In their final road game of the 2008 NFL season, the Beloved Purple will be turning back to Tarvaris Jackson as their starting quarterback. Gus Frerotte has been ruled out of this Sunday's game with a back injury that some are speculating could put him out for the remainder of the season.
As far as Tarvaris Jackson's short-term future is concerned, this is basically his audition for next year and beyond. He needs a strong showing over the last three weeks of the season and needs to get the Vikings into the post-season, something that he was unable to do for Minnesota in 2007. Since we generally don't have to worry about the Vikings' ability to run the football, we should take a look at the three defenses he'll be facing, and how good they are compared to what the "conventional" pass defense stats show.
The folks over at Cold Hard Football Facts have compiled a stat called Defensive Passer Rating, and it's something I've referenced in the past. Basically, they take the passing statistics of every QB a team has faced and apply the QB rating formula to it to give, in my opinion, a better idea of how good a team's pass defense really is compared to simply looking at yards allowed and such. For example, the Vikings are currently ranked 20th in the NFL against the pass, having allowed 2,830 yards this season (or 217.7 yards/game). Their Defensive Passer Rating, however, is 81.8, which puts them at 15th in the NFL. . .or right around average. A comparable starting QB based on this year's numbers would be Kerry Collins (QB rating of 81.4).
To start by looking at this week's opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, they currently rate 19th in the NFL in terms of passing yards allowed, just above Minnesota, with 2,809 yards allowed. However, they have a DPR rating of 95.3, which puts them down at 28th in the NFL in that category. A comparable starting QB this year would be Drew Brees (96.2) or Jeff Garcia (94.8). With yardage totals that are so similar, how can the DPRs be so different?
The discrepancy comes largely from the fact that no team in the NFL has allowed more touchdown passes than the Cardinals' total of 27. The Vikings and Cardinals have both intercepted 11 passes over the course of the 2008 season, but the Vikings have allowed only 12 TD passes thus far. Most of the other categories are fairly close. . .the Cards allow a slightly higher percentage of passes to be completed (63.7% to 61.0%) while the Vikings allow slightly more yards/attempt (7.26 to 7.1). Of the three defenses that Tarvaris Jackson will be seeing. . .provided that he starts all three of the remaining games this season. . .this is probably the best one for him to start off with.
The Atlanta Falcons, who the Vikings play in Week 16, are 23rd in the NFL with 2,899 passing yards allowed. But their DPR bumps that number up to 16th (82.8), or basically comparable with the Vikings. The Falcons allow a lower completion percentage than the Vikings do (58%, one of the 10 best figures in the league) and allow fewer yards/attempt than the Vikings do, but have also allowed more TD passes and intercepted fewer passes than the Vikings have.
These stats may or may not have any bearing on the season finale between the Vikings and the New York Giants. The Giants are one of the best pass defenses in the league no matter how you slice it, as they rank 8th in the NFL in yards allowed through the air (2,515) and are 6th in DPR (72.8). However, we don't know how the Giants are going to treat the season finale, what they're going to be playing for, whether they'll be resting guys or anything like that. Based on their season finale last year against New England, I'd be leaning towards Tom Coughlin throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the Vikings, but like I said, you never know.
So, young Jackson will be seeing three very different pass defenses in these last three weeks, and it would appear that they get more difficult as we get closer to the end of the year. Hopefully the Vikings can win at least one of these three games, as the combination of one Minnesota win and one Chicago loss. . .a loss that will, hopefully, be coming tonight against New Orleans. . .will lock up the NFC North and a playoff spot for the Beloved Purple.