What can you say about Mark Sanchez who has already owns the record for most playoff wins by a visiting quarterback in the history of the NFL? Say what you will about Sanchez but he’s playing this week and there are a lot of big name quarterbacks who aren’t.
Tom Brady isn’t one of them. Drew Brees won’t be playing. Peyton Manning has been at home or on vacation for a couple of weeks now. Phillip Rivers didn’t even make it into the playoffs so he’s been chilling out for nearly a month. Michael Vick set the league on fire for a couple of months but he isn’t playing this week.
Sanchez has struggled at times this year. He’s been mistake-prone for game and quarters of games, so the Jets coaching staff has done a good job of protecting him with their running game and play action passes. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer tries to keep him out of third and longs which are certain passing downs and turnover traps for young quarterbacks. The shrewd offensive coordinator keeps the pressure off of him by manufacturing yardage with short throws or runs on first and second down, then he’ll go maximum protection with two-receiver routes on third down.
Rex Ryan wisely went out and grabbed two number one receivers, Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes, as a way of allowing the Jets to run those two receiver routes as Sanchez matures. One of the two quality number one receivers are going to get man-to-man coverage or man-to-man within a zone, so they’ll be able to beat their man. This heightens the chances that Sanchez will always have somebody open if they go maximum protection with only two-receivers out on the routes.
You may not like it and you may consider it babying or coddling the young quarterback but you can’t argue about the fact that this is the second-year in a row that they’re in the AFC Championship game. None of the other three teams playing this weekend can say that, which means also that none of the other starting quarterbacks can say that either.
Sanchez doesn’t need to apologize for being here because he carried his part of the plan in two games so far. In the Indianapolis game he struggled for most of the way. He was missing receivers high and low, but when the game was on the line and he needed to make some big throws he made them.
He hit Edwards on a slant route to start out the winning march. Then to cap it off, the second-year quarterback threw a beautiful back shoulder pass to hook up with Braylon Edwards, who went up and made a beautiful catch. Jets head coach Rex Ryan feels Sanchez is comfortable in the playoffs because he plays in New York, the biggest of cities with a media following just as big.
“It doesn’t get too big for him,” Ryan said. “The stage here, he plays on this stage every week and he can handle it, where a lot of guys can’t. A lot of guys can be great quarterbacks, but on this stage, not so fast.”
This week Sanchez needs the big boys on his offensive line to step and allow them to run the ball against the best run defense in the NFL. They ran it effectively earlier in the season, but they’ve got to do it now, in the playoffs.
Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold and Pro Bowl left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson must show up big time. They’ve got to maul whomever and whatever is in their way and the backs, Shonn Greene and LaDainain Tomlinson must hit the hole like their hair was on fire.
If they can run the ball then Sanchez will be able to perform and make the throws needed to get them a ticket to Dallas. If they can’t run the ball, then they also won’t be able to protect him from the Steelers pass rush on those third and longs. If that happens, this will be the second year in a row that the Jets came close but were left out of the final party.