The train wreck known as the 2011 New York Jets will mercifully come to an end this Sunday. A season that started out with so much promise and optimism has quickly turned into a nightmare that Jets fans have seen too many times. The Jets have gone from being the only team in the NFL to make the postseason final four two years in a row to being a team that could finish 9th in the AFC after Sunday.
Mark Sanchez has shouldered the majority of the blame for the team's shortcomings. Going into year three, he was expected to make a big leap in his progression as a viable NFL quarterback. Unfortunately for the Jets and their fans, Sanchez has not made the huge leap that the organization expected. However, he has gotten better while the pieces around him have gotten worse. In other words, Sanchez does deserve some blame, but he is not the main reason for the team's shortcomings.
Statistically speaking, 2011 has been a pretty good year for Sanchez. He has 24 touchdown passes (good for 8th best in the NFL) and 6 rushing touchdowns (only Cam Newton has more rushing touchdowns among quarterbacks.) His quarterback rating, passing yards, completion percentage, and yards per game are all better than his first two years. While statistics do not tell the whole story, Sanchez does deserve credit for his 2011 resume.
All of these statistical accolades have happened with a supporting cast that ranks among the worst in the NFL. Thanks largely to Right Tackle Wayne Hunter, Sanchez has been the 2nd most sacked quarterback in the entire NFL. Pro Bowl Left Tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson has had the worst season of his six year career and All Pro Center Nick Mangold missed games earlier this season and came back before he was really ready. In 2009 and 2010, Sanchez was sacked 26 and 27 times. This season he has already been sacked 37 times with one game to go against a very good Miami defense. The sack total could very well be above 40 by the time week 17 is over.
How about the vaunted "Ground & Pound" New York Jets running game? After finishing with the #1 rushing attack in the league in 2009 and the #4 ranked running game last year, the Jets have fallen all the way to 22nd in 2011. Even more pathetic is that the Jets rank 30th in the league in yards per carry. While Shonn Greene is a solid change of pace back, 2011 has proven once and for all that he is not a viable starter. Through 15 games, Greene has had only two 100 yard games. He has topped 70 yards rushing in only seven games. While LaDainian Tomlinson has been a reliable 3rd down back, he has averaged only 3.5 yards per carry this season and has not had more than 38 yards rushing in any game.
The wide receivers are not without blame either. Santonio Holmes has been a letdown after signing a 50$ million dollar contract over the offseason. Through 15 games, he has only 654 yards. By comparison, Holmes had 746 yards in only 12 games last season. His longest reception is only 38 yards. Plaxico Burress has been phenomenal in the red zone but has done virtually nothing between the 20s. Burress is averaging less than 3 receptions a game and has had only one game with more than four catches. Anyone that has watched the Jets this year knows that Burress has had a lot of trouble separating from cornerbacks. He simply can't get open the way he used to. The only other wide receiver option has been 5th round rookie Jeremy Kerley. While Kerley has shown flashes of being a productive slot receiver, he is still an inexperienced 5th round rookie. The Jets wide receiving core, which last year was one of football's best, has been negated to Santonio Holmes, a soon to be 35 year old Plaxico Burress, and a 5th round rookie. Far from impressive. Over the last three seasons, the Jets have never given Sanchez any continuity in his wide receiving core. In the 2009 AFC Championship, his starting wide receivers were Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery. Neither of them are on the team anymore. In 2010, his top four receivers were Edwards, Holmes, Cotchery, and Brad Smith. In 2011, he lost 3/4 of his 2010 core. Out with Edwards, Cotchery, and Smith. In with Burress, Kerley, and Patrick Turner.
Sanchez is being forced to work with a bad offensive line, below average running game, and a wide receiving core that is average at best. However, the Jets offense is 9th in the NFL in scoring and they are the #1 red zone offense in the league. Sanchez deserves credit for that.
No one deserves more blame for the Jets offensive woes than offensive coordinator Brian Shottenheimer. He has been under fire for years and 2011 may have been the last straw. He has been inconsistent all season and it is becoming apparent that Sanchez will never reach his full potential in his offense (funny to think that former Jet quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Brett Favre had the best seasons of their careers the year after they left Shottenheimer's system.) His week 16 game plan against the Giants was one of the worst games an offensive coordinator has ever had. Even though the Jets were averaging over four yards per carry, Shottenheimer called 68 pass plays (59 passes, 5 sacks, 4 scrambles.) 68 pass plays against a Giants defense that rushes the passer better than any team in football. To put that into perspective, the NFL record for pass attempts in a game is 70 by Drew Bledsoe in 1994.
No player on the 2011 Jets has been criticized more than Mark Sanchez. Everyone loves to dump all the blame on the quarterback. People forget that in six road playoff games, Sanchez has posted a 95 quarterback rating with 9 touchdown passes and 3 interceptions. Since entering the league in 2009, Mark Sanchez has more game winning drives and 4th quarter comebacks than any quarterback in the league. He has shown plenty of flashes of one day being an elite quarterback. He only started one year in college and he is playing in the toughest media market in the country. He deserves another year with a new offensive coordinator and a better supporting cast.