Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Red Sea parts

Things I didn't think I'd see in the first two weeks of the 2008 NFL season:

1) Tom Brady is lost for the year due to injury.

2) Brett Favre is seen in a non-Green Bay Packers uniform.

3) The undefeated Arizona Cardinals.

4) Brad Childress loses confidence in Tarvaris Jackson.

Next thing you know, Ed Hochuli will blow a call. Oh wait...

Yes, the unthinkable finally happened. After two years of unremitting man-love for his undertalented, overdrafted Division I-AA quarterback, Brad Childress finally pulled the plug on T-Jack, announcing today that Gus Frerotte would take over the quarterbacking duties for the Vikings, starting with this week's home game against Carolina.

Jackson was off to a mediocre start this season with the team, completing just over half of his passes, with one touchdown and one interception, for a 64.8 passer rating. Unfortunately, he displayed his usual "deer in headlights" look most of the time, and the Vikings stalled repeatedly on third downs, especially in the Colts game, where they were forced to settle for five field goals. Despite the luxury of having the fourth-best rushing attack in the league, Jackson led the team to just two touchdowns on 22 drives so far in 2008.

Not all the blame for an offense can go on a quarterback, of course. The receiving corps looks as bad as ever and the offensive playcalling has been atrocious. But there was little reason to assume Jackson would improve following a lackluster 2008 season (wait -- he did go 8-4 as a starter in 2007 -- that must mean he's good!), despite the fondest wishes of some misguided fans. Regardless of playcalling and receiver talent, when you miss open receivers, throw to guys' feet, and make one bad decision after another, you're not a very good quarterback. And after watching Jackson make 16 lackluster starts and only look good in a handful of them, the coaching staff apparently decided enough is enough.

Which leaves us with Gus Frerotte. I pointed out that, if you could remove his one stinker of a start against Baltimore in 2007, his overall numbers aren't that bad, and in his last full season as a starter (2004, with Miami), he threw for 2,996 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions, numbers that would probably be just fine for the 2008 Vikings. Granted, that was four years ago -- Daunte Culpepper was pretty good in 2004, and look how that turned out.

All that said, I wasn't calling for Jackson's ousting just yet. Last year, I secretly rooted for Kelly Holcomb to take over the quarterbacking reins, and when Jackson was hurt in week two and Brooks Bollinger fumbled away the ball in an eventual overtime loss, Holcomb got his shot -- and promptly stunk up the joint, getting sacked 12 times in just 95 dropbacks. Sacks probably won't be a huge issue with Frerotte; he's got a career 6.0% sack percentage, close to the league average, and even in his last three seasons, at ages 34 to 36, he's only been dropped 5.3% of the time. At the very least, it's hard to imagine him playing worse than Jackson, and John David Booty clearly isn't ready for the job yet, given his performance in preseason, so I can't really argue with the call. Most likely, Gus will provide a temporary spark for his first few weeks in the lineup and I wouldn't be surprised for the team to rally behind him and win its next few games. Long-term, though, he's not the answer, and the team could find itself completely reworking it's quarterback depth chart at the end of the season -- if not sooner.

Also, if Frerotte gets injured -- a very real possibility -- the team will most likely turn back to Jackson over Booty. Given the apparent china-doll nature of T-Jack's ego these last few years, and with Brad Childress refusing to be even remotely critical of his young quarterback, a benching like this could destroy what little confidence -- and value -- he has left. Indeed, according to the article I linked to above, "Jackson was unavailable for comment during the time the locker room was open to reporters." He's upset, understandably, but he's also a 25-yard-old man. If he can't take this setback in stride and use it to improve in the event that he is called on again, what little value he has left as an NFL player will be completely gone.

And then it might just be time for the Booty call.

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