Friday, November 28, 2008

Missing Quarterback Has Vikings Left Wanting More Than Thankful

There are many things for which the Minnesota Vikings have to be thankful, including that they are not the Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Saint Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, or Kansas City Chiefs. They also should be thankful that, despite numerous coaching and some front-office blunders, they have made better use of their talent than have teams such as San Diego, Jacksonville, and Philadelphia.

But while there are things within the NFL for which the Vikings should be thankful, there are other things that they can only look upon with envy, including the Tennessee Titans' use of a similar system and arguably lesser talent to compile a far-superior record against comparable overall competition, the Dallas Cowboys' superior record despite having to rely on Brad Johnson at quarterback for one month of the season, Tampa Bay's and Carolina's superior records despite inferior overall teams, Arizona's receiving corps and the quarterback play of someone old enough to fall within Vikings' head coach Brad Childress' untouchables group of players, the New York Jets' rise to the top of the AFC East on the strength of the play of a modest running back and a veteran quarterback that the Vikings probably could have landed in the off-season, but for an agreement between the league, the Vikings, and Green Bay resulting from alleged tampering charges, the Steelers' continued good play under former Vikings' defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin, and the New England Patriots' solid play behind first-year starting quarterback Matt Cassel--a guy who had not started at quarterback since high school.

It thus appears that, while the Vikings have some things for which they should be grateful, they have just as many things for which they can be envious, and the set of things about which they can be envious includes far too many things the Vikings were supposed to be good at this year--running opponents into submission, passing teams out of the eight- and nine-men-in-the-box defensive sets, and improved coaching.

Though coaching remains status quo, the running game has failed to rile opposing defenses as it did at points last year namely because opposing teams still refuse to believe that the Vikings can beat them through the air. And through the first 11 games of the 2008 season, it is clear why this is the case.

In two starts for the team this season, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson failed to eclipse the 200-yard-passing mark. Gus Frerotte has been a significant upgrade in that respect, having eclipsed the 200-yard-passing mark in five of nine starts, but has failed to eclipse the 300-yard mark even once this season and has failed to break the 200-yard mark in four straight games, despite playing against suspect passing defenses in three of those four contests.

Frerotte's struggles are not limited to his yardage totals, however. After taking over for Jackson in week three, Frerotte has thrown 12 interceptions. Of those interceptions, five have come in the Vikings' last four games. The high interception total might be more tolerable were it paired with a superior touchdown value. Unfortunately, that has not been the case as Frerotte has tallied a mere 11 touchdown passes.

The value of having Frerotte in the game over Jackson was to have been that, as the beneficiary of 15 years in the NFL, Frerotte would make intelligent plays, knowing when to throw the ball away. While Frerotte has thrown away his share of balls, too often he has done so into the waiting arms of opposing defenders or far closer to those arms than to the arms of Vikings' receivers, and too often, 26 times, he has taken a sack.

Frerotte has several built-in excuses for his play, of course. Those excuses include the facts that his offensive line, until last week, was allowing far too much pressure, his receiving corps has been playing one up on the depth chart all season, two up in some instances, and the playcalling continues to allow teams to defend against all but one or two passes a game by playing close to the line as the Vikings virtually refuse to acknowledge what fans watching outside the Minnesota region readily recognize as an intermediate passing zone.

Despite the ready excuses, however, Frerotte's recent poor play has as much to do with his own poor decision-making as it does with any other factor or factors facing the quarterback. How bad has it been? Overall, almost as bad as it was under Jackson and, in instances, far worse.

For the season, Frerotte ranks 25th out of NFL starting quarterbacks, behind five rookies. Only Brett Favre (13) has thrown more interceptions than Frerotte's 12, and Favre did so over 11 games and against 20 touchdowns. In overall statistics, Frerotte compares grimly with J.T. O'Sullivan and Marc Bulger.

From holding the ball too long too often to scrambling on non-scrambler's legs, to simply throwing horrible passes too often, Frerotte has not done what one would expect from what Childress routinely terms a savvy veteran. What Frerotte needs to do is make better decisions. For while his play remains marginally above anything that could be expected of Jackson at this point, if his play does not improve beginning this week, there will be little reason for the Vikings to continue playing him over one of their less-experienced quarterbacks. And that will be a bad sign for all involved.

Up next: Bears Gimping In.

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