As a 49ers fan, I don’t get to see AFC teams as often as I’d like. Because of the way the NFL does the scheduling, I only get to see AFC teams play the 49ers once every three years. I watch many of the big nationally televised games, and of course, the playoffs and the Super Bowl, so I do get to see them, but not enough as I’d like.
(And before I get people screaming NFL Ticket at me, I have kids, so sitting and watching football all day long isn’t a reality.)
One of the things that is easiest to watch for during a football game is quarterback play. The way games are televised, all eyes focus around the ball, which means for a good chunk of the game, the quarterback is front and center. While I probably can’t tell how well an offensive lineman is playing on 95% of the downs, I’m pretty sure I can tell how well the quarterback is doing.
There are a few different statistics for the common fan to look at which try to describe how well QBs are playing. I say common fan because super hardcore stat analysts have much more in depth looks at QB play. For me, there are three things I’ve always looked at.
1. QB Passer Rating – As a kid, I had to wait until Tuesday or Wednesday each week for the local newspaper to publish the stats just to see where Joe Montana was ranked. The rating takes into account completion percentage, passing yards, touchdown passes, and interceptions.
2. Completion percentage – As a child of the West Coast offense, I was used to quarterbacks completing a high percentage of passes. If quarterbacks didn’t, I didn’t think they were very good.
3. The old eye ball test – I think the eye ball test especially works well, but mostly late in games, or in big games. I’ll always remember Dan Marino’s glossy-eyed look in Super Bowl XIX. My dad saw him introduced and screamed at the TV that the game was over because he was too nervous. He would be right.
You’ll notice wins is missing. It’s hard for me to credit QBs with good records or dismiss them with bad records when football is such a team game and coaches matter, maybe more than in any other big sport. But, most really good QBs play for winning teams and it’s rare that an average quarterback wins the Super Bowl. When that happens, we call it Dilferian (after Trent Dilfer). I don’t include them for any other reason than I’m not sure how important they are in the ranking, much like pitcher wins in baseball.
So far this season, the 49ers have seen Aaron Rodgers (great), Matthew Stafford (good, but overrated), and Christian Ponder (good, but underrated). Yesterday, the 49ers romped into New Jersey to face the New York Jets. The Jets have an interesting quarterback scenario. Their incumbent quarterback is Mark Sanchez, a fourth year player who took the Jets to the AFC Championship in his first two seasons. Their back-up is everyone’s favorite, Tim Tebow.
Historically, Sanchez hasn’t faired well in two out of the three tests that I use to determine whether a QB is good or not. His career QB rating coming into this season was a very pedestrian 73.2. His career completion percentage was just 55.3%, which is putrid considering that by year four, he should be completing 60% of his passes now. He’s not. But to me, in the playoffs, he passed the eye test. He wasn’t spectacular in any game that I’ve watched him in, but he was able to direct scoring drives when needed. It wasn’t necessarily pretty either. But he was effective when it counted.
After watching him yesterday, he’s not passing the eye test anymore. This year, he’s actually regressed in completion percentage, completing just 49% of his passes through four games. Against the 49ers, he was 13-of-29 for 103 yards. It was so bad that I was hoping the 49ers defense could be on the field more than they were. He looked unconfident, uncomfortable, and his throws were closer at times to 49ers’ defensive backs than his own receivers.
There was one pass specifically that told the story of the game. 49ers Pro Bowl linebacker NaVorro Bowman had a Jets receiver blanketed and Sanchez’s throw was right on the money had Bowman been on his team. Bowman dropped the easy interception chance so Sanchez was off the hook. But the decision to throw that pass summed up his day. He had nothing.
It’s easy to call for Sanchez’s head for Jets fans. Kyle Orton knows where this could be headed. Tim Tebow is waiting in the wings. Is he the answer? Of course he isn’t. But to many fans, the backup quarterback is the most popular player on the team. Well, that is, until he plays. Rex Ryan doesn’t look to be panicking.
According to the Daily News, when asked if putting Tebow in for Sanchez was the right move, Ryan said it wasn’t. He said, “I don’t think that’s the answer. I think Mark is the answer at quarterback.”
In Sanchez’s defense, the Jets offense leaves a lot to be desired. Fourth year running back Shon Greene is off to a bad start after rushing for over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career last season. Santonio Holmes is Sanchez’s go-to receiver, but he was hurt in the game against the 49ers. It was a non-contact injury. Holmes caught a pass near the sidelines and turned to run, but immediately went down, flipping the football right to the Carlos Rogers who took it all the way back for a 49ers defensive score. He was in pain, had to be helped off the field, and the Jets are calling it a foot injury.
Sanchez may get worse before he gets better, especially if Holmes is out for any amount of time. The Jets play the undefeated Houston Texans next week and the rival New England Patriots in three weeks. Sanchez is going to have to shoulder a lot of that load. Rookie wideout Stephen Hill had a great first game, but hasn’t played since. Only Jeremy Kerley has shown any game breaking capability averaging over 17-yards per reception with two touchedowns.
49ers fans can tell anyone about patience. Quarterback Alex Smith has been with the team since he was drafted overall number one in the 2005 NFL Draft. The 2011 season was his first good season, his 7th year in the pros. Can Jets fans be patient with Sanchez and hope that his regression is simply because of his lack of weapons? When he had weapons, he guided the Jets to two AFC Championships. And even now, the team is still 2-2.
With Brandon Weeden, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Tannehill, and Kevin Kolb around, Sanchez won’t be the worst starting quarterback in the league. But he’s definitely playing like someone who is one of the ten worst in the league. At the very least, he’s probably sleeping very well these days. Sanchez is dating actress Eva Longoria, whose last relationship with an athlete was with Tony Parker who she was married to for three years. Looks like she wants a little QB1 in her life. Maybe a little bit of Eva will be good for him.