Saturday, October 8, 2011

Week 5 Coin Toss: Sanchize or Bust?

Mark Sanchez handed the Ravens
three touchdowns in his
Week 4 matchup in Baltimore.
Austen: Week 4 was yet another crazy week in the NFL. More season ending injuries, more upsets, more passing yards than the NFL has ever seen. Teams at the bottom of their divisions last year are looking like contenders and many Super Bowl hopeful teams are failing fast. Just another year in the NFL, and it is precisely why the NFL is the best run professional sport in the world. 

Let me start off by asking Stally my question of the week: Will Mark Sanchez ever be any better than just a mediocre quarterback? Sanchez has looked so good at times, especially in the playoffs, but can he put it all together and play well for a full 16-week regular season schedule? Before the season started, I felt bad ranking Sanchez outside of the top 20 quarterbacks in the NFL (he was ranked 21st), but now I think I might have ranked him too high. I feel like the Jets have landed Chad Pennington 2.0, except he just puts up an awful performance every other week, instead of being injured every other week. I was ecstatic when the Jets landed our USC Trojan brother in the draft, but now I am rethinking my excitement. Sanchez is a hard working guy who gives the team his all, but is his all enough to warrant the hype around this young quarterback? I am afraid to propose this question to you, but I am very interested to hear what you have to say.

You ask Heads or Tails, I ask Sanchize or Bust?

Stally: No matter where his professional career takes him, Mark Sanchez is a Trojan and always will be  (and Pete Carroll shared that sentiment verbatum when Sanchez went pro [2:35 into the video]).  To me, that counts for something because Sanchez has the Trojan fight in him.  Just like you, Austen, I saw the high octane offense with Matt Leinart at quarterback and I saw Rose Bowl's won despite John David Booty (whom, if Matt Barkley can start as a true freshman, Sanchez absolutely should have started over!).  No one ever impressed me the way Mark did.  He was not the best because he went out and put together a Heisman campaign every week; he was the best because he played his best when he needed to and exemplified the phrase: "when the going gets tough, the tough get going," or as we've shortened it to: "Fight On!"

Compare Sanchez to the elite quarterbacks in the league: he's not as smart as Brady, as cerebral as Peyton, as play-making as Rodgers, as strong as Roethlisberger, as athletic as Vick or as much of jerk as Rivers.   Truth be told, I might not take him over any of those guys (the two jail birds, possibly).  However, he's the only quarterback in that group to have played in the Conference Championship each of the last two seasons.  Each time he won two road games against great teams to get there (beating three of the six listed above).

Of course,  while I look at your shiny quarter, you still have just 25 cents.  The Jets were an undercard in each of the past two seasons in large part because they didn't put together a phenomenal regular season.  Offensively, much of that had to do with the middling stats of Sanchez.  If you want to put a value on his regular season, look at his fantasy stats.  According to the scoring system in our Yahoo keeper league, he was 17th among QBs in 2010 and 22nd in 2009.  This season, he's currently 20th (for the record, I ranked  him 18th preseason).

The weapons are there for him.  If Tom Brady can go All-Pro with Wes Welker, Deion Branch, a couple of young tight ends and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, you can't excuse Sanchez, who's been tossing to Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Plaxico Burress and LaDainian Tomlinson.  But, again, keep in mind he's young and just because he got battered by the Ravens without his starting center last week, doesn't mean it's time to throw in the towel.  Ben Roethlisberger got beat up worse with his starting center by the same team a few weeks ago.

Sanchez will never be Brady; let's get that out of the way.  However, it's important to note that Brady wasn't the best quarterback in the league early in his career, he just won games...and rings.  Sanchez's job is the same.  He's not here to win MVPs or passing titles or re-write the record books, he's here to win championships.

Ask Brady.  He'd rather go back to being a good starter that wins titles every year than a unanimous MVP that loses to Sanchez in the Divisional round!  So far, in two years, Mark's won four playoff games and made it to two Conference Championships.  That's pretty impressive and enough for me to believe that, at this point, it's just a tortured Jets fan's paranoia to be worried about whether Sanchez will pan out or not.

