Chip high on Sanchez, even if Mark isn't
Eagles QB Mark Sanchez knows he needs to cut down on the turnovers.
CHIP KELLY cut Mark Sanchez some slack yesterday, but Sanchez tightened it right back up - or whatever it is you do with slack you feel you don't deserve or don't need.
"I think he's done a good job. He played a half a game against the Texans, hadn't played before that since the preseason," the Eagles' coach said, when asked about the progress of Sanchez, the quarterback subbing for broken-collarboned Nick Foles. "Then he had the Carolina game and the Green Bay game. I thought, obviously, from not playing - he missed an entire year, a year ago - with the shoulder injury . . . I thought for the time we've had him, half the Texans game and the two games since then, I think he's done a nice job."
Sanchez, 28, said he didn't think missing a year-and-a-half of real games changed the bottom line - "Whether you've been out of the league for 10 years and you suddenly come back, it doesn't matter," he said. "You've got to take care of the ball."
Sanchez did that in the Carolina victory, the only game this season in which the Birds didn't turn the ball over. He didn't do it last Sunday, two interceptions and two fumbles adding rocket fuel to the conflagration in a 53-20 Packers victory. The Eagles lead the NFL with 25 turnovers, which looms as a huge impediment to success.
This Sunday's game against the visiting Tennessee Titans, who are a misleading 2-8, judging by their three-point loss to the Steelers on Monday, might come down to the QBs. Sanchez has been OK, not amazing, not a guy you would sign to a huge deal and deep-six Foles for, at least so far. He still has time to become that player, though Foles started throwing the football a little this week.
Eagles fans seem to take for granted their team will win Sunday - always a risky assumption - and they don't seem to think there is much the Birds can do to impress them until the Thanksgiving visit to Dallas. But Sanchez needs to be mistake-free this week, to set up any kind of platform for thinking he can outduel Tony Romo in the Jerrydome.
"He threw for over 300 yards [each of] the last two games, so he's playing at a really high level," Eagles wideout Riley Cooper said of Sanchez. "We can't turn the ball over. That's the biggest thing . . . We keep throwing for 300 yards and get the run game going, we'll be unstoppable."
Sanchez hasn't yet had the benefit of the kind of ground attack the Eagles are capable of providing.
"A quarterback's two best friends are defense and a good running game," Sanchez said. "A running game keeps the defense honest . . . When I was a kid, nobody had premier pass rushers [who specialized]. If you get in passing situations, where those d-linemen can pin their ears back, they're in hog heaven. They do exactly what they're paid to do - they just sprint back to a spot about 9 1/2 yards deep in the pocket, and they come and take your head off . . . when you have a running game to keep everybody honest, that's huge."
The Eagles presumably will want to run against Tennessee's 31st-ranked run defense, if only to keep the Titans' cover-zero blitzers honest.
The Titans' QB is sixth-round rookie Zach Mettenberger, who dropped in the draft after suffering a knee injury in his final regular-season game at LSU. Mettenberger is making just his fourth NFL start, the first on a short week. Sanchez, a starter from the moment the Jets drafted him fifth overall in 2009 until last year's injury, remembers that feeling.
"It's a blur and a whirlwind," Sanchez recalled. "Just a lot of stuff flying around. You try to retain as much as you can."
Does the game plan get simplified?
"You try to go with what you're best at," Sanchez said. "If you have a concept and you haven't hit it, if you're 0-for-8 on the concept, then you probably won't run it on the short week. But if there's something you've just been almost automatic on, 75 percent or higher, why not? You're good with it, you've hit it against different coverages, you've got an answer for every coverage, let's just run one of those plays."
Mettenberger was asked on a conference call this week the biggest difference he has noticed between the college game and what he's doing now.
"Just the preparation aspect of it," he said. "We prepare for any and every situation," which of course is harder on a short week. "I was really just getting used to the Sunday scheduling. Now we've got a Monday game, got to play on Sunday, it's tough for me, being my first time doing that."
Kelly said he was impressed with what he has seen from Mettenberger, who has completed 60 of 97 passes (61.9 percent), for 758 yards, with five touchdowns, four interceptions and an 86.2 passer rating.
"He's got an NFL arm," Kelly said yesterday. "I think that kind of jumps out on the tape, when you see him make all the throws that he makes. The other thing is, there's a toughness to him. He stands in the pocket. He does not look at the rush. He doesn't pay attention to anything going on in front of him . . . when he's in his drop, he's in his drop. He's looking for open receivers, and he's doing a really good job of putting the ball on guys."
Asked if it would be an advantage getting a rookie QB on a short week, Kelly said: "You hope. But I don't know enough about him in the short time he's been in the league . . . Sometimes there's not enough tape out there to see what's really affected him in terms of, 'Is it more of a blitz look? Is it less of a blitz look? Is it more of a coverage aspect of it? Is it more of a disguise aspect of it?' "
Kelly and Sanchez both were asked what would constitute a successful outing for Sanchez Sunday. Sanchez has completed 61 of 103 passes (59.2 percent) for 880 yards, six touchdowns, four interceptions and a 90.3 passer rating.
"It depends on a million different factors," Kelly said. "How does he complete the ball? How does he move the team? What decisions does he make? Sometimes a good decision's an incomplete pass . . . There's a lot, and I don't think I can put it in a soundbite."
Sanchez said: "A win . . . then you break it down to what's going to help us win, and that's taking care of the football, being good in the red zone, being better on third down. Getting positive plays on first and second down."
Sanchez said building success stretches back into the practice week.
"[Good stats] will happen if we're doing the right thing, if you hit all your checkpoints during the week," he said.