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.


Anonymous said...

Great post!

I don't know if T-Jack is the answer for the Vikings...but I would say that far too many people have written him off in a way that isn't supported by the numbers.

Luft Krigare said...

Especially with all of the Cassell talk (or any other quarterback you would like the Vikings to acquire) and the relative lack of quality or comparable quality QB's that are being discussed, this is pertinent.

Great post Jason.

bruddog said...

I think it still might be a case of sample size with Tavaris Jackson and we may not now if he is good yet. Obviously the MIN WR's don't help much

THere were some other interesting splits. Here is just one.

Tavaris was terrible on 1st downs completing only 50% of his passes for a 78 passer rating.