Friday, February 27, 2009

Welcome, Sage Rosenfels!

It's official -- Sage Rosenfels is a Minnesota Viking, and a reasonably well-paid one as well, after agreeing to a two-year, $9 million contract with the team following a trade with Houston that sent the Vikings' fourth-round pick to the Texans.

Reaction from Vikings fans seem to be generally positive, though I still caution against thinking that Rosenfels is some savior, and that he's a significant upgrade over Tarvaris Jackson. He's definitely a different style of quarterback than Jackson, but saying he's "better" overall simply ignores his deficiencies -- most notably his relative immobility and propensity for turnovers -- while lambasting Jackson who makes fewer mistakes but looks "worse" doing it.

That said, Rosenfels probably is a better overall QB than Jackson, but this isn't like replacing Ryan Leaf with Peyton Manning. Jackson's not the worst QB in the world, no matter how he looks, and Rosenfels isn't spectacular, despite his big arm. Still, with no other major free-agent acquisitions on the horizon for the Vikings, sending a middle-round pick and spending $4.5 million a year over two years on a guy who might be a good QB (and at the least is a better backup plan than Gus Frerotte) is a decent deal. Fact of the matter is, there wasn't an elite quarterback available, and Rosenfels likely represents one of the better options.

The best-case scenario for the Vikings is that Rosenfels turns into a latter-day Rich Gannon, another QB who got only occasional chances to start the first part of his career, showed equal parts promise and poorness, and, in his mid-30s, found the right team and right place to blossom as a star player in the latter years of his career. Rosenfels turns 31 next week, while Gannon was 33 when he finally secured a starting job with the Oakland Raiders in 1999, going on to have four straight excellent seasons with the silver-and-black. If we could get four seasons of stellar -- heck, I'll settle for "steady" -- play from Rosenfels, I'd consider it a success.

Right now, nobody knows exactly what we'll get from Rosenfels, and we won't know that until the games start up in September. Now that he can rely on his running game and defense to help him win games, he could develop into a dependable QB, and he might even have the talent to sniff the Pro Bowl. All this depends on whether he can reign in the bad plays, however, avoid the crazy mistakes -- oh, and beat out Jackson in training camp, which might be harder than it appears. This one ain't decided yet, folks.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rosenfels vs. Jackson

With Sage Rosenfels set to join the Vikings as soon as the trade can be consummated -- 12:01 Eastern, Friday morning, to be exact -- many fans are already predicting that he'll easily oust Tarvaris Jackson as the Vikings' quarterback. While that may yet happen, it shouldn't be the slam-dunk, no-questions-asked decision some think it ought to be.

Somewhat conveniently, both quarterbacks have career pass attempt totals that are about in line with a full season's worth of passes, albeit for a rather pass-happy team: 561 for Rosenfels and 524 for Jackson. This allows us to compare their stats, side-by-side, with no real manipulation needed and to consider how they'd look if they really were single-season stat lines.


I've italicized the better numbers for each quarterback. Yes, I realized Jackson's better rushing numbers come with more attempts, but I don't think anyone will dispute that Jackson's a better runner than Rosenfels.

In this rather simple comparison, the numbers come out in favor of Rosenfels, 6-3. He's racked up more yardage, at a better rate per attempt (7.4 to 6.6) than Jackson; even his yards per completion is slightly better (11.8 to 11.2), showing that that's not just the result of Jackson's mediocre completion percentage. While clearly not a better runner than Jackson, Rosenfels has nonetheless done a much better job of avoiding sacks, going down at about half the rate of Jackson and fumbling with less frequency.

But there are negatives to Rosenfel's superior numbers, the most glaring of which is his interception total. If this were a full season's stats, 29 interceptions would be practically unacceptable for a starting quarterback. I've not seem him play much, but it's possible that part of the reason for Rosenfels' lack of sacks comes from him throwing the ball away and into coverage, thus resulting in the very negative play (interception) instead of the somewhat negative play (sack).

