What do Brad Johnson, Tarvaris Jackson, Kelly Holcomb and Brooks Bollinger have in common?
That nondescript quartet of Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks have taken turns starting games — and losing games — to the Green Bay Packers since Mike McCarthy became coach for the 2006 season.
Sunday's game at the Metrodome will be the sixth matchup between McCarthy and his Vikings counterpart, Brad Childress. McCarthy and the Packers are 5-0, in large part because of the disparity at quarterback.
On Sunday, it will be Gus Frerotte's turn to pilot the Vikings' offense. He's started the last six games for Minnesota after Jackson was benched for losing his first two starts, including 24-19 in the opener at Lambeau Field.
Frerotte has given the Vikings an added dimension in comparison to the inexperienced and frequently off-target Jackson. He's 4-2 in his six starts to help the Vikings catch the Packers (both 4-4) in the NFC North standings. While his 77.6 passer rating and touchdown-to-interception ratio of 8-to-8 isn't making anyone long for the days of Fran Tarkenton, Warren Moon or even Tommy Kramer, Frerotte's ability to make plays down the field has made teams pay for their focus on superback Adrian Peterson.
"There's a commitment to a vertical game more than I recall in the past," McCarthy said on Wednesday. "Still running the ball very good. Conceptually, they're doing a lot of the same things. I'm sure just because of the way we play defense, we'll see some similar things, and they're conceptually doing some of the things that we do on offense now that I haven't seen in their game before. I think they've advanced their scheme a little bit, and they're more productive this time going into this game prior to the other contests that we've played in the past."
Frerotte is averaging 7.4 yards per pass attempt, helping the Vikings score 24.7 points per game. Jackson averaged 5.3 in his two starts (17 points per game), and has averaged 7.4 in only four of his 20 career starts.
"They've got a little more of a vertical, stretching passing game," defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "I think (Bernard) Berrian's obviously come to the forefront a little bit for them. (Frerotte), just from an experience standpoint, manages the game more. He's obviously seen things — blitzes, situations in a ballgame — a lot more than Jackson has. He may not be as mobile as Jackson, so you obviously lose something there, but he's doing a nice job for them."
Berrian probably should be taking Frerotte out to dinner once a week. Berrian, who spent his first four seasons with the Chicago Bears, including the last two as a starter, signed a six-year, $42 million deal with Minnesota during the offseason. He has emerged as one the NFL's most dangerous threats since Frerotte became the starter.
In two games with Jackson, Berrian caught three passes for 38 yards. In six games with Frerotte, Berrian has caught 27 passes for 583 yards — a gaudy 21.6-yard average — as well as touchdowns the last four weeks.
"It's getting to know the guys. It's getting to know the system, the coaches. It's everything," Frerotte said after completing 11-of-18 passes for 182 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception, in a 28-21 win over Houston.
Childress has given Frerotte a bit of ownership in the offense, a trust that Jackson never got close to earning. Frerotte gives his input on the game plan, telling Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell which plays he likes and which he doesn't. Plus, Frerotte gives the Vikings a sense of calmness — Childress called Frerotte "even-keel, almost flat-line" — that the younger Jackson lacked, as well.
"He's not afraid to say what's on his mind, in a good way," Childress said in a conference call with reporters at Lambeau on Wednesday. "He's not afraid to mentor younger guys, whether it be a wide receiver or a tight end. And then he spends time at it. He builds equity. He's here until – 11:30 last night, we were watching Barack Obama give his acceptance speech. He's a guy who's into it. He would tell you that maybe he's able to do that a little bit because his family has stayed in St. Louis. But he's spending time at his trade, and any coach appreciates that."
At 37, Frerotte certainly is not the Vikings' quarterbacking future. Jackson, a second-round pick in 2006, is only 25 and has an NFL-caliber arm plus the scrambling ability the Packers couldn't handle in the opener. But, with the pressure on Childress to win, the coach went with the steady veteran.
"Through your game and the Indianapolis game," Childress said, "we watched Tarvaris play and just didn't feel like that he was pulling the trigger in the way we saw him through the preseason and all through training camp. Whether it was coincidental with his injury, I wasn't sure, but you know it when you see it, and I thought that was the best thing for our football club. As I mentioned before, it doesn't have to be the end. There's a lot of different ways, whether it's your guy (Aaron Rodgers) sitting for four years or whether it's Peyton Manning getting in the first year or it's Jake Delhomme going to Europe, there's a lot of different ways to get to that spot. While he didn't like that switch, he's embraced it and knows he's a step away at any given time."
Frerotte has the respect of the Packers' defenders. Linebacker Nick Barnett said Frerotte is at his most dangerous when he uses a series of Peterson runs to set up the long ball.
However, for the spark he's given the Vikings' offense, his eight interceptions also have the Packers' attention.
"Every week, we get excited for that chance," said safety Nick Collins, who has four of the Packers' NFL-leading 13 interceptions. "Once we have the opportunity to make a play, we just have to capitalize. Last week, we let a couple get away from us. That's how we ended up — me, personally — I think that's how we lost the game. We didn't take advantage of our opportunities."
Bill Huber is the Lead Analyst for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.
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