Sunday, May 10, 2009

The case for Tarvaris Jackson

Brett Favre. Sage Rosenfels. Tarvaris Jackson.

No, that's not just a naked attempt to SEO-itize this post (though if you want to click on it a few thousand times, I won't stop you). Those are the three men who could start at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings in their first regular-season game of 2009, September 13 against Cleveland.

I have no idea which one will be the starter. Nobody does. There are plenty of opinions out there, though, about who should be the starter. A lot of Vikings fans want Brett Favre. Most of those who don't, or who don't think the Vikings will sign Favre, favor Sage Rosenfels.

Tarvaris Jackson, meanwhile, has been left out in the cold. That might be just, but then again, it might not. At the very least, Tarvaris Jackson should still be an unanswered question for the Vikings, not a foregone conclusion.

For most purposes of this discussion, I'm not going to include Brett Favre. First of all, he's not on the team. Also, people who want Favre want him, and people who don't want him don't, and no argument is going to change either side's opinions. It's no secret where I stand on the matter, but that's more due to the current state of Favre's play (and health) than an intrinsic hatred of #4. If we could get the 1999 Brett Favre instead of the 2009 Brett Favre, I'd fly down to Kiln, kidnap Deanna Favre, and hold her ransom until Brett joined to the team.

As a result, most of my discussion will be to compare Tarvaris Jackson to Sage Rosenfels, which are currently the two best options the Vikings have at quarterback. (Jay Cutler ain't walking through that door.) I have no particular dislike of Sage. My issue is that I feel too many people feel that he represents an automatic upgrade over Tarvaris Jackson, not so much because Rosenfels is that good -- even hardcore Sage-backers agree that he's not -- but that Jackson is that bad, that he's utterly useless to an NFL franchise and that Rosenfels is clearly the better option. People are more "anti-Jackson" than they are "pro-Rosenfels."

Why is that? Here are the main arguments against Jackson, as I see them:

1) Rosenfels is strong armed and more accurate than Jackson. I haven't watched enough of Rosenfels to really be able to judge his arm strength, though Jackson looks pretty good here. In terms of completion percentage, he does have an edge on T-Jack (62.5 to 58.4).

But look at the career splits for Rosenfels: 49.5% completion percentage as a Miami Dolphin, compared to 65.6% as a Texan. The sample size is small, admittedly (only 109 passes with the Dolphins), but he almost certainly got a boost moving from the moribund Dolphins offenses of 2002-2005 (which Gus Frerotte also had a hand in) to the Houston Texans and having Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels to throw to. Yes, I said Owen Daniels. Few things have the potential to drive up a quarterback's completion percentage like having a tight end who's caught 133 balls over the past two seasons. and Steve Slaton sucking up 50 balls in his 2008 rookie season didn't hurt either.

Compare that to the receivers Jackson has had during his starting career. For reference, look at that video again. And clearly, Jackson has had some very inaccurate days. But are those days in the past? Well...

2) Sure, Jackson looked good in December of 2008, but he did it against some poor defenses. True. For the record, T-Jack was 57 of 89 (64.0%) for 740 yards, 8 TDs, and 1 interception in effectively 3 1/2 games, for a passer rating of 115.4.

Obviously, that's really good. But his best games came against Detroit (in one half), Arizona, Atlanta, and the Giants. In terms of opposing passer rating in 2008, those teams were #32, #30, #18, and #7, respectively. And the Giants played their backups for most of the second half.

Regardless, this is a huge step up from Jackson's previous performances, whether against good or bad pass defenses. Given a full season against a wide variety of defenses, I wouldn't expect him to have a 115.4 rating, but, given the rest of the Vikings' strengths, 30 points lower than that would be acceptable. (Jay Cutler, FYI, had an 86.0 passer rating in 2008.) But you can't completely discount his strong finish to the season because they were against soft defenses. Good quarterbacks should carve those kind of teams up.

3) Jackson was awful against the Eagles in that playoff game. Get rid of him. Yes, he was awful. So were a lot of quarterbacks against the #4 defense, by opposing passer rating, in 2008. Eli Manning actually had a worse game against the Eagles the next week, but I haven't heard any calls for his ouster.

