Commentary

Sanchez must be a more complete QB

Jet's completion percentage last season -- 54.8 -- proves he's way off the Mark

Updated: September 7, 2011, 9:53 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- When it came to completing passes last season, especially short throws, Mark Sanchez was one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. You can look it up.

As far as Rex Ryan is concerned, you can take that stat and ... well, you know.

"I don't have him on my fantasy football team," the New York Jets coach said Wednesday. "I just want my quarterback to win."

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Elsa/Getty ImagesSimply put, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez needs to connect more with his receivers this season.

Sanchez wins (he's 19-12 as a starter), but he could win more often if he improves his accuracy. Ryan's funny line notwithstanding, the coaching staff is emphasizing completion percentage.

Pitch. Catch.

Simple, right?

"If anything, it's gotten more intense and more important for me to be accurate," said Sanchez, acknowledging he needs to do a better job of getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers.

One of those playmakers, wide receiver Derrick Mason, was stunned to hear that Sanchez completed only 54.8 percent of his passes last season, 29th in the league. (Only Jimmy Clausen and Derek Anderson were worse.)

Imagine how Mason would react if told that Sanchez, in his first two seasons, completed just 59.8 percent on passes that traveled up to 10 yards in the air. That's eight points below the league average.

"Mark's issue is that he misses a lot of gimme throws, especially against zone coverage," said ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, a former quarterback.

The Jets have dissected every pass, and they firmly believe Sanchez's mechanics are spot on. What makes it more puzzling is that he's a different quarterback in the playoffs. In six postseason games, his percentage is 60.7.

"We need that from him all year long," quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh said. "That's going to make us a more productive offense."

Former Washington Redskins GM Vinny Cerrato, an analyst for 1050 ESPN New York, said of Sanchez: "He was a Pro Bowl quarterback in the playoffs, the best player on the team. But that preseason game against the Giants was a joke. He looked like a piece of [garbage]. It looked like they took him back two years."

Sanchez should get some nice opportunities Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys, who have cornerback issues. Terence Newman (groin) is unlikely to play and their other starter, Mike Jenkins (neck/knee), also is a question mark. Even if he plays, he's going to be rusty because he didn't play any snaps in the preseason.

With Mason and Plaxico Burress joining Santonio Holmes, the Jets should be able to make plays on the perimeter. Then again, Mason and Burress are still learning the offense, and there could be growing pains.

As usual, the burden will fall on the quarterback. Sanchez said he's ready for it, claiming he has changed the way he reads defenses.

In the past, if his first and second reads were covered, Sanchez tended to stay with those options, trying to "force a great throw," as he put it. Now he won't do that. He'll try to run, hoping to get back to the line of scrimmage, or check it down to a running back. Or simply throw it away.

Sanchez also said he had a penchant for waiting too long for deep receivers to shake free. They're called "shot" plays. In other words, take a deep shot if it's there, but go to the check down if it's not.

"I found myself hanging on the deep calls, waiting and waiting and waiting -- and you end up throwing the ball away when I could've dumped it down to LT [LaDainian Tomlinson]," Sanchez said.

Dilfer believes Sanchez can improve his accuracy, especially early in games, if he gets more passing reps in practice. Speaking from experience, Dilfer said run-oriented teams like the Jets tend to give quarterbacks a minimal amount of reps for each passing play in the weekly game plan.

"Typically, he has been a slow starter," said Cavanaugh, referring to Sanchez's sluggish first quarters. "He needs to get off to good starts. His mindset should be, complete passes."

The ultimate goal is to make Sanchez a 65 percent passer, Cavanaugh said. That's ambitious, considering only one active quarterback made a 10-point jump from his first to second year or second to third year -- Vince Young, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

"I'll be shocked if it's anything less than 63 percent this year," said backup Mark Brunell, one of Sanchez's mentors. "He's night and day compared to what he was a year ago at this time."

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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