There’s no doubt the New York Jets need to get more consistency from third-year quarterback Mark Sanchez in 2011.
In the regular season of his first two seasons, Sanchez has been shaky at times, as many young quarterbacks are coming out of college.
Yet when the playoff lights have shined bright, somehow Sanchez seems to bring his best football to the biggest games, which is why he has as many road playoff victories as anybody in NFL history.
Sanchez may not be an elite quarterback yet; far from it. Some would say his regular season numbers are mediocre at best. Yet when the game is on the line, and the Jets need him to make plays, Sanchez has had a knack for being clutch and playing his best football.
Good teams find ways to win close games when they’re not playing at their best, and the Jets have had their fair share of thrilling finishes since head coach Rex Ryan was hired and Mark Sanchez was drafted back in 2009.
But if Sanchez is to make the leap to a guy who the Jets can rely on consistently, the Jets must find a way to keep him upright and comfortable in the pocket.
Most of the game against the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday, Sanchez had to deal with constant pressure from the Dallas front seven, as Demarcus Ware and company wreaked havoc all night long.
New starting right tackle Wayne Hunter struggled mightily in particular, as many astute Jets fans feared following the retirement of All-Pro veteran Damien Woody this offseason.
On theJetsBlog.com’s BGA analysis, TJB writer Bent offered his thoughts on the performance of the offensive line, including the subpar game from Hunter.
By my unofficial count, [Hunter] gave up one sack, one hit and five pressures. He was also saved by [right guard] Brandon Moore on at least one occasion where he got beaten and there were two sacks and two QB hits where it was impossible to apportion blame, so he may have been partially responsible for some of those.
Of course, Demarcus Ware is an elite player and it’s not surprising to see any offensive lineman struggle against him. But as Bent noted, it wasn’t as simple as the Jets’ right tackle struggling against and elite pass rusher.
It’s fair to say that DeMarcus Ware is one of the elite defensive players in the whole NFL, so there isn’t necessarily any shame in giving up that much pressure when you’re facing him. Ware had at least five QB disruptions in EVERY game of the second half of last season. However, Ware wasn’t responsible for all of the pressures Hunter surrendered. Both Kenyon Coleman and Anthony Spencer got by him too – more than once in Spencer’s case.
He goes on to mention, however, that it wasn’t just Hunter who struggled in pass protection. Even Pro Bowlers D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold struggled at times, as the offensive line looked out of sync in their first game in nearly eight months.
But we’ve seen Mangold, Ferguson and Brandon Moore play at an elite level many times. The Jets are even fortunate enough to have a left guard in third-year pro Matt Slauson who has shown the ability to play the position pretty solidly since becoming a starter in 2010.
That’s why I believe Wayne Hunter is the Jets’ biggest X-factor on offense this season. His level of play may very well correlate with the entire offense’s level of play, provided his line-mates get back to their usual levels of play as the season progresses.
The Jets need Hunter to step his game up if they expect to be the team that their coach believes they can be. Assistant head coach/offensive line coach Bill Callahan’s top priority right now is getting the most out of the veteran tackle.
When Damien Woody was in New York, Hunter excelled in his role as a versatile swingman, playing as a sixth lineman, extra tight end in the jumbo package, and even goal line defense.
Now, as the starting right tackle, the proverbial pressure is on Hunter to keep the physical pressure off of Mark Sanchez. It certainly won’t help Sanchez’s development if he’s under pressure on a high number of his dropbacks.
The success of the Jets offense may reasonably rely on the play of their weakest link, and right now that weakest link is not Sanchez, it’s right tackle Wayne Hunter.
The Jets have pretty much made their bed with Hunter. Damien Woody is working as an NFL analyst for ESPN now, and he’s not walking through that door.
The Jets will have to stay in-house to solve their offensive line woes. Luckily, there’s a lot of room for improvement, and all of the Jets lineman have shown the ability to play good football, even Hunter in his time as a starter last year when Woody went down with an injury.
Keep an eye on big number 78 on the right side. He may be the biggest key to the Jets’ 2011 season.
Follow me on Twitter @metsjetsnets88