A related note is that Jackson clearly doesn't have "it," where "it" is defined as what it takes for a quarterback to "win the big one," "take his team to the next level," and so on, as evidenced by his poor play in that playoff game. At one point in their careers, Steve Young, Peyton Manning, Jim Kelly, and Warren Moon were all also given such labels. Jackson is almost certainly not as good as those quarterbacks, but history should have shown by now that applying such an all-encompassing label to a quarterback -- especially after just one career playoff game -- is ludicrous. Granted, Kelly and Moon never won a Super Bowl, but I wouldn't mind having either on my team.

(And it's not like Brett Favre has never had a bad playoff game.)

4) Rosenfels just looks better than Jackson as a quarterback. I've been over this before. I don't care if you're 6'4" tall with a rock-solid jaw, dashing good looks, and a physique like a god or if you're short, squat, have a deformed head, and only one leg. I care if you're a better player. That's all. Anyone who's read the first chapter of Moneyball should be familiar with that concept.

(OK, so maybe a one-legged QB would be ineffective. But he'd still be more mobile than Kelly Holcomb.)

Rosenfels looks more poised, looks more effective, looks more like a quarterback is supposed to look (and I guess he's not unhandsome, in a "good ol' boy" kind of way), but is he actually a better quarterback that Tarvaris Jackson? That's the only point that should matter. Gus Frerotte looked good, too, until he kept throwing one interception after another. (Speaking of which, if you want to persist that Frerotte should have regained his starting job because he was 8-3 as a starter, I remind you that Jackson was 8-4 as a starter in 2007.) Rosenfels has a ghastly 5.2% career interception percentage, compared to Jackson's 3.4% and even Favre's 3.3%, and that doesn't count the infamous Rosencopter. I hate to use the terms, but the Vikings need a "game manager" more than they need a "gunslinger."

But I think the bigger point is the debate of "scrambling QB" vs. "pocket QB." And, you know what? I think scrambling QBs are overrated and generally less effective that pocket QBs. But that doesn't mean every scrambling QB is worse than every pocket QB. The point is that a scrambler has to also be a good passer to be a good QB. I think Michael Vick, Vince Young, and (maybe) JaMarcus Russell have clearly shown that you can't just run around in the NFL and be effective; you also need to be a good passer.

Recent "scrambling QB" failures like that are why we're predisposed to think less of scrambling QBs nowadays. We've forgotten how good players like Donovan McNabb, Steve Young, Randall Cunningham, Steve McNair, and even (for some seasons, at least) Daunte Culpepper were, and how they generally had their best seasons, passing-wise, when they cut back a little on their running and learned how to pass.

5) Jackson will never learn to be a good QB. Here's the crazy idea: Maybe he already is.

Maybe sitting on the bench for two months, observing, learning, studying was good for him. Maybe he took everything he learned and applied it to have the best month of his career, even if he did stink it up against the Eagles. Frankly, I'll take a quarterback who's good for 4 out of 5 games.

Remember the Brian Billick quote that sparked this article? Billick said that he can determine whether a quarterback will be successful "between the 24th and 30th game" and that Jackson was right about in that vicinity.

Maybe he's right. Maybe what we saw out of T-Jack in December is the "real" T-Jack. Maybe that's the quarterback he can be, even if his performance will be mitigated against stronger opponents.

It's anecdotal, I know, but compare Drew Brees' first two seasons as a starter to the rest of his career. He was so bad those first two years that the Chargers drafted Phillip Rivers to replace him. Absolutely nobody could have predicted that Brees would explode and become one of the NFL's best quarterbacks.

For an example a little closer to home, remember loathing Visanthe Shiancoe? Around week 3, I think every Vikings fan was ready to trade him for the proverbial warm six-pack and a bag of used jock straps. He's maybe not a Pro Bowl-level talent now, but in the span of about two months, tight end went from a "need" for the Vikings to a "strength." And it wasn't because of Jimmy Kleinsasser.

Jackson's not likely to match Brees, but it's a sign that it can happen, that a mediocre player can suddenly and dramatically improve his game after a significant time off -- in Brees' case, it was between the 2003 and 2004 season. In Jackson's, it might have been his two-month hiatus from the starting job.

