Mark Sanchez finished 20-37 with 332 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, and a 102.5 passer rating on Monday Night against the Panthers. Not a bad way to make your first start in two years. In fact, it was the first game of his career where he threw for over 300 yards with at least 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. That’s 63 starts – nearly four full seasons. So what led to Sanchez having such an uncharacteristic performance?
One problem that plagued Sanchez in New York was his accuracy. Actually, it was his completion percentage. He never eclipsed the 57% mark with the Jets, but that wasn’t necessarily because he was an inaccurate passer. Instead, it was more a function of his inability to consistently make the correct read and win late in the down when necessary. There were tons of incompletions as a result. On Monday night, Sanchez only completed 54% of his passes. However, he made the correct reads most of the time, and this led to several big plays through the air.
A significant reason for Sanchez getting the ball to the right place is that Chip Kelly’s system is so quarterback friendly. The tempo of the offense and the design of the passing game often beat the defense. Sanchez hit quite a few wide-open receivers very early in the play against the Panthers as a result.
Sanchez has never been good under pressure. He was often frenetic in the pocket as a Jet, and if the first read wasn’t there, he would panic, subsequently not see the field, and either take a sack, turn the ball over, or throw an incompletion. On Monday, the Panthers barely got any pressure on Sanchez, which certainly helped his performance. The few times they did, Sanchez did a great job of moving to avoid the pressure, resetting his feet, calmly locating his receivers and then firing an accurate pass.
The competition has to be noted. Carolina has struggled on defense all season because their pass rush is nothing like what it was a year ago. Last season they didn’t have a great secondary, but the constant pressure on the quarterback was able to mask their deficiencies. This year, the secondary is worse, and their issues are magnified by the lack of a decent pass rush. Still, Sanchez looked like a more mature quarterback on Monday, and that has more to do with him than the competition. Sanchez was poised in the pocket, and even used several great pump-fakes to manipulate defenders on plays that resulted in big completions.
Let’s be clear about one thing: Sanchez is not the savior in Philadelphia. One game against a terrible defense doesn’t entirely change who he is as a quarterback. There are still several questions his play needs to answer. How will he perform against a more relentless pass rush? How will he be against a team with better blitz schemes that hit home more often? Will his just-above-average arm strength hurt him? When a receiver isn’t wide open early in the play so regularly, will he be able to win late in the down? We won’t know these answers until we see him in these situations. The Eagles don’t have a quarterback controversy quite yet. What they do have is a good backup at a key position who showed himself to be very capable of effectively running a quarterback-friendly offense.