Mark Sanchez, third-down maestro

Rookie quarterbacks are supposed to cower and duck on third down, particularly third-and-long. It’s when the opposing defense exposes them most, attacking with the blitz and confounding them with zone looks behind it. The QB, in turn, becomes a turnover machine (think Week 1 Jake Delhomme, not so much Week 2), and that down settles the game, right?

Well, think again. Jets rookie Mark Sanchez is doing some pretty impressive stuff, especially on third down. First, a quick caveat: I do not want to help feed a culture of hype where expectations get crazy, people lose sight of reality and, in this case, a kid with two games under his belt gets held to a ridiculous standard. Gradually, his production will wane some, and no one, not Johnny Unitas, could continue the mastery Sanchez has displayed on third-and-long thus far. Still, it’s worth mentioning, of course, and gives an indication of how poised and steady he has been. Okay, with that out of the way, back to the blog and on to the stats.

Through two games, Sanchez is 17-for-23 on third-down attempts (yes, 74 %, you read that correctly) for 228 yards, one touchdown (a 30-yard strike at that) and no interceptions. That’s good for a 119.5 rating, fourth best in the NFL. (Also worth noting that the three guys ahead of him — Eli Manning, Drew Brees and Shaun Hill, all lead 2-0 football clubs as well).

But let’s dig a little deeper. I went through the game books, because, from having watched the kid play, it seemed like he was even better on third-and-long. So, what has he done on third-and-7-or-more?

Um, yeah, he’s 13-for-14 for 149 yards, a TD and no INTs. That’s a 134.8 rating, folks, and the Jets have converted 8 of those 14 third-down opportunities. In many cases Sanchez is playing it safe and hitting check-down options, and that’s fine. It’s a heck of a lot better than throwing a pick or forcing something.  And, furthermore, Sanchez has also completed 8 passes of at least 10 yards on those 14 attempts, an excellent percentage.

So then I figured I’d take a look at third-and-9-or-more. Check this out, Sanchez is 8-for-8 for 124 yards, a TD and no INTs in those situations, a perfect rating. The Jets have completed five of those eight chances in which the rookie has thrown the ball on third-and-9-or-more. That’s astounding.

Again, I don’t expect this to continue. It can’t. But if Sanchez continues to gain confidence and avoid making massive mistakes on these crucial downs, it’s only going to aid his development. And Rex Ryan knows a thing or two about how to help rookie QBs (as his defense provided a backbone for Joe Flacco last season in Baltimore).

The Jets are running the ball 57 percent of the time, by far the most of any club (Minnesota is next at 52 percent), limiting Sanchez’s window for error and trying to put him in manageable down-and-distance. Last year the Ravens rushed the ball more than 500 times, by far tops in the NFL. Also, Sanchez is getting plenty of reps in the shotgun, which many QBs prefer because they get to read the defense better and get a little extra time to deliver the ball. Sanchez is 10-for-14 with a TD in the gun (125.3 rating, 5th-best in NFL).

Needless to say, count me among those who have been blown away by Sanchez thus far. Facing a hungry Titans team this week will be a huge test, and this will be by far the best defensive line he has seen to this point.

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