So it is with some trepidation that I write this article. But as I was watching the Vikings-Bills game I saw what was happening at quarterback after Favre went down. Shortly after the pick six, Jackson marched the team down the field for the tying touchdown and I could almost hear what many people were saying…… “Bench Favre and keep T-Jax in” or “Hey, we scored 38 points and that’s more then Favre has put up this season !” and the ever popular “The seasons over, lets see what Jackson can do !”
OK, I know Jackson had his moments. He led the team like a veteran, he came back strong after the first interception, and he ran the ball well. He showed poise, he showed leadership. I know the arm strength is there.
But after 5 years in the NFL, the Viking KNOW what they have in Tarvaris Jackson……..and he’s NOT THE ANSWER !
Let’s start with what Jackson gives this team. Well, he’s definitely got an NFL arm. He throws the deep ball very well and with just a flick of the wrist, the ball explodes out of his hand. He can make all the long throws with good accuracy.
He’s also very smart and he can run very well because he is an excellent athlete.
While watching his yesterday, I was impressed with his growth in the area of pocket presence. He does a really nice job of setting up, and feeling the pressure around him. He steps up in the pocket when pressured to buy that extra second and he hangs in against the blitz like Captain Kirk on the bridge of the Enterprise when Kling-ons surround the ship and all seems lost. In other words, he doesn’t panic. This is a huge improvement over the younger and more jelly-fish like T. Jackson of years gone by.
He shows solid poise and leadership, and when he displays good mechanics, he is fairly accurate.
Enter the BUT Monkey:
BUT…….(and like J-Lo, this is a BIG but)….. this is my point. He has to constantly remind himself to keep his shoulders square, step forward into his passes, not throw off his back foot, etc. It’s just not natural to him, and when he loses his form, that is when his passes sail, and he throws the ball too hard without touch and he begins to panic.
During the game yesterday, that happened about six times. Two of those were picked off, and a third interception was simply because he didn’t see the defender until he was in our end zone. ( pick play, without the pick). He HAS to see things like this and not force the ball !
The other two INT’s were directly because of bad mechanics and/or bad decision making. On the second pick, T.J. mistakenly tried to throw into a two deep zone where the safety was just sitting back 40 yards praying he would do just what he did. (Mental Mistake) but not the only error on that particular play. The other miscue was that he attempted this deep throw while leaning backwards off his plant foot ( Mechanics ) thus no strength behind the ball. Simple mathematics: Double coverage + Bad Mechanics = Disaster.
The third INT. was a touch pass where he missed a wide open receiver by throwing behind him ( the ball bounced off the receivers hands as he reached back, was batted into the air and easily picked off). Jacksons misdeed here was that his feet were not set as he threw the ball. He was moving forward, and stepping slightly to the left as his body opened up and he threw the ball against his own momentum with his shoulders anything but square (Mechanics).
The really sad thing is, that Tarvaris Jackson’s issues in throwing short dump off passes and tosses that require touch are problematic for a simple, and lamentably unrepairable reason. It is physically difficult for him to compensate for his way too long wingspan, and too large hands. The same thing that makes Shaq such a terrible FT shooter, is what keeps T.J. from being able to throw touch passes. His physical dimensions make things hard for him.
Let me explain. You see, Jackson’s arms are not just long, but they are very long from his elbow to his wrists. When he throws, his natural movement is to wind up well behind his shoulders, and then when his arm comes forward, he literally has to unfold his arm first from his shoulder to elbow, then forward from his elbow to wrist and finally his hands. His motion is a lot like a cross between a sling shot and a catapult. Unlike players like Dan Marino who threw from the shoulder straight out with his power coming directly from his legs through his shoulder ( thus his incredibly fast release). Jackson’s motion needs to be nearly perfect and in complete sync in order to throw the ball correctly.
While most QB’s have a kind of 1.Set 2. Step 3. Follow through. While Jackson’s release is more of a 1. Set 2. Step 3. Wind-up and back 4. Whip-forward 5. Elbow/wrist snap 6. Follow through. When he gets it right, there’s serious power behind it. It is this leverage enhanced arm whip that gives a tall, thin long armed guy like Jackson such incredible arm strength. See: Johnson, Randy.
Such a set-up is a double edged sword. While it provides great power, it also leaves the arm in a position prone to injury. Also, because there are more steps to execute this motion, there are consequently more areas that can go wrong.
Thankfully, T-Jax has learned to shorten his throwing motion. I remain very impressed with the work ethic he has demonstrated toward this goal. On long and intermediate passes, he gets the ball out much quicker then he used to. But it’s not natural to him, and when he get careless, the ball sails. Case in point, when he missed a wide open Bernard Berrian on an out route towards the right sideline. He tried to speed up his release, the ball came out at a premature angle, and it went a good 5-10 yards over his receivers head. ** Simple mechanics**. Much easier to criticize then to consistently execute.
When Tarvaris Jackson keeps his shoulders square, steps into his throw and follows through properly, he is accurate. But if any of these points are off, then watch out! That is the precise reason that Jackson is inconsistent, and I fear he always will be. Which is really rather sad, because few players outwork this guy. He’s been patient, a truly good soldier, good competitor and good teammate. I am sure that his frustrations have been down right infuriating. But physics are physics, and Jackson is what he is. A really, excellent back-up quarterback, but alas……NOT THE ANSWER !