Sanchez’s Silver Lining From Loss of Santonio?

Brian Bassett , TheJetsBlog.com

Brian Costello writes a thought-provoking article about while the Jets might lose talent on their offense with the season-ending injury to Santonio Holmes that from a preparation and execution standpoint, Sanchez might be better off.  Costello likens Holmes’ injury to that of loudmouth Giants Tight End Jeremy Shockey during Eli Manning’s fourth season with the Giants, here’s two key passages.

First one on how Sanchez targets the ball.

With Holmes in the trainer’s room, Sanchez and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano no longer have his oversized ego to consider when drawing up a game plan. Sanchez can spread the ball around. The Jets can run Shonn Greene more than 20 times a game, like they did Sunday.

Sanchez targeted Holmes more than 30 percent of the time in each of the Jets’ first four games. Holmes was thrown at 39 times, which is the 30th most in the NFL, according to profootballfocus.com. That is with him missing the last two games. No one else in the top 30 has as few as his 190 snaps. With Holmes out, the distribution of passes has been much more even.

I’m intrigued with the idea, but citing that his passes have been more evenly distributed since Tone has been out is causal.  If Reggie Wayne goes out of the lineup, it would stand to reason that Andrew Luck would then be forced to distribute the ball more equally.  Generally, a team’s best receiver is going to get thrown to more times than not, so it stands to reason that distribution would flatten with a team’s best option out of the lineup.  Ball distribution should be a meritocracy,  not communism.  No team is looking to empower their proletariat just for the sake of some warm fuzzies.

Speaking of the proletariat, what might be more damning about Tone’s impact is the fact that Holmes only caught the ball at a 49% clip so far this year and that he was (on the whole) playing poorly even when he was in the lineup.  According to to Football Outsiders, Holmes played at right about replacement level leading up to his season-ending injury on a per-play basis.

Translation?  Holmes was in effect hanging from the bottom rung of the 64 starting receivers from across the league.  Not good.  He was ranked 63rd on an overall basis and 60th on a per play basis.  Was Sanchez and the rest of the offense part of the problem, most assuredly, but somehow second year receiver Jeremy Kerley is actually playing much better on a per play (19th) and overall value (35th) level than Holmes did.  Somehow, Kerley has been immune to Sanchez and the Jets offensive struggles … so as Costello points out, this injury might be a mercy killing in terms of relying on Santonio Holmes to make this offense move.

Another key factor that might benefit Sanchez from the Holmes injury, writes Costello is that Sanchez might have felt blocked from uninhibited leadership by Tone.

That leads to the second aspect of Holmes being out. Sanchez never has asserted himself when Holmes was around. It reminds me of David Wright with the Mets when Carlos Delgado was there. He deferred to him. Sanchez never seemed ready to challenge Holmes.

But in training camp, when Holmes was sidelined with a variety of injuries, Sanchez took control of the huddle. Since Holmes has been out, Sanchez has held extra study sessions with his inexperienced receivers.

Just a quick thought on the study sessions.  They were the key to Tone showing up Sanchez leading up to the Miami game last year, it was also very telling when after the Dolphins game this year where Tone had nine catches and almost 150 yards that Sanchez pointedly commended Santonio for his extra practice and attention leading up to that game during the previous week.  It’s plain that they both don’t see eye to eye on practice and preparation and that’s been a key part of their disconnect.

As Costello points out, with younger or new guys like Stephen Hill or Jason Hill, Chaz Schilens or Jeremy Kerley … they’re not going to question what their quarterback tells them to do.  Dustin Keller and Sanchez are good friends and have spent tons of extra time together on the practice field and that’s been a key to their chemistry.  Maybe that gym rat approach can work again with other players?

I was not bashful in saying last winter that I would have been happy had the Jets cut Santonio and taken the salary hit for it.  They didn’t do it and now they are financially committed to him most likely through 2013.  Tone did work hard this offseason, invited players to train with him, showed leadership during camp, but I still got the sense that there is still something of a disconnect between the wide receiver and quarterback.

Like it or not we’re in a place where we’re going to see what the Jets can now do the rest of the way without Santonio.  Whether Santonio was there or not, this season was going to hinge on Mark Sanchez and whether or not he could elevate his game.  He might not have the cast of characters around him that will help to make him a better player, but it just can’t be an excuse anymore either.  This is his chance to take full command of the team and maybe there is a silver lining in how the way this season is turning out for the offense …