In any case, for all that Vikings fans -- such as this one -- complain about Jackson's prediliction for turning the ball over, it's clear that Rosenfels is markedly worse at protecting the football. Assuming that 2/3 of each player's fumbles were recovered by the defense (the typical NFL rate), that would give Jackson about 10 lost fumbles to Rosenfels' 8 for their careers. That gives Jackson 28 turnovers and Rosenfels 37. That's a rate of 4.2% for Jackson (when dividing turnovers by attempts+sacks+rushes) and 5.9% for Rosenfels. Finally, we can look at the rate stats for each QB. Rosenfels clocks in with an 81.2 passer rating and 4.48 TYA. Jackson's a 76.5 and 4.13, so the slight edge there goes to Rosenfels.

Still, if there's anything the Vikings need at the quarterback position, it's someone who doesn't turn the ball over and gives the defense and running game a chance to win (i.e., more of a "game manager" than a "gunslinger"). Rosenfels, at least through the first part of his career, doesn't fit that mold. Perhaps, as a career backup, he's been trying to "force" plays to make himself look better and impress in his limited playing time (the "Rosencopter" again comes to mind). With Adrian Peterson to hand off to and a world-class defense backing him up, perhaps he won't feel the need to try and do so much in Minnesota. (Then again, he won't have Andre Johnson to throw to anymore.) And there's little doubt he's got a stronger arm and looks better in the pocket than Jackson.

But, as I've said before, looks aren't everything. Rosenfels is probably better than Jackson, but only marginally so, and if the turnovers come in bunches in 2009, Brad Childress will need to do whatever he can to save his job -- even if that means going back to the safer, more careful Tarvaris Jackson. And who ever thought that would be the case?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Do you have to draft a QB high?

One of the topics (or, more accurately, one of the many tangents) of the most recent podcast was about the subject of "star quarterbacks" predominantly coming from very high (i.e., primarily first-round) draft picks and how teams can best find their quarterbacks. Says JKL around the six-minute mark:

The best option, I think, is to go for the elite talent at the top of the draft...Yeah, there are busts, but the upside there is just too great.

Recent busts -- Ryan Leaf, Tim Couch, Cade McNown, et al -- are well known, as are the success stories, like Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, and Ben Roethlisberger. But are they absolutely necessary? Do you have to pick a QB at the top of the draft to succeed? After all, if you don't pick a QB with your top pick, you're picking another (probably very good) player. And even the most jaded QB-loving fan would probably admit that quarterbacks tend to be a touch overvalued and definitely overdrafted.

So, where do starting quarterbacks come from? I compiled a list of starting quarterbacks* in 2008, what round they were drafted in, and whether they were with their original teams -- in other words, a first-round pick playing for a team that he wasn't drafted by didn't help his original team in 2008, so, in a sense, that team's first pick was a "bust."

* Here's the rub, though...rather than try to pass off guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ken Dorsey as "starting quarterbacks," I defined each team's "starting quarterback" by the following two rules. He is:

A) The guy the team would have started if there had been a week 18; and
B) The guy the team would have started if healthy.

Point A lets me not worry about subsequent free-agent moves, trades, retirements, and so on. Point B lets me take the guy who "should" be the starter for the team (like Tom Brady over Matt Cassel) rather than a guy forced into the role. Here's the list:

TeamQuarterbackRoundOrig. Team?
Baltimore RavensJoe Flacco1Y
Oakland RaidersJaMarcus Russell1Y
Philadelphia EaglesDonovan McNabb1Y
Atlanta FalconsMatt Ryan1Y
Pittsburgh SteelersBen Roethlisberger1Y
New York GiantsEli Manning1Y
Denver BroncosJay Cutler1Y
Washington RedskinsJason Campbell1Y
Cleveland BrownsBrady Quinn1Y
San Diego ChargersPhillip Rivers1Y
Cincinnati BengalsCarson Palmer1Y
Green Bay PackersAaron Rodgers1Y
Indianapolis ColtsPeyton Manning1Y
Detroit LionsDaunte Culpepper1N
Miami DolphinsChad Pennington1N
Tennessee TitansKerry Collins1N
Minnesota VikingsTarvaris Jackson2Y
New York JetsBrett Favre2N
Houston TexansMatt Schaub2N
New Orleans SaintsDrew Brees2N
Buffalo BillsTrent Edwards3Y
Chicago BearsKyle Orton4Y
Jacksonville JaguarsDavid Garrard4Y
New England PatriotsTom Brady6Y
St. Louis RamsMarc Bulger6N
Seattle SeahawksMatt Hasselbeck6N
Kansas City ChiefsTyler Thigpen7N
Dallas CowboysTony RomoUY
San Francisco 49ersShaun HillUN
Carolina PanthersJake DelhommeUN
Arizona CardinalsKurt WarnerUN
Tampa Bay BuccaneersJeff GarciaUN

Of the starting quarterbacks for the 32 NFL teams:

16 were first-round draft picks
19 are with their original teams
13 are "1Y" players -- first-round picks with their original teams

So, that means that 13 of 32 teams in 2008, or about 41%, found their "starting quarterback" by drafting him in the first round. That's a solid percentage, but maybe not enough to be considered as the "only" way to do it.

