannon: "You watch him and see things that you don't see happen to [Peyton] Manning and [Tom] Brady and [Drew] Brees and these other guys. Why didn't he see the corner blitz? Why didn't he see the safety?''

Tim Hasselbeck: "There are streaks and moments throughout seasons, games, periods where you look at him and say, 'Wow, this guy is rolling, he's seeing it, he's making good decisions, it's not moving too fast for him.'

"But there are other moments like what I saw from [the Titans'] Jake Locker, who this past week threw two of the worst interceptions of the season by a starter. Those types of things have been somewhat commonplace for Mark.

"It's not always him, though. When you have someone else make a mistake it can make you look like a bozo who's made a mistake. There has been significant level of that this year.

"He's a better athlete than Eli [Manning] by a mile, but Eli is smarter. The Giants ask Eli to do a lot at the line of scrimmage, but it doesn't bog Eli down. It doesn't feel like he's getting a pop quiz at the line . . . The Jets would be better off calling a play and letting Mark's athleticism take over.''

Ron Jaworski: "It's obvious to me he's lost his confidence and it's almost baffling when I think back to those first couple of seasons of playoff teams . . . He made throws that were helping his team win games, playing with confidence. To see where he is right now, it's a head-scratcher.''

Steve Beuerlein: "Part of the job of being a quarterback - especially in the Big Apple - is being able to deal with people critiquing you all the time. Some people handle it well, others don't. Mark may very well be much more confident than it looks like he is. But when so many people are saying the same thing - and we're not saying it because we don't like him. We're just giving our analysis of what we see and what we believe. And when you see him, he just doesn't look like he's overly confident right now."

INTANGIBLES

There were those who questioned Sanchez's fortitude even before the Jets put him in an awkward position by first wooing Peyton Manning, then trading for Tim Tebow. Now there are more questions than ever, including whether he can elevate those around him.

Trent Dilfer: "I think he's done great job publicly of handling everything since Tebow come on board . . . What I would have liked to have seen was if he finally would have just lit into somebody and said, 'You're kidding me!'''

Rich Gannon: "I think in hindsight it was a really poor decision. Just look at the fact we did the first game of the season and we had to speak to both Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez [in production meetings]. I mean, who does that?''

Phil Simms: "He gets judged on the big numbers and big plays, but he's going to get four or five opportunities in the game to do that and Tom Brady is going to have maybe as many as 30. Brady is going to make more plays because that's what they do. I'm just saying [Sanchez's game] is OK. I'm not going to say it's great. It's some pretty tough circumstance, so you have to be careful how you judge him . . . You built the team for the defense to be dominant and for the run game to supplement the defense and then the quarterback has to be sure to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented.

"Everything the Colts do is about making Andrew Luck a better player and building around him. Never have the Jets said, 'We're going to do all this for Mark Sanchez.' For the Giants it's always been about Eli, from the day they drafted him."

Kurt Warner: "I can't think back to those signature games for Mark Sanchez where you go: 'Man, I remember that game when they couldn't do anything and we put the ball in Mark Sanchez's hands and he took over the game and won for us.'

"In this business that's what you need at the quarterback position: If you're consistently going to win and win championships you've got to have a guy you can hand the ball and say, 'We need you to win this game for us,' and they have to be able to go out and do it."

Ron Jaworski: "I don't think it's time to move to Plan B yet, but I think they're running out of time.''

So, will Sanchez get another chance in 2013? Said Fouts, laughing: "I think there are eight million reasons to play him.'' By "reasons,'' of course, he meant "dollars,'' as in the money the Jets owe him regardless.

With Kimberley Martin

The Panel

Steve Beuerlein: CBS analyst, played for six teams in 17-year NFL career, led league with 4,436 yards passing in 1999

Trent Dilfer: ESPN analyst won Super Bowl XXV over Giants for Ravens, one of his five NFL teams

Dan Fouts: CBS analyst spent 15 seasons with Chargers; member of Pro Football Hall of Fame

Rich Gannon: CBS analyst spent 17 seasons in NFL with four teams and was NFL MVP for the Raiders in 2002

Tim Hasselbeck: ESPN analyst spent time with eight NFL teams, including Giants

Ron Jaworski: ESPN analyst spent 17 seasons in NFL with four teams, leading Eagles to Super Bowl after 1980 season; started 116 consecutive regular-season games

Phil Simms: CBS analyst, Super Bowl XXI MVP for Giants against Broncos

Kurt Warner: NFL Network analyst was NFL MVP in 1999 and 2001 for Rams; played for Giants in 2004

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