What Can We Expect of Mark Sanchez as the Philadelphia Eagles' Starter?
If only the NFL weren't so predictable.
Because Sanchez is on a team that actually cares about winning for once, his performance matters. Danger zone. What can we expect from Sanchez this season? Does this injury sink the Eagles' playoff chances?
We can evaluate this using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP). This tracks the efficiency of players based on the expected points they add to each play in which they are involved. An NEP of zero is average for an NFL player. Unfortunately, there is no curve for Jets players, who most certainly would not normally reach that qualification. You can read more about NEP in our glossary. Let's see if this bird can still fly without Foles at the helm.
The Analytics Behind Foles' Performance
Sanchez has several things going for him as he takes over Philly. First, his receivers are fully-functioning humans. Second, the team had success even without Foles lighting the world on fire prior to his injury.
Through the first 7 games, Foles had a Passing NEP of 18.34. This was the 20th-ranked total among quarterbacks that had recorded at least 200 drop backs. Foles ranked behind Kirk Cousins, Eli Manning, and Brian Hoyer.
Prior to the injury Sunday, Foles' Passing NEP was -3.19. Basically, Foles had been barely above replacement level this year. His 13 touchdowns to 10 interceptions are just further evidence of that. Eight of those interceptions have come in the past five games. Sunday was just another disappointing bump in a let-down season for Foles.
How Sanchez Performed Sunday
All reviews that came back from Sanchez's performance Sunday were positive. People were already raving about how he had been revitalized under Chip Kelly. The analytics show that this praise wasn't too far off base.
On his 22 attempts Sunday, Sanchez had a Passing NEP of 4.38. That puts him at 0.19 Passing NEP per drop back, which is almost always a top-10 total. For comparison, Foles was at 0.06 Passing NEP per drop back on the season entering Week 9. That's exactly what the Eagles needed to see from Sanchez.
What's even more encouraging for Sanchez? He was facing one of the league's top pass defense. Entering Week 9, the Texans ranked second in the league in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play (which is adjusted for strength of schedule). Posting positive NEP numbers against them means Sanchez should look even better facing Tennessee, Green Bay, and Carolina, who rank 18th through 20th respectively in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per Play. In fact, from here on out, the Eagles don't face a team ranking higher than 14th in the category. That pitter-patter sound you hear on the window sill is Sanchez making it rain the fat stacks he could earn against this schedule.
The Case for Optimism
Outside of the schedule, I return to a previous point here: Sanchez has receivers that are fully-functioning humans. Merry Christmas, Little Marky. You have toys to play with.
Chief among those toys is Jeremy Maclin. Maclin finished the game with 6 receptions for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 7 targets. Maclin entered the week 13th in Reception NEP among receivers with 40 or more targets. He then added 12.21 points onto his previous total of 54.10. In one game, Maclin added nearly two touchdowns of production over an average receiver. Scrumptious.
With LeSean McCoy's up-tick in production, the Eagles have a method of taking pressure off of Sanchez, as well. After Sanchez entered, Philly had a 36 to 24 run-pass ratio. If they were to maintain a ratio skewed toward the rush (although one that high is unrealistic), any continued inefficiencies in Sanchez's game could be minimized. This would indicate that the Eagles should be fine moving forward.
The Case for Pessimism
This portion should be fairly easy to understand. We are basing all optimism off of a small sample size in a game in which the opposing team lost its star running back. Is this enough to curtail a career of under-achievement?
As part of Sanchez's player profile, numberFire has a list of similar players. These are players in like situations to that of the player, based on the efficiency of the team's offense and the player's track record. It would make Philly fans shudder just a wee bit.
Sanchez's top comp is Todd Bouman in 2003. Bouman only attempted 13 passes that year, so he's out. Sorry, homie.
The next player on the list is Vince Young in 2011. That, coincidentally, was Young's "Dream Team" season with the Eagles. Young ended up starting three games, throwing four touchdowns with nine interceptions for a Passing NEP of -5.43. I'm sure the 2014 Eagles would like to avoid absolutely any comparisons to that team.
The third match for Sanchez may be the most interesting one: Brian Hoyer. Hoyer became a cult classic last year with the Browns after coming in and *gasp* winning games. The knee injury almost increased the intrigue because it capped the sample size. Brian Hoyer could do no wrong.
In reality, the analytics behind Hoyer were mediocre. He finished his three-game rendezvous with a 2.91 Passing NEP and a 0.03 Passing NEP per play. While that's passable, it's certainly not life-changing. I'm guessing the Eagles would take that from Sanchez.
A Realistic Expectation
There are a whole range of possibilities for Sanchez as he takes over for Foles. He could legitimately be reformed under Chip Kelly. He could also be old Sanchez, which would have the possibility of sinking the Eagles. numberFire's projections seem to skew towards the former.
If you check out numberFire's Rest-of-Year Projections, the updated projections have been adjusted with Foles out indefinitely. If Sanchez were to start the remainder of the year, he would be projected at a completion percentage of 65.4 percent over 252.81 attempts to go with 2,023.91 yards, 13.99 touchdowns and 6.06 interceptions. That would be more than perfect.
The caveat of this is that Sanchez's projected median pass attempts in a game never exceeds 33.55. Obviously, situations will dictate that this number go higher. What happens when Sanchez is forced to throw the ball more and the team can lean less on Shady? That's when I'd worry a bit. But until then, Sanchez looks like he's going to be able to get the job done at least.
At the end of the day, Foles's injury was unfortunate, but you have to be glad that Sanchez was the guy that in turn gets an opportunity. You couldn't have had a worse situation than he had his final two years with the Jets. Now, he gets a shot to show what he can actually do with an offense that doesn't hate points. If Sanchez does well, he could be in for a sweet payday and a starting gig. If not, this could be his final chance. The numbers certainly favor Sanchez finding the success that has eluded him for so long and helping the Eagles stay afloat in the playoff hunt.