(It was also said that Brad Childress didn't talk to Jackson at all during his benching. Knowing Childress as we do, maybe that was the best thing that could have happened to Jackson...)

Hoping for such a transformation is often just that -- hope. After all, we'd all like for our mediocre three-year veteran to suddenly become a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Most of the time, though, he doesn't. But I'd hate to see Jackson case aside after the best stretch of his career and then (almost predictably for Vikings fans) go somewhere else and do really well.

There are a whole lot of "maybes" in this article. Maybe Rosenfels is good because of who he threw to. Maybe Jackson found what he needed to become a good quarterback. Maybe Jackson only did well because he was playing against poor defenses. They could all be wrong. Tarvaris Jackson might still be the same scatterbrained, low-accuracy, disaster of a QB I thought he was entering the 2008 season. If that's so, then he should be replaced.

My only point is that, since that Eagles game that ended the season, the sentiment among Vikings fans (not to mention the media) has generally been that Jackson must be replaced and that the quarterback position is the only thing holding the Vikings back from a run at the championship. I want to cast doubt into that surety. I want you to examine exactly why you don't think Tarvaris Jackson should be the Vikings' QB going forward and solidify your position using analysis and facts, not emotions and feelings. Maybe you'll be right anyway. I'm willing to accept I might be wrong about T-Jack.

Are you?


SupaFan said...

This was the best written article on the Vikings quarterback situation all off season. The best part is you don't know. Nobody knows. The problem with the Vikings quarterback is the coach. I'm not going to slam him for being a poor play caller, or the fact that he has no idea how to run a game clock, even the fact that he takes his best player off of the field on third downs. I think he is getting better, but he doesn't know how to use the talent he has. He needs to design the play book around the strengths of the players he has not try to fit a bunch of square pegs in round holes.

Luft Krigare said...

I have been debating with a friend just why I want Jackson and not Favre.

He asked, "You really don't think Favre would be an upgrade? Really?"

The problem is I don’t want to think about it. I wish that Tarvaris had blasted his way past the Eagles and had played like he did in the last 4 games of the season. There wouldn’t even be a question then. He would be the starter. He would have been decent enough to win at least one playoff game and would have had an even higher and respectable QB rating based on those performances (I know playoffs don’t officially count against the season rating). Remember, the 95.4 rating came on the heels of two crappy games (losses not entirely his fault) and 4 good ones (last 4 game rating average was 115.4 with the lowest being against the Giants with an 88). Remember too, that the Kordoza line is 70.7. Tarvaris is way ahead of that plus brings others assets (his running ability) to the table in addition to it that most quarterbacks can’t.

In Brett’s entire 18 year career, his QB rating only beat Jackson’s 3 times: 2007 – 95.7, 1996 - 95.8 and 1997 – 99.5. 1996 was the only year that he helped win a Super Bowl. And just in case you were wondering Favre in his third year had a 72.2 season QB rating and he turned out pretty good.

Now do I think the current Vikings team is as good as the ’96 Packers? Abso-FUCKING-lutely!

T-Jack is the man we need leading the team. The players are behind him. Not Sage, and definitely not a washed up, bum shouldered diva that can’t make up his mind one way or another and is stringing along this dedicated fan base. Now, you tell me do you still think Brett is an upgrade?

Thanks Jason for an even better breakdown than what I have come up with.

Jason said...

The Kordoza line? Never heard of that one.

I'm not totally convinced that every player is behind T-Jack. Hopefully, Jared Allen is just being diplomatic here.

Yeah, I wish he would have mopped up at Philly, but you know what? If he'd been 25-30 for 280 yards and 3 TDs and we would have lost 34-31, you'd still have people saying he's no good, "can't win in the playoffs," etc.

My biggest fear? We get Favre, he throws 25 interceptions, but we go 11-5 and people say it's because of him.

Luft Krigare said...

Here is the best definition of the Kordoza line I could find:


In the 1970s (or thereabouts), baseball types began using the term “Mendoza Line” as the point of demarcation between below-average and bad hitters. Named for either Minnie Mendoza or Mario Mendoza, it refers to a batting average of .200 or worst.

