Monday, January 09, 2006

Evaluations and Prescriptions: Quarterbacks

Now that the Vikings have hired their head coach, it's time to evaluate the team's performance, decide who to keep and who to let go, and who to target in free agency and in the draft. As your friendly neighborhood Vikings' blogger, I've taken it upon myself to do that over the next two weeks. I'll be evaluating every area of the team, from the quarterbacks to the secondary and deciding on what needs to be done next year.

And so, without any further ado, I give you my evaluation of the Vikings' Quarterbacks and my prescription for next year.

Quarterback Evaluations
This was not a good year for the Vikings at quarterback. After dominating in the preseason, Daunte began the year by throwing 3 interceptions against Tampa Bay, including one that killed a 68 yard drive in the final three minutes when the Vikings were only down 17-13. In the following three losses, Daunte threw 9 interceptions and 1 touchdown. Against the two sub .500 teams he faced, however, he was his old self, completing more then 72% of his passes in the two games for 580 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Those two games bring up some questions. Which is the real Daunte? Was the fact his line couldn't block the defensive lines of the four good teams the reason for his poor performance? Was the lack of a real coach the cause? Or was it the fact that Daunte couldn't handle the better defenses?
Most likely, the reason behind Daunte's poor performances was a combination of all of those. Having Cory Withrow thrown back into him every play hindered his effectiveness. Having Steve Loney whispering sweet nothings into his ear instead of having a competent coach preparing him had to have had a negative impact as well. Daunte is not blameless, but a lot of his poor performance can be attributed to having a bad line protecting him and Steve Loney coaching him.

Daunte, however, only got to play two of the eight games against sub .500 teams due to his horrific knee injury against the Panthers. Instead, Brad Johnson got to face them. And he did what every good backup should do: make a few plays, and don't turn the ball over. He finished with 12 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions in his 10 games. He wasn't a dominant quarterback. He wasn't even a good quarterback. He was, however, a competent quarterback, and one who wasn't going to lose the game for the team. Against quality opponents, however, he wasn't going to win the game either. He threw for under 150 yards in the games against the Giants and the Steelers, with two interceptions in the crucial game against Pittsburgh, leaving it to the defense and special teams to win the game, which they managed to do against the Giants, but couldn't pull off against the Steelers.

Daunte Culpepper: C
He performed well against bad opponents, but poor decision making, bad coaching and a horrible offensive line led to some truly offensive performances against quality opponents.
Brad Johnson: B-
He was good enough to capitalize on the turnovers the Vikings' defense created against bad teams. Once he had to score points on his own against good defenses, however, he couldn't do it, including two interceptions in the Pittsburgh game and a crucial fumble late in the fourth quarter against the Ravens.

Brad Childress has experience insuring that a talented quarterback plays up to his potential. And he understands what he has in Daunte. For the quarterback position to improve, the Vikings need to do a couple of things this offseason. The first is make sure that Brad Johnson understands his role as a backup. There are too many questions about Daunte's knee to honor Brad Johnson's request to be traded to a team that will start him. The second thing the Vikings have to do is restore Daunte's confidence by establishing the kind of rapport with the new staff that he had with Scott Linehan. Daunte has shown that he can be one of the best quarterbacks in the league, if he has a good coach. If Childress is the coach everyone thinks he is, that shouldn't be a problem. Finally, the Vikings have to solve their offensive line issues. Neither of the Vikings' quarterbacks will be very mobile next year, whether or not Daunte is back. It didn't matter who was under center against the teams with good pass rushes this year--the Vikings could not block them, and thus, couldn't move the ball through the air. If the Vikings can bolster their line, their quarterback play should improve, whether or not Daunte is back from his knee injury.

Finally, Daunte should be the starter if he is ready. If his knee is not, then Brad Johnson will get his wish to be a starter. His signing last year insures that either way, the Vikings should not have to worry about the position.

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