Passing Grades For Aerial Attack

An in-depth look at the passing game's performance in the pre-season opener on Monday night.

When Jets' quarterback Mark Sanchez forced a pass that was tipped and intercepted on the his first air attempt of the preseason opener against the Giants Monday night, déjà vu struck the minds of many Jet fans.

Last season, Sanchez made a career out of forcing throws into tight windows and paid the price by amassing 20 regular-season interceptions during his rookie campaign.

But Sanchez and the Jets are certain that things are very different this time around, and the sophomore signal-caller made right on the early-game blunder Monday, marching his shiny new offense 68 yards down the field on the next drive and capping it off with a touchdown strike to Brad Smith.

"It was kind of a fluke thing," tight end Dustin Keller told the media after the game, referring to the interception that led to a Giants touchdown score. "Stuff like that happens, but he just bounced back and on the next drive he was throwing the ball all over the place – making good checks, and did a great job. I think that's more of the offense that we are."

More like the offense they are now.

"Gang Green" ball carriers combined for 607 touches in the 2009 regular season, attempting 108 more rushes than any other team. However, with three wide receivers who started last season as No. 1 targets for their respective teams in Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes and Jerricho Cotchery on the 2010 roster, there is no doubt this year's Jets will showcase a more well-rounded offense.

"Truth be told, that's all myself, Jerricho and Braylon do, is sit on the sideline and talk about how great we can be," said Holmes. "We're constantly pushing each other to the max… I think that the chemistry we're building amongst ourselves is going to be something special for Mark (Sanchez)."

Missing former all-purpose back Jet Leon Washington for half of the season last year, Sanchez had limited screen and check-down options out of the backfield. Running back Shonn Greene didn't catch a pass all season and ex-Jet Thomas Jones was never known as an elusive part of any air attack.

This training camp, Greene has been getting a lot of work in the passing game, and new Jet LaDainian Tomlinson continues to be an important part of the passing offenses he's been involved in. Monday, Sanchez got a little glimpse of what he'll have at his disposal this season. In Sanchez's eyes, the running backs are just as much weapons in the passing game as they are emergency options.

"It's not like we're checking down to a bad athlete or something," Sanchez said. "We've got LT, Shonn – those guys can create for you."

Still, Sanchez will be the key to making everything work. He will be taking snaps behind a premier offensive line and will have plenty of playmakers to deliver the ball to.

Most importantly, as has been evident throughout the entire training camp, Sanchez has the supreme trust and confidence of his teammates and coaches. Whether it's Keller defending Sanchez's interception, head coach Rex Ryan praising his work ethic or potential Hall-of-Famers like Tomlinson and fullback Tony Richardson referring to Sanchez as the clear-cut "leader" of the team, the Jets truly think they have their franchise guy.

"I love Mark," Richardson told GreenAndWhiteReport.com. "Mark is kind of like my little brother. He's matured tremendously and is doing some great things on and off the field."

That's quite the compliment coming from a 16-year veteran. It also means the second-year quarterback is expected to play like a veteran if the Jets want to have a shot at the Super Bowl title they have been talking about all offseason.

Follow Nick St. Denis at twitter.com/NickStDenis


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