What about the quality of these quarterbacks, at least as compared to the later-drafted quarterbacks? The only 1Y I see on the list who might have competition next year is JaMarcus Russell. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco could be one-year wonders, granted, but everyone else is pretty firmly entrenched as their team's starters. The list of non-first-rounders includes a Hall-of-Famer (Brett Favre), a potential Hall-of-Famer (Tom Brady), two of the best quarterbacks of 2008 (Drew Brees and Kurt Warner), and a slew of former or current Pro Bowlers and overall above average QBs (Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Delhomme, Jeff Garcia, Marc Bulger, Tony Romo). Overall, if I had to choose who the best QBs are on the list -- the first-rounders or the non-first-rounders -- I'd probably give the first-rounders the edge, but only barely.

This ignores the fact that there are two more notable 1Y players (Matt Leinart and Vince Young) lurking around who could be their team's primary starters very soon, depending on how the former first-rounder (Kerry Collins) and undrafted free agent (Kurt Warner) ahead of them play out. I also haven't taken draft position into account -- there might be a difference between being the #1 overall pick and the #23 overall pick (Brady Quinn). And, admittedly, this is a one-year sample size, though I have conducted a similar exercise, just for fun, the last few years. The list of starting quarterbacks hasn't changed too much, so it's always been around 1/2 first-rounders. Maybe I'll glance back ten years or so in a future post.

In any case, my conclusion is that, while it's not a bad idea to take a Matthew Stafford or Mark Sanchez early in the draft if your team needs a franchise QB, I don't think it's absolutely vital either. As with any position, good -- even great -- players can be found later in the draft, and quarterbacks probably aren't an exception to that rule.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sage Rosenfels?

For a fourth-round pick? That's not awful, I suppose.

But still...does this really solve anything? Or is it just another grab at a cheaply available, mid- to low-talent veteran QB with no real upside (like Kelly Holcomb and Gus Frerotte)?

Probably the latter.

Instead of addressing their quarterback needs with either a solid draft pick (like I advocated Brian Brohm last year; the odds against fifth-round draft picks, like John David Booty, ever developing into anything useful are low) or trading or acquiring an above-average QB (such as Jeff Garcia or Donovan McNabb), it looks like the Vikings are heading back down the path of looking for the cheapest possible option at the position and hoping he can miraculously turn into a quality starter.

That might be possible with a good head coach, offensive coordinator, or QB coach. Unfortunately, we have Brad Childress and Darrell Bevell, which are about as far from "good" as can be imagined.

Rosenfels would bring a few positives to the team. He's a significant upgrade in accuracy (65.6% completion percentage in three years with the Texans), without sacrificing the deep ball (7.5 yards per attempt over that span). The downside is that he's a little mistake-prone, with 23 interceptions (and 24 TDs) in his 453 pass attempts with the Texans and is no threat to run, though he's taken only 16 sacks in three years. (Remember when we all though the Texans' offensive line was awful and then realized it was just David Carr?)

And then, of course, there was this play, which goes down with "The Orlovsky" as the worst plays by a quarterback in 2008. Must. Not. Do. Again.

Again, a fourth-round pick isn't a terrible price to pay, even if Rosenfels does nothing. And the deal's not done yet. If it's made, though, I hope the team doesn't view Rosenfels as a "savior" at the QB position. He's OK-but-not-great -- and not nearly as good as another QB the Vikings got for a fourth-rounder, 15 years ago.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Why 3/4 of quarterbacks are good

At least that's what you'd think to hear most media members talk about them (inspired by the most recent post on the PFR blog):

And even guys in the upper left quadrant often get credit for "veteran presence" or "leading their team to victory" (see Frerotte, Gus).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

DI on Advanced NFL Stats Community

Last last year, Brian Burke over at Advanced NFL Stats started up a new site, Advanced NFL Stats Community, where he invited like-minded stat geeks (you know who you are) to submit their work to be published on the site. Following much procrastination on my part, I finally summarized my thoughts on TYA and submitted it to Brian earlier this week.

