EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 11: Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets leaves the field following victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at MetLife Stadium on December 11, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Year four is a make-or-break season for NFL quarterbacks. Drew Brees has been there. Before he was a Super Bowl MVP, the single season passing yardage record holder and the savior of a city, he was a pedestrian passer bogged down by a Schottenheimer offense.
Rather than spending their weekend trying to lure Peyton Manning to New York where he could ply his trade in the same home stadium stadium as his brother, the New York Jets sent a strong message of their own by extending a three-year extension, including $27 million guaranteed, to fourth-year quarterback Mark Sanchez. In the grand scheme of things, his fourth season could be a pivotal year.
Four years ago, Elisha Nelson Manning began his fourth season as Giants quarterback. It ended in a Super Bowl parade down the Canyon of Heroes. If Manning hadn’t gone on a late season tear, he likely would have begun the 2009 season in a new uniform.
Now that maligned offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has moved on to St. Louis, there is a very real possibility that Sanchez may figure it out. Brian Schottenheimer is known for his complex offenses that require quarterback input and according to SI.com/Draft Insider expert Tony Pauline, Schottenheimer’s playbook made Einstein’s theory of special relativity look like Jessica Simpson’s diary.
Why was the Jets offensive line so bad last year and why did so many players underachieve? I was told part of the problem is the playbook was so thick and the blocking schemes so complicated many of the offensive lineman were over thinking all season. via Draft Insider
Quarterbacks have struggled in a Schottenheimer offense before but 29 touchdowns and 31 interceptions through three seasons is atrocious. Especially when you have Ladainian Tomlinson leading the ground game. However, those aren’t Mark Sanchez’s numbers. Those statistics belonged to the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees.
Before Drew Brees was a Super Bowl MVP, the single season passing yardage record holder and the savior of a city, he was a pedestrian passer bogged down by a Schottenheimer offense. Back then, Brian’s father Marty was the Chargers head coach and Brian was quarterbacks coach. Marty's father had the same reputation of quarterbacks struggling in his system until the click switched in Bress' head.
In 2003, his third season, Brees threw 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. In Week 9 of the 2003 season, the Chargers were forced to abandon their practice facility because of the poor air quality. That’s how badly Drew Brees and the Chargers passing offense stunk it up against the 3-5 Chicago Bears defense. Brees completed just 7-of-15 passes for 49 yards and an interception before he was replaced by 41-year old backup Doug Flutie.
Ironically enough, Drew Brees was supposed to be replaced by Eli Manning, but Peyton's brother reportedly said he would not play for the Chargers. The Chargers ultimately traded the No. 1 overall pick for a bushel of later picks and the fourth pick, which became Phillip Rivers.
In his fourth season Brees threw for 24 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. His situation in San Diego closely resembles Sanchez’s but history diverged Friday when the Jets put their commitment to Sanchez in writing.
Tennessee’s Matt Hasselbeck sat for two years behind Brett Favre before becoming Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo and Matt Schaub watched and absorbed for at least their first three years. Sanchez is just one of many heralded quarterbacks to start almost immediately and struggle with consistency early on.
In his first three seasons, Alex Smith threw 19 touchdowns and 31 interceptions. His fourth season was the first time he threw more touchdowns than interceptions. Since then he's thrown 49 touchdowns, 27 interceptions and led the 49ers to the brink of a Super Bowl this January.
In Drew Bledsoe’s fourth year, the former No. 1 overall pick threw more touchdowns than interceptions for the first time and led the Patriots to the Super Bowl.
Phil Simms’ third season as the Giants quarterback, he was benched only to regain his starting spot the next season and earned his first Pro Bowl selection. He would later lead the Giants to their first Super Bowl.
Sanchez also compares favorably to fellow 2008 first rounder Josh Freeman who regressed horribly in his third season but has never had his job security questioned. Fortunately, Freeman has had the opportunity to develop outside of the brutal New York spotlight on a bottom-welling team.
The Jets didn’t choose Sanchez over Manning this week. Instead they chose Sanchez over Brian Schottenheimer. During the off-season Chad Pennington who once started for both the Jets and Sparano in Miami has been working with Sanchez, however, Drew Brees' experience in San Diego should serve as a more relevant teaching moment for Sanchez and his most ardent critics.