Cannizzaro: Keller brings sense of stability, comfort to Sanchez, Jets offense
Dustin Keller might as well wear a Superman cape underneath his No. 81 Jets jersey in tomorrow’s home game against the Dolphins, because he is Mark Sanchez’s savior.
Keller, who missed four of the first five games of the season with a hamstring injury, has been a catalytic difference-maker for a Jets offense that looked anemic without him.
“We’ve been saying the whole season what a difference it makes to have that kind of target on the field for us with that kind of athleticism,’’ coach Rex Ryan said yesterday. “When you have Dustin Keller, you see the trouble that gives you.”
Trouble for opponents. Production for the Jets. Comfort for Sanchez.
“It’s important to have at least one familiar face around, because since Mark got here, I’m the only guy still here,’’ Keller said.
The contrast in numbers for Sanchez and the Jets offense with Keller versus without Keller is stark.
Without Keller, Sanchez was 58-of-132 for a 43.9 completion percentage, 777 passing yards, an average of 5.89 yards per pass attempt, three touchdowns, five interceptions and a rating of 55.0. The Jets went 1-3 in those games and more often than not looked noncompetitive offensively.
In the three games with Keller on the field, Sanchez is 58-of-86 for a 67.4 completion percentage, 676 passing yards, an average of 7.86 yards per attempt, six TDs, two INTs and a rating of 104.6. The Jets are 2-1 in those games and look like they have an actual NFL offense.
You do not have to be a math major to understand the impact of those numbers. Keller has been the catalyst — for a number of reasons beginning with the fact he’s the only one of Sanchez’s targets who has been with him for his entire career.
Jets management has done a poor job of keeping continuity around Sanchez, with receivers coming and going through a revolving door. With Santonio Holmes on injured reserve, Keller is the only Sanchez target who has been with him more than the past two seasons.
Eleven different contributing receivers have come and gone since Sanchez was drafted in 2009.
Look at every one of the top-tier NFL quarterbacks and you’ll find they’ve had continuity in their receiving targets that Sanchez has not had.
Tom Brady has had Wes Welker for several years. Peyton Manning had Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne for all those years in Indy. Eli Manning’s comfort comes from Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
In New Orleans, Drew Brees has had Marques Colston, Aaron Rodgers has had Greg Jennings in Green Bay, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan has had Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, Matt Schaub has had Andre Johnson in Houston.
Work your way around the league and you’ll find all the best quarterbacks have receivers they’ve had time to build relationships with.
For Sanchez, his relationship with receivers has been reduced to a series of one-season stands.
Except for Keller, who’s been his one constant.
“He’s the one guy that’s been here the whole time with Mark, there’s something to be said about that,’’ right guard Brandon Moore said.
“Dustin is one of my best friends off the field, one of the best guys to play with and is a great teammate,’’ Sanchez said. “He’s been my guy for four years and we have to keep feeding him.’’
Sanchez fed Keller last Sunday in Foxborough, connecting on seven completions for 93 yards, including a seven-yard TD that cut into a 10-point deficit and, most importantly, defined the confidence he has in his fourth-year tight end when he threaded the pass through traffic to a spot where he knew Keller would be.
It was a pass Sanchez probably would not have thrown to any other receiver on the team, an illustration of the connection he has with Keller.
“I don’t think there’s a guy playing right now that Mark has more rhythm and timing with than ‘DK,’ ’’ Tim Tebow said.
Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano described the play with one word: “Trust.’’
Sanchez will need to show that kind of trust in Keller tomorrow at MetLife Stadium, because recent history has shown Keller to be a Dolphins killer, having caught 26 passes for 304 yards and four TDs in his past five games against Miami.