Austen: I am really surprised that you are sticking with backing our Trojan boy, but I am glad to hear it. The worst thing you had to say about him seems to be that he is not going to be Tom Brady, and I am completely fine with that! He does not need to be that good for him to be the franchise quarterback for the Jets in a very tough New York market. He handles all the pressure like a pro and has played at the top of his game when it has really counted. 

However, I am still very concerned with his accuracy, especially on deep throws. If anyone has read anything I have ever written about quarterbacks, I put a very high premium on accuracy so this is especially concerning for me. I hope it is just that he is still very young and that he has not had a lot of time to get used to his receivers, since the Jets keep on bringing in different guys for him to throw to every year. However, it is a still a big cause for concern and it will be something I watch very carefully. 

Stally: You asked an elaborate question; mine's simple.  In the opening four weeks, the Baltimore Ravens flat out beat up last year's two AFC Championship Finalists, kicked the offense's teeth out and dragged their quarterbacks through the mud for good measure.  Yet, they also lost to Tennessee, show some noticeable weaknesses and had the luxury of both those wins being in front of their home crowd.  Heads or tails: the Baltimore Ravens are the team to beat in the AFC?

Austen: Not a chance. It looks as if the Ravens should finally win the division for the first time in years, but Flacco has been entirely unimpressive in the playoffs. Yes, he has won a decent amount of road games that were impressive, but he did very little to contribute to his team's playoff wins and had everything to do with his team's playoff losses. He is like the anti-Sanchez, looking solid in the regular season and then falling apart in the playoffs. I need to see Flacco play well in the playoffs before I even think about them getting to the AFC Championship, let alone the Super Bowl. 

On top of Flacco's struggles, the Ravens' secondary is still a huge weakness and teams like the Patriots, Chargers, Texans, and the (Peyton Manning led) Colts all present a big problem with their multiple receiver formations. They were able to beat up on the Steelers and Jets because their respective offensive lines were in shambles and they do not have multiple threats in the passing game like those other teams named. They were able to get to Roethlisberger before Mike Wallace could get open down the field and the Steelers underneath receivers are either old and past their prime or young and inexperienced. Sanchez never seemed to have more than 3 seconds in the pocket against the Ravens and never had a chance to get anything started. Double teaming Santonio Holmes and covering Dustin Keller with either Ray Lewis or Ed Reed basically took Sanchez's top two options out of the game entirely and the other Jets' receivers could not get open before Sanchez was destroyed in the pocket.

The Ravens are definitely up there with the best in the AFC, but I think they would still lose in the playoffs to the Patriots, the Chargers, and the Texans (as long as Andre Johnson in healthy). If rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith steps up his game and becomes the playmaker the Ravens expected when they drafted him, then this is an entirely different team and they could be headed to the Super Bowl. However, I see him taking long enough to develop that Ray Lewis and Ed Reed will be retired by the time he is at the top of his game.

Stally: I'm not as low on them as you are.  I think that the defense is clearly a force to contend with.  As you pointed out to me, out the Jets would have been better off punting on first down every drive than go on offense.  (They gave up 21 points and scored three and lost by 17, you do the math!)

I agree though that Flacco isn't emerging as the quarterback we thought he'd be and is clearly a weakness.  I also don't like the receiving core.  Anquan Boldin is a good receiver, but keep in mind that in his Arizona heyday, he had Kurt Warner distributing the ball and Larry Fitzgerald guaranteeing Boldin would never have to face double coverage.  So, while I'll put a lot of the blame on Flacco, I'll also put some on management for failing to address a passing need year after year!  (Lee Evans!?  Please, he's not the answer!)

But, as I mentioned, I'm not as low as you are.  I think that the Patriots and a healthy Chargers team (which is turning into an oxymoron at this point) are better, not sure I'd give the nod to the Texans.  I also think that, as proven against the Jets, the Ravens defense can single -handedly win a game on any given day and it's reaffirmed year after year that defense wins championships.

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