Jets coach Rex Ryan is continuing to say publicly that he’s confident in quarterback Mark Sanchez, and he’s stressing that just because last season was a disappointment, that doesn’t mean Sanchez is no longer the right man to lead the franchise.
Ryan said on the Dan Patrick Show that while it’s true Sanchez had too many turnovers last season, Sanchez also showed some signs of improvement as a passer, and it’s a stretch to say Sanchez is the reason the Jets missed the playoffs.
“The touchdowns went up, but the interceptions obviously, the turnovers in general, we fumbled the ball quite a bit, we threw the interceptions, things like that,” Ryan said. “But it’s a team deal. Sometimes protection contributes to it. Sometimes it’s this or that but it always gets pointed at the quarterback. But it certainly wasn’t all Mark’s fault, that’s for sure.”
It’s obviously true that the problems with the Jets weren’t all Sanchez’s fault, and Ryan makes a fair point when he notes that Sanchez showed some progress as a passer: Sanchez actually had the highest passer rating of his career in 2011, and he also had career highs in completions, completion percentage, passing yards and touchdowns.
However, turnovers are a major concern. In addition to throwing 18 interceptions, Sanchez has always fumbled too much. In his first couple of years in the league, his fumbles were largely overlooked because the Jets recovered most of them: In 2009 he fumbled 10 times but only lost three of them, and in 2010 he fumbled nine times but only lost one of them. It was only in 2011, when he fumbled 10 times and lost eight of them, that people started to notice that his inability to take care of the ball when he’s under pressure is a serious problem.
But Ryan thinks Sanchez generally has a knack for playing well under pressure, and that Sanchez has shown that in the Jets’ back-to-back trips to the AFC Championship Game in his first two seasons.
“This young man’s won a lot of games — won a lot of postseason games on the road. Four playoff games on the road. There’s a lot of guys that haven’t won one playoff game. This guy’s already accomplished quite a bit in his young career,” Ryan said. “Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl, but — and I’m not saying Mark Sanchez is Dan Marino — but I think when you look at it, the big picture of things, this is his fourth season. Never had an offseason. I think every young quarterback took a step back last year, with the exception of maybe the young man, [Matthew] Stafford from Detroit, almost every other young quarterback took a step back. And I think that was a product of not having an offseason. I think Mark is going to take a big step forward.”
The evidence Ryan has for Sanchez taking a big step forward comes mostly from his offseason work, where Ryan says Sanchez is working as hard as anyone.
“This has been a tremendous offseason for him,” Ryan said. “He looks strong, he’s throwing the ball with accuracy, he’s got a lot of zip on the ball, he looks really comfortable in the pocket, learning a brand new offense he looks comfortable. He’s the guy who knows the offense better than anybody, and he takes a great deal of pride in that. He spends hours and hours in preparation and that’s obvious to his teammates as well. So I think he’s had a tremendous offseason.”
After getting too much credit for the Jets riding their defense and running attack to the AFC Championship Game in his first two years, Sanchez got too much blame for the Jets missing the playoffs last season. But that sounds like excusing Sanchez, and Jets fans don’t want to hear excuses right now. And if the Jets struggle early this season like they struggled late last season, Jets fans are going to be calling for Sanchez to get the hook, even if the problems again aren’t all Sanchez’s fault.