For the New York Jets, this year's "Hard Knocks" superstars, one problem has risen above all - above Darrelle Revis'(notes) holdout and Rex Ryan's propensity for profanity. Second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez(notes) has had it rough through the 2010 exhibition season, displaying subpar decision-making against the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, and wilting under a too-conservative game plan against the Panthers. Sanchez's stats through three games - 31 completions in 48 attempts for 270 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions - also reflects a coaching staff that's hesitant to let it fly. His 5.6 yards per attempt average ranks 23rd in the league, he has just two pass plays of 20 yards or more, and his passer rating of 75.6 isn't what one would expect of a quarterback that many think will help his team to a Super Bowl berth.
Sanchez's interception to Washington Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall(notes) in the Jets' 16-11 loss to Washington on Thursday was particularly troubling. With 8:01 left in the first half, New York lined up at the Redskins' 13-yard line with a shotgun, three-wide set. The Redskins responded with a three-man front and linebackers dropping into coverage at the snap. That should have been a read for Sanchez to bail underneath with blockers, and he had LaDanian Tomlinson wide open in the right flat.
But Sanchez tried to fit a line drive into a tight window downfield to tight end Dustin Keller(notes), and Hall jumped the route. Just as disconcerting was the fact that Sanchez telegraphed the throw all the way - he didn't look Hall off at all, and Hall is known to be vulnerable to eye fakes and misdirection. In this case, Hall had the advantage - while Keller was running from the right seam to the sideline, Hall had the leverage and the better view of the throw. And when quarterbacks throw to moving targets, they're directed to hit zones and areas as opposed to players. Hall had the edge to hit that area first.
"We understand that's what this time of the season was meant for," offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson(notes) said after the game. "It's a fixable situation. No biggie. It's premature to make conclusions at this point."
"No biggie?" If the Jets expected to go 8-8 this year, that might be the case. But it seems that anyone not picking the Baltimore Ravens to topple the Colts and represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this season is selecting the Jets as their representative. The Jets have a great weekly TV show, a beautiful new stadium, and a load of free agent talent. What they do not have right now is a quarterback who can lead them to consistent scoring - the team has already seen a 10-quarter stretch this preseason without an offensive touchdown - and that's going to be a major problem if it doesn't turn around soon.
In their preseason finale next Thursday, the Jets will face the Philadelphia Eagles, with both teams playing the bottom end of their rosters. Sanchez won't have a chance to recover before the regular-season opener, when the Jets welcome those Ravens to their new ballpark. That's a hard way to get it back, but Sanchez and his team are running out of time. Soon enough, the games will mean everything.