If the Jets can Hide Sanchez, they can Seek a Championship
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Mark Sanchez, in his embryonic form, is hoping to become the next Rex Grossman. Believe it or not, he’s hoping for more than that.
Sanchez would love to be the next quarterback with a season QB rating under 77.0 to lead his team to the Super Bowl, if not to win it. The issue with that is that Sanchez has struggled so much as a rookie that even the formula to reach the super bowl paved by contemporaries such as Grossman and Trent Dilfer doesn’t hold up for Mark Sanchez. It’s true that no rookie quarterback has ever reached the super bowl, but more and more that fact seems to become irrelevant. With Joe Flacco reaching the AFC Championship game last year, it’s believable that a rookie QB can reach the super bowl, if his team can hide him.
The Jets are masters of deception. They beat the Colts and Bengals to go to the playoffs in consecutive weeks without ever asking Sanchez to do anything. If they are to continue on through the playoff march, they will have to successfully continue to hide Sanchez every week of the postseason. This, contrary to most assumptions, requires the offense to be even more complex than if Sanchez were able to carry his weight. When plans to hide the quarterback fail, it often goes awry because of a desire to simplify the offense so that the young gun can contribute.
That shouldn’t be the Jets’ plan of attack. A simplification of an NFL offense just makes it easy to defend. That’s not something the Jets can afford. When you have a fringe passer in Sanchez combined with a ball dropper like Braylon Edwards, and no real third receiver, the last thing that an offense like the Jets should do is get simplistic. The Jets need to get creative in how they hide Mark Sanchez. I think they get major creativity points for trashing the Bengals by using Brad Smith creatively including on straight handoffs, basically telling the Bengals they will run the ball, but keeping misdirection as a viable option to compensate.
However, one of the primary reasons the Jets were able to execute was the presence of a rookie safety named Tom Nelson in the starting lineup, fresh into the starting lineup (bonus points to anyone who can name the only other safety in the AFC North from Arlington Heights, IL), was sorely out of place in his role in run support. Playing a gap for the first time in his career against the Jets 6-in-the-box schemes, the Jets did not need to pass. Nelson will move back into a package role next week as Chris Crocker returns to the starting lineup, which means the Jets need to take their offensive gameplan to the next level to protect Sanchez.
The one schematic asset the team has every week is a powerful offensive line, one of the very few remaining the the NFL that can execute a man blocking scheme, and do so with any success. When the team adds Wayne Hunter, a third offensive tackle to the mix, it becomes the premier power football team in the NFL. If the Jets’ power game has a weakness, it’s that rookie third round pick Shonn Greene isn’t the complementary back he needs to be at this point in his career. Thomas Jones is at the very end of a very long, highly successful career that will fall just short of hall of fame consideration. Jones is third in the NFL in rushing yards this year, but at 31 years of age, this could be his final trip to the postseason. The Jets will lean on him one last time, but it’s hard not to see Leon Washington as a feature back next year if he can make a successful recovery from injury.
The Jets are one of the few teams in the NFL who can still use pulling lineman to their advantage, and it was a big part of their success this season. Ultimately though, this is just another rare deceptive tactic the Jets utilize to marginalize the effect of Sanchez on a game. Next season, the goal of the offense will expand to get Sanchez involved in the productive phases of the game as the Jets move from a rushing team to more of a passing team. In the immediate, it’s easy to like their odds for short term success because of the ability that they’ve shown in the past to squeeze above average contribution from an offense that can’t throw the football.
Like a video game with a strong linear-progression, every week from here on out will get more and more difficult for the Jets to win without relying on Mark Sanchez. But if the Jets are the experienced players they appear to be, they’ll stick to the plan down to their last life, and will remain one of the most fascinating tales to watch in the entire playoff field.