Donovan McNabb has 12 games of experience in the playoffs. Tarvaris Jackson has none.
So what exactly does McNabb’s former quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, Brad Childress, say to Jackson now that Childress is Minnesota’s head coach?
“I think the biggest thing is you don't get caught in all the subterfuge and we control how we get ready on Wednesday and Thursday. We've had good practices and that,” Childress said of inexperienced players in the playoffs. “My biggest focus is on what they're doing and what we're going to do against what they're doing on offense, defense and special teams. If they'll do that, they'll have a chance on Sunday. If they don't do that, then they've got no chance on Sunday, but they've done a nice job of that today."
McNabb has been to four NFC Championship games and has an 80.1 passer rating in the playoffs. Jackson will get the first playoff statistics of his career.
Because of the experience factor, many give McNabb the edge. The reality of the final few games of the regular season tells a different story.
In the 3½ games in which Jackson has been back in action after getting benched early in the season, he has passer ratings of 143.8, 135.5, 98.5 and 88.5, completing 57 of 89 passes for 829 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception. In McNabb’s last four games, he has ratings of 92.5, 105.7, 70.0 and 116.2, completing 83 of 132 for 886 yards, five touchdowns and one interception.
McNabb clearly throws the ball more, but Jackson appears to have been more efficient in the last month of football.
Childress said there are enough players with experience on the Vikings to make sure the younger players don’t get out of their element too much.
"There's plenty of veterans in here that have had opportunities,” Childress said when asked about what he tells Jackson as he prepares for his first playoff start. “The approach is you can't be tentative but you need to make sure you are doing the things that got you here. That's that biggest (thing) I've seen is that guys get out of body and do things – they cowboy it, they go off on their own. Whether it's a wide receiver or an offensive lineman or a defensive lineman, you never want to turn back on the film and say, 'What is that?’ I don't know that play or I don't know that technique."
Eagles coach Andy Reid was asked similar questions in Philadelphia this week and said he has enough veterans on his team to help enforce his message for the week.
“Everything is a little bit more intense. You have to focus in. You’re on the road, so you have focus in even a little bit more, make sure that you are sharp in practice,” Reid said. “Obviously, you can’t wait until you get there, and you can’t get caught up in all the hype and all those things that go on during the week. Not quite as many games being played this weekend, so you get a little bit more media attention and you just put all that aside and focus in on what you can control and what you can get better at and that’s the game plan.”
Reid gave Childress some credit for being a good influence on McNabb early in his career.
“I thought Brad was a great influence on Donovan. I thought both of them grew together in this offense,” Reid said. “… Brad was very demanding but was also very fair with Donovan and loved him up when he needed the loving up and was tough on him when he needed a little kick there, which he doesn’t need very often.”
Now, with McNabb 32 years old and in his 10th season in the league, Childress has to know the quarterback’s secrets – where he’s most effective and how he can be rattled. Both sides downplayed that angle, however.
McNabb said there is too much change from year to year for that to be too much of a factor since Childress hasn’t been involved in the Eagles offense since 2005.
“We tend to change, year in and year out. It’s easy to sit and say ‘I know him’ and ‘This is what I taught him’ and ‘This is what he does’, but I’m a little older now,” McNabb said. “I’ve worked with (quarterbacks coach) Pat Shurmur and (offensive coordinator) Marty Mornhinweg now and things have changed. Will it help him? I don’t know, maybe not. (Former Eagles’ defensive backs coach) Leslie Frazier was here as well, their defensive coordinator. It’s not like he doesn’t know anything about me either.”
Reid said that McNabb’s all-around skills should help close any holes that Childress might know about, or thinks he knows about.
“Donovan doesn’t have very many glaring weaknesses where he sits right now in his career. I’m sure Brad has some opinions there that he’ll share with Leslie,” Reid said.
Which brings us to Jackson, the great unknown, at least in playoff situations. Jackson could do a lot for his career with a strong playoff showing. It could have the Vikings thinking about him as their starter for 2009 and beyond.
What Reid knows is that Jackson has the skills for the position.
“Tarvaris has an absolute rifle of an arm, and he’s a very intelligent kid and he loves to play. He just went through what quarterbacks do when they are young,” Reid said. “He went through growing pains and he had a couple of injuries thrown in there. Right now he’s playing as good of football as he’s ever played. He was unbelievable against Arizona late in the year here. I mean unbelievable, and he’s been as hot as they come the last few weeks.”
To listen to McNabb talk about his first playoff experience sounds a lot like what Jackson went through early in the year – trying to do too much too soon.
“You think about so much in your first playoff game. You want to be perfect, you want to lead the team to a victory, and you want to go out and play well. There are a lot of things racing through your mind at that particular time,” McNabb said. “I wouldn’t say that butterflies kick in — maybe for some — but you just think about so much, instead of just focusing on going out and being methodical and just running your offense.
“As the game continues on, you begin to settle down and just play football. He’s going to have a lot racing through his mind. Everybody goes through it, but eventually he’ll settle down and just play football.”