Why Mark Sanchez Can Lift the Philadelphia Eagles' Offense

Don't expect Sanchez, while replacing Sam Bradford, to be a detriment to Philadelphia.

A number of teams this year have needed to rely on a backup quarterback, and some have seen dreadful results -- just look at the Dallas Cowboys.

With Sam Bradford expected to miss at least one game for the Philadelphia Eagles, though, expect Mark Sanchez to step in and -- wait for it -- play well.

This past Sunday, Bradford suffered a concussion and a Grade II AC joint sprain in his non-throwing shoulder during the third quarter of the Eagles loss against the Miami Dolphins. With Sanchez in relief, the Eagles ultimately lost 20-19.

The Eagles have yet to announce how much time, if any, Bradford will miss, but according to NFL Network’s Ian Rappaport, Bradford is expected to miss at least Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay. He could also miss the Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit.

Sanchez, a player not synonymous with exceptional quarterbacking, found himself in a similar situation last year.

He replaced an injured Nick Foles in Week 9 against the Houston Texans and subsequently guided the Eagles to a 31-21 victory over the Texans to get the team to 6-2. From there, he could only muster the Eagles to a 4-4 record down the stretch where they ultimately missed a wild card spot by one game with a 10-6 record.

Bradford -- and the Eagles' offense as a unit -- has been up-and-down this season. Sanchez, who is in his second season with the Eagles, was productive in a starting role last year and there's no reason to think he can't replicate that success this year.

What Are the Eagles Losing in Bradford?

Bradford has been anything but spectacular through nine games this season. After the offense got off to a slow start and the team compiled a 1-3 record, some began to question if Bradford was even the best quarterback on the roster.

But the Eagles then won two consecutive games to get to 3-3 before dropping a game to Carolina and heading into their bye at 3-4. Since then, they’ve beat a Matt Cassel-led Cowboys team and lost the aforementioned game against the Dolphins.

Sitting at 4-5, the Eagles are right in the thick of things in a disappointing NFC East. They’re only a half-game behind the 5-5 New York Giants as they turn to Sanchez to keep their playoff hopes intact.

In his first season with the Eagles, Bradford has struggled to get the offense producing consistently. Bradford has completed 63.9 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,297 yards, 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Bradford has also fumbled six times, losing two of those.

Bradford has posted a 18.09 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP), ranking him 22nd out of 30 quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts. NEP measures how many points a player adds to his team’s expected scoring total; for more information, check out our glossary.

Bradford ranks right behind Russell Wilson (19.17, 21st) and ahead of Jameis Winston (13.82, 23rd) in Passing NEP.

Overall, the Eagles' offense ranks a disappointing 23rd by our schedule-adjusted metrics. The passing game ranks 24th in Adjusted Passing NEP. With Bradford at the helm, the Eagles' offense is averaging 374.1 yards per game, 9th best in the league, and the team is putting up 23.6 points per game, 14th best in the NFL.

How Has Sanchez Played With Chip Kelly?

In relief Sunday, Sanchez went 14 of 23 for 156 yards but threw one crushing interception in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter. Sanchez’s pick cost the Eagles an opportunity at a field goal when trailing 20-19. In his first game action of the season, Sanchez posted a disappointing -1.06 Passing NEP.

Last season, Sanchez played in nine games, including eight starts. Over those games, Sanchez completed 64.1 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,418 yards, 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Additionally, he fumbled the ball seven times, losing three of those.

But overall, Sanchez compiled an impressive Passing NEP score of 49.51. Of the 37 quarterbacks who attempted more than 200 passes last season, Sanchez’s Passing NEP ranked 14th, right behind Alex Smith (50.66, 13th) and ahead of Wilson (47.65, 15th).

In Sanchez’s eight starts last season, he threw for at least one touchdown in all but one game and threw for multiple touchdowns in five of the eight. The Eagles offense averaged 30 points per game over that eight game stretch.

How Does Sanchez Impact the Eagles' Pass Catchers?

Jeremy Maclin was Sanchez’s most targeted receiver in his eight starts last season, producing a stat line of 40 receptions, 528 yards, and 2 touchdowns on 60 targets.

But with Maclin now in Kansas City, Jordan Matthews is the current Eagles pass catcher whom Sanchez targeted the most last year.

Here’s a closer look at individual production last year over Sanchez’ eight starts:

Player Receptions Yards Targets Touchdowns
Jordan Matthews 35 559 51 5
Zach Ertz 33 344 48 2
Riley Cooper 24 246 42 2
Brent Celek 18 250 26 1

With Sanchez, Matthews led the Eagles in receiving yards in four out of Sanchez's eight starts. Matthews averaged 4 catches for 69 yards on 6 targets per game over the second half of the season.

Zach Ertz was Sanchez’s second most targeted receiver, but 18 of his targets came in one game where he caught 15 balls for 115 yards.

Is Mark Sanchez a Fantasy Option?

The Eagles face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home this week before traveling to Detroit for a matchup with the Lions' 30th ranked pass defense, per our schedule adjusted metrics, on Thanksgiving Day.

The 4-5 Buccaneers are fresh off a home victory against the Cowboys, but now travel to Philly with the league’s 26th ranked pass defense. The Buccaneers have allowed the 10th most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks in standard scoring on the season.

Since their Week 6 bye, the Buccaneers have allowed two top-10 quarterback performances but also stymied Eli Manning and Cassel, whom they've played in Tampa Bay. Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan have each been able to post top-10 quarterback scores against this Buccaneers defense with both of those games coming with the Buccaneers on the road.

With the Buccaneers traveling to Philly, Sanchez looks like a viable streaming option for those who may have Drew Brees, Eli Manning, or Ben Roethlisberger on a bye. 

In his eight starts last season, Sanchez averaged 16.5 fantasy points per game.

Looking Ahead

The Eagles face two exploitable opponents in the next two weeks. Should Bradford need to sit out, both games provide plus matchups for Sanchez and the Eagles passing game.

Sanchez is bound to have a turnover or two each game, but he’s shown the ability to put points on the board in Chip Kelly’s offense.

With Bradford struggling on the season, Sanchez won't be a downgrade to the Eagles offense. If he can emulate last year's performance, he could even be an upgrade.