The finished article appeared today on the site -- which, along with its parent site, has a lot of great content you should definitely check out. Just bring an open mind and a willingness to cast aside preconceived notions about things like "low interceptions are always good" and "the best teams don't rely on luck to win."

While you're at it, check out some of the other sites on my new and improved blogroll to the right. In fact, I heartily recommend this feature to anyone using Blogger. It's like a personal RSS feed for blogs, and it seems to work for blogs running just about any kind of framework (Blogger, Wordpress, whatever PFR uses...).

And, obligatory Vikings note: Maurice Hicks is gone. Though some would say he never should have been here.

Is it too late to get Mewelde Moore back?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tuesday snark

Most mock drafts I'm seeing have the Vikings picking some combination of QB, OL, WR, and CB for their first two draft picks -- all solid need areas.

This one has us picking a defensive end in the first round and a safety in the second. The DE position opposite Jared Allen isn't even remotely a concern, with Ray Edwards and Brian Robison notching a combined 7.5 sacks, and the Vikings drafted a safety in the second round last year (Tyrell Johnson) to serve as Darren Sharper's eventual successor. Someone ought to give this Draft Dog the Ol' Yeller treatment.

(Even better, look at their 2010 Mock Draft, which has the Vikings picking 10th. If that's how they think the team will do, then I feel very good about next season.)

* Sure, the Vikings have the Love Boat scandal, but at least one of our players never beat up a paper-towel dispenser.

* Is it any surprise that a Chicago Tribune writer came up with this?

Favre's numbers were skewed by an awful December in which he threw only two touchdown passes against eight interceptions.

Funny, I thought they were skewed by that September game where he threw for six TDs. Take that away and his passer rating is 76.7. Oh, that's right, you only remove a game or a couple games from a sample when it helps your argument, not when it hurts it.

* Not sure how long it will last, but go to the Alex Rodriguez story here. The headline is "A-Rod says he took energy booster." Look to the right, after the related headlines. I see an ad stating "Tired of Being Tired?" and pimping an ad for a product that says it "fights fatigue."

Yeah, maybe an ad for an energy-boosting supplement wasn't the greatest choice for that page. But hey, as long as everyone's making money, steroids are OK. It's when they start costing MLB fans (and fans' dollars) that they'll actually do something about it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Trivia time again

It's almost time for another weekend of the annual KVSC Trivia Contest, sponsored by KVSC radio in St. Cloud, Minnesota. If you've forgotten how it works (what, you don't obsess over this nearly year-round like I do?), read last year's post here.

What it means is that, for the next 50 hours (starting at 6 p.m. Eastern), I'll be all over the Internet looking for answers to silly questions about things I have no business knowing (or caring) about. Thankfully, years of finding random stuff on the Internet (not all of it porn, I swear!) have prepared me for this upcoming test, and I am a certified black belt in Google Fu.

Like last year, though, I'll leave you with a few questions, this time of my own making, for you to ponder over the weekend. All have been culled from non-Internet sources (i.e., those things called "books"); might be they can be found on the Internet, might be that they can't. Back in the day, the question writers could ask things like "How many rushing yards did Walter Payton have in his career?" Nowadays, anyone can find that answer in about five seconds, so they have to be a little more off-the-wall. Hopefully, mine will be a touch difficult to find, as well.

Just keep in mind that teams in the contest receive anywhere from about 5 (for the easy) to 30 (for the hard) minutes to research and find the answers to their questions.

Easy: Against what opponent did Gerald Riggs run for the most yardage in a single game, and how many yards did he rack up?

Medium: In EA's MLB Baseball 2005, what happens if the pitcher presses the L1 and X buttons at the same time?

Hard: What two NFL teams did not play a single game against each other between 1973 and 1991?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Byron Leftwich?

In looking over the Vikings' QB options for 2009 (while not completely ruling out Tarvaris Jackson, there definitely needs to be a Plan B that doesn't go by "Gus") there are all sorts of options being thrust out there -- and I don't really like any of them.

