Joey Harrington vs. Tarvaris Jackson
A year ago at this time, there was little reason to believe that a matchup of starting quarterbacks on the opening day of the 2007 season would feature Tarvaris Jackson and Joey Harrington. Why should there have been? The Atlanta Falcons had a franchise quarterback in Michael Vick and, by their own admission, the Vikings were expecting Jackson to be a three-year project who would be fighting for a starting job in 2008. With two offenses geared around establishing the run, the quarterbacks would be more game managers and there are quite a few good ones. Instead, thanks a strange twist of fate, not only are Harrington and Jackson the starting quarterbacks, they're this week's Matchup to Watch.
Harrington's career has been a disappointment almost from the day he was drafted by the Lions. A player who never earned the confidence of his coaches or teammates, Harrington struggled his entire career with Detroit and, deemed an expensive bust, was shopped around for trade bait and eventually released and signed by the Dolphins last year. After playing his way out of Miami, the hope was that he be Vick's backup and never actually see the field. That all changed with Vick's arrest and conviction on dog-fighting charges and opened the door for Harrington.
Many Vikings fans have fond memories of Harrington. As the quarterback of the division rival Lions, he had an 0-6 record against the Vikings as a starter and was pretty awful in most of those games – throwing seven touchdowns and 14 interceptions in those games. He was one of the main reasons why the Lions lost those six games and the Vikings will look to do the same type of things to rattle him early and get him to throw the ill-advised passes that sadly were his trademark with the Lions.
On the flip side of the coin is Jackson. Thrown into the mix late last season when the Vikings had lost any hope of the playoffs, Jackson did little to cement his position as the 2007 starter other than to have coach Brad Childress claim at the end of the season that they wouldn't go into the free agent market looking for a QB – Jackson was the guy on top of the depth chart. He didn't set the world on fire in the preseason, but, for better or worse, he still has the starting job in his hip pocket.
What makes this matchup so intriguing is that both defenses have game-planned identically – pressure their quarterback and he'll make mistakes and quite possibly the game-changing mistake that tips the tide of the game. New head coach Bobby Petrino has vowed the return of the Falcons' Grits Blitz defense and Jackson said earlier this week that he expects to get blitzed on most passing downs. The Falcons intend to force the issue with pressure and believe they can get mistakes from T-Jack when needed.
The same applies to Harrington. The Falcons had the best rush offense in the league last year and will want to try to establish the run against the Vikings. That didn't happen often last year and, if the Vikings can make the Atlanta offense one-dimensional, all the pressure will fall on Harrington, who has buckled under similar circumstances often in the past.
Both QBs are being told the same thing – manage the game and don't make critical mistakes. The one who makes the fewest mistakes that result in turnovers will more than likely be the team that starts the 2007 season with a 1-0 record – making T-Jack and Harrington the Matchup to Watch this week.
Vikings-Falcons Matchup to Watch
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