Matchup to watch: Veteran signal-callers

The young running backs are the future of both offenses, but right now the Vikings and Titans need their veteran quarterbacks to come through and lead their teams.

Gus Frerotte vs. Kerry Collins

The NFL season is less than a month old, but both the Vikings and Tennessee Titans have undergone significant changes since the season began. Both teams had young third-year quarterbacks in Tarvaris Jackson and Vince Young that were supposed to be the future of their respective offenses. But, as the teams prepare for their fourth game of the 2008 season, their quarterbacks are Gus Frerotte and Kerry Collins – this week's Matchup to Watch.

The similarities between Collins and Frerotte are numerous. Both made their names elsewhere as starters – Frerotte with the Redskins and the Dolphins, and Collins with the Panthers and Raiders. It seemed like their days as starters were all but over. Frerotte was brought in as a veteran backup to replace the likes of Brad Johnson and Kelly Holcomb, both of whom had been Jackson mentors in his first two seasons. Collins was brought to Tennessee as a veteran backup for Young following Billy Volek's departure from that role. They were expected to give experience in the event of an injury or ineffectiveness from the starters, but both have exceeded those expectations already.

Collins was the first to get the call. With the home fans booing Young loudly for his ineffective play in the season opener, word out of Tennessee was that Young initially refused to go back out on the field to continue the game. He was convinced to go back out and, when he did, he suffered a knee injury that will sideline him for about a month. Collins came on and rallied the Titans to a win over Jacksonville. He followed that up with wins over Cincinnati and Houston. On the other side of the coin, Jackson was also booed loudly and often by the home fans in the Vikings' come-from-ahead loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2 to drop the Vikings to 0-2, despite being outscored by a total of just eight points. Head coach Brad Childress, who had expressed confidence in Jackson almost to a fault, made the decision to bench Jackson and make Frerotte the starter for the rest of the season. He responded last week with a solid performance against Carolina in a 20-10 win.

In Sunday's game, neither Collins nor Frerotte is initially going to be asked to carry the offense. The plan will be to let both running games do the heavy lifting and the passing game to complement the running game. However, the Vikings have the third-rated run defense in the NFL and the Titans have the third-rated overall defense, so running the ball isn't going to be as productive as it has against some of their previous opponents. Both Frerotte and Collins will likely be forced to make key conversions through the air on third downs to keep drives going. In a game where each team is likely to score 20 points or fewer, every score will be critical and the quarterback that can produce a couple of touchdowns is likely going to be the one the leaves the field as the winner.

Between the two of them, they have 27 years of NFL experience – 14 for Frerotte and 13 for Collins. There isn't much that they haven't seen by now and they are fully aware of what is expected of them – don't make mistakes and don't do anything that will jeopardize the team. The one that does the best job of that – converting on third down and eliminating turnovers – will be the veteran QB that walks away with his winning streak as a starter still intact. For both of them, success in the early part of the season could help extend their careers beyond 2008, so it is vital that each of them displays the kind of veteran leadership their organizations were hoping for when they were brought in.

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