The Monday night loss to the Patriots brings up a number of questions about the Jets, but none may be more important than this: how much will Mark Sanchez have to improve before Gang Green can really consider themselves Super Bowl contenders?
Back in September I penned an article for ESPN.com's Insider section that took a look at what history says about top-line defenses and quarterback play. The focus of the piece was to try to find out how far a team with a quality defense could go with varying levels of quarterback play.
In a nutshell, the findings were that a team that ended up the season in the top five in fewest points allowed (the article's definition of a strong defense and a place the Jets are still very close to reaching) almost always made the playoffs regardless of how well its quarterback performed. Quoting the article, "The overall win percentage of these teams was 71.1 percent -- that translates to an 11-5 record in today's NFL."
The upside for those teams depended on how well the quarterback played. Again, quoting the article, "Thirty-two of the 95 quarterbacks ranking in the top 10 in passer rating in this study made it to the Super Bowl, with 19 of them posting a victory. Contrast that to the 10 combined Super Bowl appearances in 94 seasons by the non-top 10 rated passers (of which five were victories) and it shows just how important it is to have both a great offense and great defense in building a champion."
With that in mind, we can now state that Sanchez will need to raise his level of play to a top 10 passer rating level to really have a reasonable expectation of taking the Jets to the promised land.
Now let's ask the question of just how far is Sanchez from becoming a top 10 quarterback in passer rating?
The best case scenario at the moment would have him trying to equal Kyle Orton's totals, as Orton's 93.0 mark currently ranks as the 10th best passer rating. The numbers Orton has compiled to reach that mark are a 60% completion rate, 7.63 yards per attempt (YPA), 20 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.
Sanchez currently has a 54.9% completion rate, a 6.64 YPA, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. That means the difference between the two are about five completion percentage points, roughly a yard per attempt, four TDs and five interceptions.
Now pro-rate those over the course of the 12 games Sanchez has played thus far. Five completion percentage points in 397 pass attempts equals roughly 20 completions, or 1-2 per game. One yard per attempt on an average of 33 passes per game equals 33 yards. Four touchdowns over 12 games divides up into one extra TD pass every three contests and five interceptions over that same time frame equals about one less pick every 2-3 games.
That's all it would take over the course of a season to get Sanchez to reach the status that would put this team into a driver's seat for a Super Bowl berth -- one to two more completions per game for around 33 yards, an extra TD every three games and one less pick every 2-3 games. That isn't an insurmountable mountain to climb by any stretch and should offer Jets fans a lot of hope for the rest of this season and for the future.