Mark Sanchez Gets Half-Season Audition

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and quarterback Mark Sanchez. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

Sanchez Notches Road Win

Mark Sanchez was under center in relief for Nick Foles, who will miss the rest of the season with a broken clavicle. Sanchez stepped in to play every quarter but the first, as Foles left on the final play in the opening quarter. At the time, the game was tied at 7-7. At the helm, he led the Philadelphia Eagles 10 points in the second quarter, a touchdown in the third, and a touchdown in the fourth. They beat the Houston Texans on the road 31-21, and 24 of those came with Sanchez. He finished 15/22 for 202 yards with a pair of scores, and a pair of picks.

He threw a strike to rookie receiver, Jordan Matthews, who ran a go route from the slot and made the grab in stride along the back of the endzone. The second touchdown pass came on a scramble, where the cornerback was facing Jeremy Maclin in the endzone. Maclin appeared to be covered, but Sanchez moved around and bought some time, and threw a low pass that only Maclin can get. Of his two interceptions, one he tried to squeeze a ball in between defenders. Houston Safety, Jumal Rolle, was replacing an injured starter and snagged both interceptions Sanchez threw. The other, was a catchable pass that rookie receiver, Josh Huff, deflected and the ball landed in Rolle’s hands.

Previously with the New York Jets, Sanchez got his first playing time in nearly two years. On his first play of the game, he connected with Maclin for a 52-yard bomb, which led to the 11-yard TD to Matthews. On the next drive, Philly ran on first and second down, then Sanchez converted on 3rd and 8 to Huff. They ran on the next two plays again, and that’s when Huff deflected an easy pass that got intercepted. On his third drive, Sanchez hit Matthews for 24 yards, that eventually led to a field goal before halftime.

Sanchez found comfort in dumping the ball off to Darren Sproles. The Eagles ran the ball more in the second half. They punted on their first drive, then kept things on the ground to move the chains and score a touchdown. To close out the third quarter, Sanchez threw his second pick, he tried to thread the needle to get it to Rile Cooper down left seam. They rode the running game in the 4th quarter, where Sanchez hooked up with Maclin for 21 yards before connecting on their 8-yard score later that drive.

The Irony

Obviously, the Texans didn’t gameplan for Sanchez, and he worked against backup cornerbacks, as both starters got injured in the first quarter. Foles is out the rest of the regular season, possibly playoffs if they make it, so Sanchez gets a crack at starting again. The humor when you look around the league is, he led the Eagles to a road win when Geno Smith did not start for the first time this season. Of course, Smith was drafted by the Jets and eventually replaced Sanchez. To go a little further, Smith got benched in favor of former Eagles quarterback, Michael Vick.

Moving Forward

The second half of the season gives Sanchez a shot at being the “Sanchize” again. He gets to play franchise quarterback in another tough market, the City of Brotherly Love. Everybody loves the backup QB, especially the Birds: Vick, Kevin Kolb, Vince Young A.J. Feeley, and Jeff Garcia.

If there were any game for the Eagles to go through this transition, it really came at an ideal time, with the starting cornerbacks banged up. Sanchez showed arm strength and decisiveness in relief time. There will not be an advantage in favor for the Eagles, or their week 10 opponent, the Carolina Panthers on Monday Night Football. There’s some 2014 game tape on Sanchez, along with his experience in the Big Apple. Yet, the Panthers were an elite playoff defense last season, that is struggling in 2014. Chip Kelly featured the ground game and QB-friendly reads when they drop back. Don’t expect Kelly to switch up too many things through the air, but he will probably dial up an extra handful of running plays.

On a 1-year prove-it deal, Sanchez has a golden opportunity to earn a bigger contract and starting gig beyond this season. They have the weapons and scheme for a signal caller to succeed, especilly with 4/5 offensive linemen finally healthy. We shall see if Sanchez can supplant Foles, like Foles did to Vick when he missed time to injury. Or, if he can attract similar interest that Josh McCown did in free agency, by playing good football in relief of Jay Cutler a year ago. If history is any indication, he has a 1:1 career TD:INT ratio, displaying that in week nine as well. That won’t cut it for Kelly, or any team for that matter. With that said, the Eagles will stay in the playoff hunt as long as Sanchez continues to take shots downfield. He also has some instincts on when to scramble, so you’ll see some Sanchez runs too. His job will be a lot easier than Foles had it, as LeSean McCoy is finding his groove behind a healthier line.