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Why the Vikings quarterback situation is a tough decision to make

To start rookie J.J. McCarthy, or not, that is the question. Michigan’s heroic signal-caller J.J. McCarthy will face an uphill battle to start this season with the Minnesota Vikings.

Head coach Kevin O’Connell, who is also the teams offensive coordinator, is in an extremely tough position with his football team. The Vikings are looking to improve upon their 7-10 record from a year ago, and the playoffs are a must in O’Connell’s third season at the helm.

With the addition of veteran quarterback Sam Darnold, and rookie J.J. McCarthy, the decision on who should start week one will be a training camp PR nightmare for O’Connell and his staff.

While there is a case for both to get the keys to the offense, only one will be rewarded after camp is over this summer. As we discuss the two options in Minnesota, one thing must be taken into consideration – if the coaching staff makes a mistake with this decision, it could set the franchise back several years.

This is one important move that needs to be answered through an extremely diligent process that will involve the entire coaching staff, both offensively and defensively.

O’Connell and his offensive staff will watch practice and the film daily while throwing different challenges to both quarterbacks through situations and scenarios. Each day will be different for McCarthy and Darnold, but one thing that Darnold has over McCarthy is his NFL experience. Entering year seven, and being on three different NFL teams prior to joining the Vikings, Darnold’s experience whether positive or negative is still experience against NFL defenses and football organizations. He has seen the exotic blitz packages, he has been sacked an abundant amount of times, he understands how to prepare and lead an offensive group of athletes, and his negative plays hopefully made him grow and adapt over the years.

McCarthy has a whole lot of strengths as well as he enters his rookie campaign. He is a proven winner at the college level with the Michigan Wolverines. He compiled a 27-1 record, with his only loss being in 2022 against TCU 51-45 in the College Football Playoffs Semifinal Fiesta Bowl. While winning in the college level and securing a Championship is the ultimate goal and McCarthy and his football team accomplished that, it is always worth noting that Darnold’s college win to loss record was also impressive. Darnold and the USC Trojans went 20-4 during his two seasons as the starting quarterback. Just wanted to point this out as McCarthy’s ability to win a Championship and only lose one game is a solid accomplishment, it is not the main reason or any reason why he should be given the starting role to start 2024.

If one compares Darnold and McCarthy’s statistics from college, they are very similar. Darnold finished with 7,229 total yards passing and 57 touchdowns to 22 interceptions, a 153.7 passer rating. McCarthy finished with 6,226 total yards passing and 49 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, a 160.5 passer rating. Both situations were different as Michigan had a running scheme that was explosive.

The running game led by Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards combined to achieve over 1,700 yards (1,742). Corum and Edwards’ ability to catch out of the backfield also assisted McCarthy with easy checkdown throws. Opening up the play-action pass game often led to wide open receivers and tight ends across the middle of the field and McCarthy delivered these easy throws almost always. The offensive scheme of the 2024 Michigan Wolverines truly catered to the strengths of the players they had on their roster.

Why is this Vikings QB Situation a Tough Decision? 

Everyone in life is entitled to their own opinion and here are a few thoughts regarding the quarterback controversary in Minnesota. When Darnold was coming out of the NFL Draft in 2018, I remember watching USC games and just mentioning how I do not think Darnold is going to succeed as a full-time starter in the NFL.

At the time, I really was bothered by his inability to stay consistent versus the pressure and not get rattled so easy. He threw 13 interceptions in 2017 and I just thought that was an extremely high number with only 26 touchdowns being thrown. The interceptions he threw in 2017 were not only on the receivers, but really because of his poor decision making.

One that I remember very distinctly was versus Notre Dame where he threw it into double coverage while the underneath route was wide open… He even stared at the wide open athlete and still threw it into double coverage. The concept was smash, which is a high to low play design.

If the cornerback drops into their coverage, throw the underneath route. In this case, the underneath arrow route was wide open by the H-back and could have earned the team 4-5 yards minimum; however, Darnold tried to force it into double coverage in a tight window and it was intercepted. The inability to take what the defense gives you has plagued Darnold in college and even in his short NFL career. That is the biggest reason why I am very apprehensive to giving him the starting job in Minnesota week one.

On the other side, McCarthy has shown on film that he can be inaccurate at times as well. Being inaccurate and inconsistent can not happen at the highest level in football. The Vikings are going to need to bite the bullet and pick the one quarterback who turned the ball over the least in training camp, even if it is the rookie.

Analyzing training camp turnovers and how well both athletes respond to different scenarios thrown their way will need to occur in order to pick the starter. Not only that, Coach O’Connell must discuss the competition with his defensive staff and how well they think each quarterback is responding to the blitzes and coverages thrown their way. This will give a fresh set of eyes, especially from coaches who are getting after them on a daily basis with the goal of making them better and increasing their internal clock and decision making abilities.

With all of this being said, it is very difficult to pick a starter. The Vikings have a young 23-year-old Championship winning quarterback who is a proven winner and can make plays, they also have a veteran who has struggled in the NFL but has more experience.

If I had to pick a starter and I have not watched any film and have no information on how either quarterback did, I would pick Darnold. The simple fact is that he has experience against NFL defenses and knows how to prepare for games.

To add, he is in O’Connell’s offensive system that caters to quarterbacks. This may be a resurrection of Darnold if the cards are played correctly, or it could be a quick switch to McCarthy if the team begins to fall a part. Either way, I am glad that I am not in the organization and don’t have to make one of the biggest decisions in the franchise’s recent history.


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