Photo: Getty Images/Jeff Zelevansky
Jets coach Rex Ryan will start Mark Sanchez over Tim Tebow Sunday, snubbing Tebow for the second time this year.
When Ryan explained the decision to the media, he said something that gets to the core of how many NFL decisions are made, and explains why the league is generally averse to trying new things.
“When you look at it with the situation the way it is, it’s a short window to get the preparation time in. I just think it’s best for our football team. That doesn’t mean that Tim won’t play in this game, but I’m just more comfortable starting Mark.”
The Jets are starting Sanchez because they’re comfortable with him. He’s familiar. He’s known.
In the NFL, coaches place great value in known commodities. There’s always a bias toward selecting the more familiar of two options. That’s why coaches punt on fourth down when the maths says they should go for it. That’s why they run fullback dives up the middle on 3rd and 2 even though everyone knows it’s coming. And that’s why they play traditional quarterbacks over non-traditional quarterbacks, even if the traditional QB is bad.
Mark Sanchez has been one of the four worst quarterbacks in the NFL this year. He’s 33rd out of 34 in passer rating, 32rd in completion percentage, 31st in yards per attempt, and 3rd in interceptions.
It’s absolutely not all his fault (just look at that roster). Still though, it’s clear that he’s just not very good for this team right now. And there’s really no rational justification for starting him.
But Sanchez is familiar — Ryan knows that he’s the 30th-34th best quarterback in football. He doesn’t know what Tebow is, and in addition to that, Tebow’s skillset is such that you need to play a unique and different style (like Denver did last year) for him to be effective.
Tebow is viewed as a risk because you don’t have an idea of how good or bad he’s going to be. You know how bad Sanchez is. So in the twisted logic of NFL conservatism, you play Sanchez because you know what you’re getting.
And this is not limited just to quarterbacks.
Over the last 10 years, every level of football has been adopted the offensive principles of the spread offence, except the NFL. High school and college football have evolved dramatically, but the NFL has managed to stay more or less the same.
Only this year did the NFL world accept that it’s OK for RGIII to run the read-option, and only this year did the Patriots really start running bits of a fast-paced offence that college teams have been running for years.
And ultimately the notion of “comfort” that Rex Ryan talked about is at the core of that.
Once something new starts working in the NFL, almost every team almost immediately accepts it (see: wildcat). But a coach introducing something new into the NFL game is rare — the bias against the unknown is just too strong.
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