Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Slipping off the Gus Bus?

Gus Frerotte isn't going anywhere, at least not for the rest of the season and while the Vikings are in contention for a playoff spot. However, following my initial optimism regarding good ol' Gus, he's been the author of several lackluster passing efforts and is the proud owner of a 75.0 passer rating, with more interceptions (12) than touchdown passes (11) in nine starts. And, after being knocked out of the game three times Sunday, Frerotte was replaced for one handoff by Tarvaris Jackson. What would happen if Frerotte were permanently replaced, either by coaching decision or injury? Would there really be that much more of a dropoff with Jackson or even John David Booty in the lineup?

The answer is, "Probably, yes." But it might not be that much.

When I first lauded Frerotte's performances, he looked collected, calm, and accurate in the pocket. But after seeing him throw behind or at receivers' feet for the last few weeks, and that awful interception on a rollout in Sunday's game, I wonder if Frerotte only looked that good compared to Jackson's ridiculously bad numbers. In 2008, Frerotte's completed 58.3% of his passes to Jackson's 51.7%, but Jackson's numbers were only in 60 attempts. For his career, T-Jack's a 57.2% passer and, if Troy Williamson didn't completely suck and Visanthe Shiancoe looked the first two weeks of the season like he's looked the last month, he'd probably push 58%. So that's practically a push -- an ugly push (league average is 61.3%), but a push nonetheless.

Passer rating is similarly close. Gus has a 75.0 this year, right around his 74.4 career average, while T-Jack was 65.7 (68.6 career). But, especially when comparing Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte, the ability to run must be taken into account. Frerotte's TYA this season is 3.83, while Jackson's is 3.74. (Yes, that's different than what's in the linked post; I realized an error I'd made in the spreadsheet and fixed it.) That's virtually no difference; Frerotte's slightly better passing numbers are nullified by his greater preponderance for taking sacks (on 8.9% of dropbacks, as compared to Jackson's 7.7%) and lack of running ability (18 carries for 6 yards, compared to Jackson's 11 for 65).

Oh, and Frerotte's 6-3 as a starter this year, but you should know how I feel about bringing that up.

Am I saying that Frerotte should be benched in favor of Jackson? Absolutely not? But I no longer fear the idea that he could get hurt and the Vikings' fate could be in the hands of Tarvaris Jackson. Because, really, Frerotte hasn't played much better than Jackson for the last month or so (nine interceptions in his last five games), so it really couldn't be much of a drop-off. And, shockingly, Frerotte's pass attempts the last four games have been 18, 28, 20, and 20, after starts of 28, 43, 36, 33, and 40, so the passing game isn't figuring too heavily into the Vikings' game plan, which is as it should be.

(It's sort of like dating an ugly girl, hating it, and then moving on to a slightly more attractive girl, kinda liking it, realizing that ugly girls aren't so bad, and being open to the idea of dating the original ugly girl. She's still ugly, but dating the "mostly ugly" girl hasn't killed you, so maybe this wouldn't be so bad. Of course, this analogy makes Drew Brees roughly equivalent to Marisa Miller, so maybe I should stop here.)

Make no mistake, with Gus Frerotte being 37 years old and getting whacked like he did Sunday at Jacksonville, the time will still come this season that the Vikings will have to rely on Tarvaris Jackson to do something more than just hand off a couple of times to Adrian Peterson. And really, now that I've realized what we've truly got in Gus Frerotte, I'm OK with that. My tolerance for suck goes up every week I watch the Vikings' quarterback play.

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