Matt Cassel? Too expensive. Matt Hasselbeck? Too broken. Derek Anderson? Too lousy. Jeff Garcia? Too old. Brett Favre? Too Brett Favre.

So what I'd ideally like is a guy who isn't very expensive, reasonably healthy, not a bad player, fairly young, and isn't Brett Favre. And Byron Leftwich passes nearly all those tests.

I admit that when his name first came up, I thought, "Ew." As a former top-10 draft pick, much, much more was expected of Leftwich than the so-so numbers he put up in Jacksonville. After more careful consideration of his numbers, though, I'm warming to the notion of Leftwich as overrated as a top-notch draft pick, but underrated as a useful NFL quarterback.

First of all, I firmly believe that the next Vikings QB should be one who is excellent at avoiding interceptions. Given Minnesota's running game and defense, the priority should be on keeping possession of the ball and not making bad mistakes; I'd rather have a QB who throws 15 TDs and 10 interceptions than one who throws 30 TDs and 20 interceptions.

Byron Leftwich has a career 2.6% interception rate, ranking him seventh among active QBs. The top two names on that list -- Jason Campbell and David Garrard -- are living off single fluky low-interception seasons, likely not indicative of their actual ability to avoid picks, so you could reasonably say Leftwich is a top-five QB when it comes to avoiding picks.

With the Steelers having to choose between Charlie Batch (who was injured in the preseason but was a capable backup to Ben Roethlisberger) and Leftwich, he could be released and be looking for work, meaning he'll come cheap. He just turned 29 in January. And he's not Brett Favre.

And his overall numbers -- including a career 80.3 passer rating, which isn't great, but is good enough if you keep your picks low and have a strong supporting cast (like this guy and his career 81.6 rating did) -- is serviceable enough. I had thought he took too many sacks, but his career 5.6% sack rate is lower than the league average (around 6%), and that's after playing the last two years behind subpar offensive lines.

But then there's the injury issue. Leftwich has never played a full 16-game slate, starting 13, 14, 11, and 6 games in his career as a starter for the Jaguars. That's an average of 11 games a year. Maybe the last two years of relatively light use have allowed him to heal and he'll be more durable, but even if he hasn't, is it the end of the world if he only starts 11 games for the team? Tarvaris Jackson (and maybe John David Booty) could be adequate for a month's worth of starts. If we don't commit a ton of money to Leftwich, then the team isn't carrying much dead money if he doesn't play a full season.

Finally, there's one last detail regarding Leftwich. In 2003, the Vikings had the #7 overall pick. In one of the most famous "WTF?" moments in Vikings history, the team was late in getting their pick up to the commissioner, and the Jaguars -- who picked 8th -- rushed up to select Byron Leftwich at #7. Next, the Panthers rushed up to pick Jordan Gross at #8. The Vikings finally recovered -- nicely, I might add -- taking Kevin Williams at #9, though there was talk they'd draft Jimmy Kennedy, who went to the Rams at #12. It would be karmically humorous for Leftwich to land in a Vikings uniform after all, especially with Kennedy joining the team last year and possibly figuring into the Vikings' plans.

Well, it's funny to me, at least.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A-Rod: The surprising non-surprise

Great piece by Joe Sheehan on Baseball Prospectus about the "outing" of Alex Rodriguez for his use of PEDs. Most of his venom is directed not at A-Rod, but at the self-righteous "professional" -- scare quotes earned -- journalists who "cover" baseball:

Of course, the screaming is about the screamers. The loudest voices on the evils of steroids in baseball are in the media, and there's probably a dissertation in that notion, because for all that we have to hear about how greedy, evil players have ruined baseball by taking these substances (and then playing well, according to this selective interpretation; no one's ripping Chris Donnels these days), the reason we're talking about this in 2009 is that so many "reporters"—scare quotes earned—went ostrich in 1999. We hear every year around awards time that the people closest to the game know the game better than anyone, because they're in the clubhouse every day, and they talk to everyone, and they have a perspective that outsiders can't possibly understand. For those same people to do a collective Captain Renault, which they've been doing since beating up players for this transgression became acceptable, is shameful. Take your pick: they missed the story, or they were too chicken-shit to report it. In either case, the piling-on now is disgusting.

Couldn't have said it better myself. So I won't.

