Mark Sanchez was quite the chatterbox yesterday. The rookie knows how to get his face out there, and he knows that the quickest way to the celebrity stratosphere is to be a playoff-winning Jets quarterback. Thus, his saying, “I want rookies 10 years from now saying, ‘Oh, my God, I’m in the playoffs with Sanchez? Dang … That’s what I want. The only way to get that is to win these games.” and “These next few weeks can change your life.” He’s right, of course. But the only way the Jets have any chance of doing anything, from beating the Bengals to whatever comes after that, is if Sanchez doesn’t screw up. He doesn’t have to play well. He just can’t screw up.
Vince Verhei over at Football Outsiders has a great breakdown of the Jets-Bengals matchup (subscription required) and points out that the Jets have the advantage in almost every way. Except: Mark Sanchez could blow it.
The Jets’ rookie passer played like an average rookie this season — literally — and that’s bad news. Sanchez posted a passing DVOA of minus-22.8 percent this season, 36th in the league. Since 1994, the earliest season in DVOA’s database, 46 rookie quarterbacks have taken part in 100 or more pass plays (including sacks). Sanchez’s DVOA ranks 23rd among that group, splitting them neatly in half. Sanchez finds himself just below Kerry Collins and Jake Plummer, and just above Mike McMahon and his New York counterpart Eli Manning.
Sanchez particularly struggled with ball security. He committed 29 total turnovers (fumbles plus interceptions) this year, more than anyone except Jay Cutler. That’s a high total even for a rookie — only Collins, the elder Manning, David Carr and Tony Banks gave up the ball more freely in their first seasons. When Sanchez drops back to pass against Cincinnati, he’ll be facing steep competition — no team can boast of a pair of corners as good as the Bengals’ Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph. The Bengals ranked fourth in DVOA against opposing No. 1 receivers, and against No. 2s. They were also first in the league against tight ends. Sanchez’s top three targets — wideouts Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards and tight end Dustin Keller — will have serious trouble getting open. The Bengals will take away not just the youngster’s security blanket, but also his teddy bear and his night light. In his first playoff game, on the road, with nobody open, it’s easy to imagine Sanchez committing multiple turnovers and setting the Bengals up with a short field.
Sanchez is the shining public face of the Jets, and he should be: He’s smart, handsome, good with the media, and the quarterback, for cripes sake. This is his time to smile for all the cameras and secure all those insurance commercials. And he needs to play as blandly as possible. If the Jets win Saturday, Sanchez won’t be the reason why. But if they lose, he most certainly will be.