With the New York Jets heading into Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers for the AFC crown, now would be a good time to analyze the playoff performance of young Mark Sanchez to date. The reason I say that is because after looking at his first two playoff runs, they chart similarly to the early career of his opponent this week, Ben Roethlisberger.
Note: This is only going to take into account the first two seasons of each player's career since both have made the playoffs as starting QB in their rookie and sophomore seasons, so please try not to visualize the Big Ben of the last few years when taking this into account. For Sanchez, that is 2009 and (to date) 2010 and for Roethlisberger 2004 and 2005.
2004: 1-1 record, lost in AFC Championship Game; 3 TD, 5 INT; 57.4% completions; 204 ypg; 7.5 ypa; 61.2 QB rating
2005: 4-0 record, won Super Bowl XL; 9 total TD (2 rushing), 3 INT; 62.4% completions; 201 ypg; 8.6 ypa; 101.6 QB rating
Total: 6 games, 5-1 record; 12 total TD (2 rushing), 8 INT; 60.5% completions; 202 ypg; 8.2 ypa; 86.8 QB rating
2009: 2-1 record, lost in AFC Championship Game; 4 TD, 2 INT; 60.3% completions; 180 ypg; 7.9 ypa; 92.7 QB rating
2010: 2-0 record, playing in AFC Championship Game; 3 TD, 1 INT; 60.7% completions; 192 ypg; 6.8 ypa; 91.6 QB rating
Total: 5 games, 4-1 record; 7 TD, 3 INT; 60.5% completions; 184 ypg; 7.4 ypa; 92.2 QB rating
Obviously Mark Sanchez has some unfinished business, but the numbers so far are pretty similar. Both QBs were not asked to carry the team for four quarters but rather to lead in the team in its most critical moments. This is evidenced by the low number of attempts each QB had per game, which is roughly 25 passes a game.
Roethlisberger and Sanchez were both competently accurate, hovering over the 60% mark, but this is where we notice some differences between the two. As a regular season QB, Roethlisberger was about as accurate as they come for young guns, averaging a completion percentage in the low to mid 60s. This cannot be said for Sanchez. During the regular season, this seems to be Mark's biggest issue and something he will need to improve as he matures. However, in the playoffs his accuracy is about five points higher while Big Ben's is a touch lower.
A great down the field thrower since the first day he stepped on the field, Roethlisberger unsurprisingly carries a higher yards per attempt and thus approximately twenty more passing yards a game. To average 8 yards per attempt for a career is amazing, and that is what Big Ben has done in his seven seasons. The playoffs have been no different to him, and his first two playoff runs show just that. The difference between he and Mark is that Sanchez's 7.4 ypa is nearly a full yard above his career average. It all goes back to accuracy. By completing just a few more passes a game, it has a dramatic effect across the board.
A common misconception about Sanchez from those who do not watch him each week is that he does not or the gameplan does not call for downfield throws. Almost the complete opposite has been the reality much of the season, and that had been one of the critiques of OC Brian Schottenheimer -- that the complexity of the offense and the number of downfield passes it called for exacerbated Sanchez's decision-making and accuracy. The decision-making has improved with maturity in year two, but the accuracy still remained a problem and thus negatively affected his yards per attempt average. Since the Week 15 matchup against Pittsburgh, however, the offense has called for a lot more quick reads and it has played to Mark's strengths. The shorter, quicker throws have allowed Sanchez to complete 63.1% of his passes for 6.7 ypa in his last four games, both noticeable increases. The downfield throws are less vast and more calculated now, and it has helped his overall game.
The TD:INT ratio and QB rating are where Sanchez edges out Roethlisberger. The reason for both is simple; Sanchez has taken better care of the football. However, if you only look at Big Ben's Super Bowl run, the ratio is the same. Either way, Sanchez sports a slightly higher QB rating mainly because the TD:INT ratio offsets the negligible advantages Big Ben had in other passing statistics.
When looking at this from the big picture what you should take away is that Roethlisberger, who played about as well as any rookie and sophomore QB could during the regular season, maintained a pretty similar and efficient level in the playoffs. The difference here is the incredible improvement Sanchez has made when on the big stage. Neither QB looked like Montana or Elway out there, but Roethlisberger's play in 2005 shows that a well-rounded team that is efficient and calculated on offense can win a Super Bowl with a young rising QB.