The only surprise I can register is that A-Rod actually came clean. That's something I don't think we'll ever get from Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, or Mark McGwire, each lost in their own egos or delusions of baseball immortality. The more that comes out, the more I think Jose Canseco might be one of the more reliable and truthful people in the history of MLB. Scary, huh?

Of course, A-Rod says he hasn't used PEDs since 2003. You know, since it would be illegal and cost him money. He hasn't touched the stuff since, I'm sure. After all, that's what he told us, and he wouldn't lie to us, right? I mean, unless we were Katie Couric.

And remember how angry Albert Pujols was when reports came out erroneously linking him to the names in the Mitchell Report? Gosh, he was angrier good ol' finger-wavin' Rafael Palmeiro! Maybe Pujols uses; maybe he doesn't. Not a single baseball player -- not A-Rod, not Pujols, not Manny Ramirez, not Ryan Howard, not David friggin' Eckstein -- has credibility right now when it comes to the question of whether they used PEDs. Not a one. (Though I do openly wonder who's got a bigger credibility gap right now, baseball players suspected of using steroids, or, as Joe Sheehan insists, the media members who cover them?)

The thing is, I've come to terms with it. A good number of baseball players (and likely football players) use steroids, and it's probably closer to the 75% Canseco insists upon than the single digits MLB found during its testing in '03. I really can't be indignant about it any more. I'll still draft A-Rod in my fantasy leagues if he's available, I'll still follow the Twins and the sport in general. If the opportunity arises, I'll still go see a game this year. (I've never lived in a city with a MLB team, so I've only seen a handful of games live.)

And maybe that's baseball's biggest failing, that when one of its biggest stars is brought down like this, the opinion of at least one fan is: "Whatever. Play ball."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hail to the champs, and views on Favre

A belated congratulations to the Pittsburgh Steelers on their sixth Super Bowl win. I'd say that watching the Super Bowl was enhanced by my being with a Steelers fan (and watching his jaw drop when Larry Fitzgerald scored his late TD) and that I'd suggest that, when your team isn't in the big game, watching it with someone who does have a stake in the outcome is the next best thing.

Then I remembered that 1 out of 3 Americans is a Steeler fan, so I don't imagine anyone had a problem finding one for the game.

* The Vikings got rid of their awful special teams coach and it looks like they'll keep Leslie Frazier? Sweet!

With Frazier staying put, that leaves just one former Vikings coordinator -- Mike Tomlin with the Steelers -- as an active head coach. At the close of last year's regular season, there were four: Tomlin, Scott Linehan (Rams), Brian Billick (Ravens), and Tony Dungy (Colts). Frazier could still get a head coaching job somewhere down the line, but I somehow think Darrell Bevell is a bit more of a long shot.

* Basketball note of the month: That's real nice, Kobe and Lebron, but dominating the Knicks hasn't been newsworthy in years.

* And oh yeah, there are more Brett Favre-to-the-Vikings rumors floating around than ever before.

Point the first: How exactly would Favre improve the team's quarterback play? He threw 22 TDs and 22 interceptions, with a passer rating of 81.0. Vikings passers threw 22 TDs and 17 interceptions, with a passer rating of 81.5.

Point the second: I'd wager that Tarvaris Jackson and whoever we bring in to back him up will cost a good deal less than His Brettness, money that can be better spent on free agents or draft picks.

Point the third: The only -- and I mean only -- reason Brett Favre wants to play for the Vikings is because they get to play the Packers twice a year and he wants to "get back" at his former team. (OK, technically, he wants to play for them because they get the Packers twice and they're a pretty good team -- I don't think he's interested in going to the Lions.) If Brett wants to go to Minnesota, he wants to do it for Brett, not for the Vikings. Which is pretty much the way he's handled himself his entire career.

When the rumors made the rounds last year, I thought, "well, maybe." This year? "Hell, no." The Vikings don't need an over-the-hill, has-been-legend egomaniac. This story is just fueled by the media (Peter King in particular) who see a juicy storyline if Favre got to play for his greatest rival and take it to his former team twice a year. Hopefully, the Vikings front office realizes that.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Perception vs. performance

Last week, Grant's Tomb posted a link to an article in which Brian Billick offered his opinions on Tarvaris Jackson in an interview on KFAN. You can read the article here, but the main points I want to bring up are encapsulated in the following excerpts:

Billick said he abides by the Bill Walsh theory that you can usually tell if a quarterback is going to be a long-term success somewhere during his second year as a starter. "Between the 24th and the 30th game," Billick said.

Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has started 20 games and played in 25 during his three-year career.

In his radio interview, Billick self-deprecatingly noted that "I pretty much in nine years in Baltimore proved I knew nothing about quarterbacks." But if the Vikings were to ask him, Billick said he has two concerns about Jackson's long-term: His career completion percentage (58.4) and his dwindling accuracy in the fourth quarter of games.

"Looking at Tarvaris Jackson, I've seen him play. I think he's an impressive young man. Certainly adds some dimension to the game. The thing that concerns me is the completion percentage. Over his career, he's less than 60 percent. And there may have been a lot of reasons for that. The other thing is that as the games went on and the difficult situations began to mount, that that's when his accuracy seemed to suffer. Couple games that I saw, third-down conversions were pretty good early, then at the end of the game things got tight. Those are all things that have to be factored in."
Now, I understand that the bolded statement isn't exactly what Billick said -- he didn't specifically reference Jackson's fourth-quarter accuracy or performance, instead going with the nebulous "then at the end of the games things got tight." Even so, this sent me running to T-Jack's career splits page, which offers up the following facts:

Completion % by quarter:
1st: 63.7 (1st best)
2nd: 54.8 (4th)
3rd: 56.3 (3rd)
4th: 59.2 (2nd)

Pretty clear by that that his accuracy doesn't decline in the fourth quarter. Let's look at his passer rating:

Passer rating by quarter:
1st: 81.8 (2nd)
2nd: 67.8 (3rd)
3rd: 63.6 (4th)
4th: 89.0 (1st)

And, just for fun,

TYA by quarter:
1st: 4.67 (2nd)
2nd: 3.87 (3rd)
3rd: 3.72 (4th)
4th: 4.90 (1st)

(Jackson's third-down passing numbers do seem to bear out Billick's analysis -- they're pretty awful -- but I'd be curious to see how the league does in that situation. I'd imagine third-down passing is generally one of the worst splits around, league-wide, since you're having to get a certain amount of yardage and are more likely to make a mistake or come up short.)

Wow. Could it be that T-Jack is the kind of guy you want in the 4th quarter when the game's on the line? Probably not, but he's at least not worse late in the game, as Billick seems to insinuate (and he certainly needs to improve in the second and third quarters of games). And, if Billick is right about his statement of when a QB "puts it all together," hasn't T-Jack just done that, at least in that final month of the season (Yes, he was bad in the playoff game against the Eagles; Eli Manning was worse the next week, and is there anyone out there who wouldn't take Manning over Jackson?), which is pretty close to the time when Billick thinks you can tell if a QB's got "it"? Basically, if Billick said those things in general, instead of referencing Jackson specifically, I would think he's endorsing T-Jack, not dismissing him.

But we all know T-Jack's a lousy quarterback, right? We've seen him play, haven't we? The wild running around? The deer-in-headlights look? I know I sure felt better when the team inserted Gus Frerotte into the lineup, with his calm demeanor, smooth dropbacks, and strong-armed throws --

-- that usually found their way into the arms of a defensive player. Give me a scattershot QB with good numbers over a guy who "looks good" any day.

See, the thing is, I think we've grown too used to people's perception of what a player should be and gotten too far away from what a guy really is. Frerotte looks like a far, far better quarterback than Jackson, without question. But he isn't. This isn't to say that either of them should be in the team's long-term plans, but dismissing Jackson just because he doesn't "feel" right isn't the answer either. If we do that, then we also have to dismiss Steve Smith (too short), Dwight Freeney (too small), Cris Carter (too slow)...and, although he's before my time, I've heard that some defensive players were outraged at how Fran Tarkenton played quarterback. How dare he run around like that! Quarterbacks are supposed to stand in the pocket? Doesn't he know that?

It's obviously a stretch to link Jackson to any of those great players, but I hope my point is made. Maybe Jackson's fine December performance was a fluke or too much a factor of the defenses he played. But, if Billick's right, and you can start to tell if a quarterback's good based on his play around his 25th game, maybe we can tell that now with Jackson. And it might be a good review.