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Pocket change: Sanchez faces interesting opening schedule

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By Eric Edholm

You can't judge a rookie QB who starts from Day One solely on his first four games. You just can't.

After four games, Joe Flacco was 62-of-106 passing (58.6 percent) with 603 yards, one TD and five interceptions. In his fifth start, Flacco threw three picks and was sacked four times against the Colts and might have been benched had the Ravens had anyone better to throw out there.

Matt Ryan, despite an ultra-efficient Week One against the Lions, which any average QB could have done last season, wasn't much better in his first four: 55-of-105 passing (52.4 percent) for 669 yards with two TDs and two interceptions.

Both clearly are among the better young QBs in this league. And both probably would tell you they needed to get bounced around and take some lumps in those first four (or five) games before they could have success down the stretch in their first seasons.

I am taking that approach with Mark Sanchez, who faces an interesting quartet of teams to start. I don't think the Jets or Sanchez need to light it up coming out of the chute for this season to be a success. In fact, I wouldn't mind seeing him falter early.

Why? There have been young QBs who have had instant success in their first few games who failed to improve very much thereafter. (Rick Mirer comes to mind, and maybe Matt Leinart to a lesser degree.)

So here's a look at what Sanchez faces in the first quarter of the season:

Week One at Texans: An interesting test on the road against a defensive coordinator, Frank Bush, that few know a lot about. You can say the same for the Texans' defense, which is supposedly improved but hasn't looked great in the preseason. Bush has said he wants to bring pressure, and look who is lurking on Sanchez's blind side: Mario Williams, maybe the best defensive player on the planet, or close to it anyway.

Week Two vs. Patriots: Like Ryan (at Tampa Bay, Week Two) and Flacco (at Pittsburgh, Week Three) last season, Sanchez faces a very tough assigment against a division foe very early in his career. In his corner is that the game is at home and that Bill Belichick's reputation as a young-QB killer has had its edge taken off of it a bit the past two seasons. The Patriots are not a blitz-crazy team, but you can bet they'll have a pressure package at the ready with no standout receiver on the Jets scaring them that much.

Week Three vs. Tennessee: No rest for the weary. The Titans ranked in the top 10 last season in every defensive category that matters, including points allowed (second), sack percentage (sixth) and interception percentage (seventh). But that was with Albert Haynesworth and Jim Schwartz. Still, the Titans are a well-run operation and ought to remain tough to score on. They got into Flacco's head last year in the regular-season matchup and made a lot of other, more experienced quarterbacks look plenty bad, too. Look for a ball-control gameplan from the Jets in this one in what might be a one-possession kind of final score.

Week Four a t New Orleans: Don't laugh, but this is no stroll down Bourbon Street. You give Saints fans an extra three-plus hours to drink (4:15 EST kickoff) and they will be louder than Brian Schottenheimer's voice inside Sanchez's helmet. Plus, I really think Gregg Williams is going to mold this defense into a decent group. Is there a pass rusher you have to fear and double-team? No, but that's part of the problem. Williams' M.O. in his past jobs has been to pressure the heck out of young quarterbacks, often lining up mutliple blitzers in the "A" gaps right in their face to get them concerned. Should be a really fun matchup and a stern road test.

Can Sanchez get out of these four games alive and in decent shape? I think he can. A 1-3 start would not even bother me that much if he stays (mostly) upright and avoids bad turnovers. The Jets aren't going to bench him unless he's awful, and as we saw with Ryan and Flacco there is considerable room for improvement if Sanchez starts a little slowly.


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