NFL quarterbacks are now judged by a similar device, starting quarterbacks who are below the Kordoza Line, which for these purposes means the 70.7 career passer rating of Kordell Stewart. Setting the standard of “the Kordoza Line” (ie. Kordell Stewart’s career passer rating of 70.7, “the point at which the mediocre (between 80.0 and 70.7) are separated from the crappy (below 70.7) starting quarterbacks”).

Commonly referred to as the "K-Club" and focused only on starting QB's and/or those with 8 or more starts.

C. A. Martin said...

I have been trying to get fans to be more realistic about TJack since we got him. He got a pair of 'garbage' starts in 2006 after the season was already blown, was starting most of 2007 with "the worst Vikings receivers in 20 years" according to Cris Carter, and was yanked last season after two shaky starts in which Childress' playcalling was being lambasted at the national level.

The kid's had to get past a lot of stupid things since we got him.

After kicking ass in December, the same Eagles team that had humiliated most of the NFC's top QBs had their way with Jackson...but frankly, the whole offense was flattened in the second half. Rice was gimped, AD had 17 second half yards, and Berrian was the only real threat was was heavily covered. Not many options left.

I'm hoping the Brett Favre stupidity blows by, and that Jackson grows from where he left off last December...really earning the starting job and the respect he's been denied so far. So many fans just blow him off, but ignore the facts that have stunted the kid's career. As a lifetime Vikings fan, I'm disgusted by these people.

Anonymous said...

This article fails to examine the important attributes needed by a QB in a West Coast Offense: (1) read defenses, (2) handle the blitz, (3) throw lasers with accuracy. Before the Philly game, Chris Carter said the Vikings would lose because T-Jack can't read defenses. Ben Leber said Favre is superb at reading defenses. In 2007 when T-Jack and Favre last played alot relatively healthy, Favre was rated one of the highest and T-Jack one of three lowest against the blitz. As for accuracy, Chilly has been upset with T-Jack's accuracy since he got here. T-Jack is no comparison to Favre. Favre is proven with at least 20 TDs in vitually every year while T-Jack has never had 10 TDs. (BTW, this web site and the article looks like it was written by that Favre-hating T-Bird guy.)

Unknown said...

By far the best article I've seen on the current Vikes QB situation. Like everyone else, I didn't know anything about this kid when he was drafted but became an immediate fan the first preseason game I saw him in '06. Can anyone tell me why Vikings fans have hated Tarvaris SOOOOOO much during his tenure as starter? Look at who he has been throwing to people. Jackson's biggest downfall might have been that he liked throwing to Troy Williamson too much and we all know the result of any pass that hit him in the hands. Last year was the first year that he actually had a somewhat legit receiver in Berrian and if it wasn't for a dropped TD pass from Shiancoe (I know you all remember that) he would've never been benched cause they would've beaten the Colts and been 1-1. I used to live in Indy and even got text messages from my friends, the same people who watch Peyton Manning every week, saying that the Vikes fans were really hard on Jackson. The Vikings second receiver last year was Bobby freakin Wade!!!! Bears fans must laugh when they think about that. My point is, lay off of this kid. He has done nothing, and I mean NOTHING at all to warrant hatred from Vikings fans. He has handled himself like a true professional, even while his son was dealing with a life and death situation he never said a word about it. However, Vikings fans were booing him because Shiancoe couldn't catch a pass that 99.9% of the whole league could've caught. To be honest, I lost a lot of respect for Vikings fans last year when most thought Frerotte was the reason for the turnaround. Are you kidding me?!! Childress is horrible at gameplanning and would definitely be better off in the front office. Between him and Bevell, they could make the Vikes '98 offense look boring and uninventive. Is no one else sick of hearing this guy's comments about anything? He should go on "Dancing with the Stars" and instead of actually dancing they could ask him questions and he could tap dance his way out of an actual complete answer. He would be the winner hands down!! Moral of this rant is to tell Vikes fans to give this kid a chance cause he sure as hell hasn't had much of one yet. It was previously mentioned that some of the best QB's of all time needed a chance to grow and we can all agree that 20ish starts isn't much. I'm behind you Tarvaris and I'm pretty sure the whole team is too except for Fat Pat who needs to shut his mouth and realize just because his window is closing doesn't mean everyone elses is. I'm out