Friday, November 09, 2007

Keeping It Real

Throughout the week, Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress has repeated his new favorite cliche that he will "play the quarterback that gives us the best chance to win." For most head coaches, that means actually playing the quarterback who gives their team the best chance to win. For Childress, unfortunately, it appears that it means something quite different.

Despite outshining Tarvaris Jackson in every meaningful category, it appears that Brooks Bollinger remains secondary--or tertiary--in coach Childress' mind. Rumors out of Winter Park suggest that Jackson still could be the starter at Lambeau Field on Sunday. And, with the signing of yet another washed-up, never-was former Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback, Koy Detmer, it appears possible that Bollinger could fall as far as to be named the emergency quarterback against Green Bay.

While Childress might offer some elucidation on how Jackson provides the Vikings their best chance to win on Sunday, it's likely to be as unsatisfactory as the decision itself.

Those who side with Childress' continuing support for pushing a clearly unready Jackson at quarterback have been fond of noting the early-career struggles of other quarterbacks who have now become household names. The problem with these comparisons, of course, has been their complete lack of basis in reality.

Two quarterbacks most commonly compared to Jackson for purposes of showing early-career struggles have been Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, with proponents of the comparisons pointing to the Colts' record in 1998 before resting their case. A fuller comparison, clearly is in order.

In 1998, Peyton Manning's first in the NFL, the Colts' quarterback completed 326 of 575 passes for 3,739 yards and 26 touchdowns. He followed that performance up by completing 331 of 533 passes for 4,135 yards and 26 passing touchdowns--and two rushing touchdowns--in 1999.

Through his first nine starts with the Vikings, Tarvaris Jackson has completed 98 of 191 passes for 1,075 yards, four passing touchdowns, and one rushing touchdown. Over a sixteen game season, that prorates to 174 of 339 pass completions for 1,911 yards, seven passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns.

Clearly, Manning was far superior to Jackson statistically speaking at the beginning of his career. The comparison to early struggles between the two, a comparison intended to show what Jackson might become, thus appears specious, at best.

A comparison with Tom Brady appears equally problematic. In the first nine games of his career, Brady completed 140 of 221 passes for 1,426 yards and 11 touchdown passes. In his first full season, the Patriots' quarterback completed 264 of 413 passes for 2,843 yards and 18 touchdowns. Even adjusting for Jackson's fewer pass attempts, the comparison to Brady's early career appears weak.

There are two quarterbacks with whose early careers Jackson's early career does more favorably compare. Those two quarterbacks are former Chicago Bears' starting quarterback, Rex Grossman, and Baltimore Ravens' quarterback, Kyle Boller.

In his first nine NFL games, Grossman completed 123 of 221 passes for 1,565, with five passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. Grossman's numbers are slightly better than are Jackson's, but so too are Grossman's attempts. On the other hand, Grossman had the unfortunate experience of incurring an injury that forced him to accumulate the statistics for his first nine games over four seasons. If Jackson is to be given some leeway for his injuries, so too should Grossman be given similar leeway.

Kyle Boller had no such unfortunate experience, playing the first nine games of the 2003 season. In those nine games, the Ravens' quarterback completed 104 of 212 passes with six passing touchdowns. Those numbers look like Jackson's numbers. And those numbers make Boller an apt comparison with Jackson, at least in terms of early-career statistics.

If the Vikings intend to win now--a good idea in today's NFL that rewards the moment--Bollinger is the better choice at starting quarterback at Green Bay than is Jackson. And if Vikings' fans want a real dose of reality, Bollinger might be the better choice as the starter in the long run, barring the edition of something better. That is, unless the Vikings plan to win with a quarterback that is showing more the progression of Grossman and Boller than Manning or Brady.

Up Next: Tough Road Match.

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