Sanchez separating himself from Henne

The quarterback duel we imagined hasn't materialized.

The hottest topic on the AFC East blog throughout the offseason was the debate about Mark Sanchez and Chad Henne, a pair of franchise quarterback hopefuls entering their second seasons as starters. They possessed substantial upside for their fans to get behind, yet plenty of imperfections at which their detractors could jab.

Sanchez started as a rookie and helped his team reach the AFC Championship Game despite his regular-season recklessness.

Henne, after a year as Chad Pennington's understudy, was more polished. Although the Dolphins didn't reach the playoffs, they were 2-0 against the Jets.

Then each team escalated the conversation by providing its young quarterback with more resources.

The Jets traded for receiver Santonio Holmes and signed free-agent running back LaDainian Tomlinson because he could catch out of the backfield.

Henne's loaded arm was handicapped by his lack of a big target last year. The Dolphins corrected that by trading for Brandon Marshall.

All Dolphins and Jets fans needed was the opening whistle so they could start comparing the box scores on a weekly basis from now until 2018.

Or so many of us thought.

The competition has been decidedly one-sided so far.

Sanchez hasn't been nearly as careless as last year and has been generating MVP talk with the Jets bolting to a 4-1 start.

In South Florida, meanwhile, there's a growing sentiment the Dolphins should give the job back to Pennington. Henne hasn't been unleashed with Marshall running routes for him. In fact, the more Henne passes, the more trouble the Dolphins appear to be in.

They are 2-2. Henne threw one touchdown and averaged a modest 148 yards in the Dolphins' two victories. He threw four touchdowns and four interceptions while averaging 334 yards in their two defeats.

What has been the big difference?

We can't eliminate circumstance totally, but we can in many ways.

Sanchez and Henne have faced similar schedules. The Jets have played one extra game because they haven't reached their bye week, while the Dolphins are coming out of theirs. But they have faced three common opponents and, of course, one another.

A comparison of supporting casts isn't too heavily weighted in Sanchez's favor.

While the Jets have the better collection of receivers, Marshall is the best from either team and has been on the field since the season began. Holmes missed the first four games while serving a suspension. The Jets' next-best receiver, Braylon Edwards, missed the first quarter against the Dolphins in Week 3, yet Sanchez played superbly without him.

The Dolphins and Jets appear to match up well in the backfield. Although the Jets are having a much better season on the ground with Tomlinson and Shonn Greene, the Dolphins' running backs are one of the NFL's most threatening combos in Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.

New York might have a slight edge on the offensive line, but Miami tackles Jake Long and Vernon Carey are among the best bookends in the game.

Tight end is the only position where the Dolphins haven't measured up. Dustin Keller has emerged as an elite weapon. His five touchdown catches are tied for second among all tight ends. Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano, while respectable, can't produce like Keller has.

But is one player enough to make Sanchez come across like a star and put Henne on the hot seat?

To me, the disparity so far comes down to a couple factors:

  • Sanchez is better.

  • The Jets know who they are.

A lot of teams passed on Henne in the 2008 draft. The Dolphins selected him late in the second round. The Jets traded up to take Sanchez fifth overall. Their pedigrees might be baring themselves.

Sanchez is slick on the run. He stops linebackers in their tracks with play-action. Henne looks robotic and rarely strays from the pocket. ESPN Stats & Information lists only eight passes for Henne outside the pocket (four completions for 18 yards and one interception) compared to 21 for Sanchez (11 completions for 108 yards).

Sanchez even has better long-ball numbers. On passes that travel at least 21 yards in the air, Sanchez has connected on four of 17 throws for 135 yards and two touchdowns, and Henne -- in one fewer game -- has completed two of six attempts for 86 yards.

But Henne isn't being helped by the Dolphins' inability to render an identity on offense. They seem caught between the run-dominant offense that overpowered opponents the past two years and a team that knows it can throw after investing two second-round draft picks and a mammoth contract extension in Marshall. The constant tinkering on the interior offensive line has been a problem, too.

Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has the Jets in a rhythm. They got off to a rocky start on opening night, but since then the offense has been clicking undeniably.

Sanchez is a big reason for that. Through five weeks, he appears to be the real deal.