Matt Cassel (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY)
Leslie Frazier liked what he saw out of Matt Cassel, but he wasn’t willing to name him the starter after the Vikings’ first win. More time is needed for evaluation, Frazier indicated.
At halftime of the Vikings-Steelers game from London, it didn’t look as though Matt Cassel was really doing anything to stand out and make the most of his opportunity to be the team’s starter. He has completed just 6 of 15 passes – misfiring on eight of his first 12 passes – for 128 yards and a touchdown. Even the TD wasn’t really anything Cassel did to make a big play – he threw a 7-yard settle-in route to Greg Jennings and, after a Steelers defender whiffed on a tackle attempt, it became a 70-yard touchdown.
In short, Cassel wasn’t doing anything to stand out … until the second half.
In the final two quarters, not only did Cassel not do anything to hurt the team in terms of turnovers, he completed all 10 passes he threw (11 including his last pass of the first half) for 120 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s more vocal, so he was out there and saying his two cents in the huddle and guys were buying into it and keeping the huddle together,” Adrian Peterson said. “That’s all you can ask for from any player, especially the quarterback position. He did a good job for us today.”
Now comes the interesting part. Following the game, head coach Leslie Frazier didn’t commit as to whether or not Cassel would remain the starter. Technically, it’s a decision that doesn’t have to be made right away because the Vikings have their bye week starting up after the team returns from England and won’t be back practicing until a week from Monday.
“Just from the naked eye, he did a good job from what I could tell. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to stand up here and not talk about us turning the ball over, so we can be a good football team when we don’t turn the football over. We know that. Matt did a terrific job in that area, made some nice throws,” Frazier said, adding a short time later: “If you’re asking, our quarterback is Christian Ponder. We’ll discuss a lot of things when we come out of the bye – we’ll talk about a lot of things – but we’re going to enjoy this victory for a little while at least.”
But the difference between Cassel and Ponder was significant. The Vikings offense had 10 turnovers in the three games Ponder started, included at least one interception in every game. The Vikings had no turnovers on Sunday.
In three games, Ponder had a passer rating of just 65.9 – better than only Geno Smith, Brandon Weeden and Josh Freeman. In his first start, Cassel had a passer rating of 123.4 – almost double the total of Ponder.
“It’s so soon after the game and for me to assess it, I don’t know what I’d be basing it on other than what I saw with my naked eye,” Frazier said. “I would have to look at the tape, look at our football team, and then come back and evaluate where we are, what we need to do to come out of the bye a better football team.”
Cassel averaged an impressive 9.9 yards per pass attempt, including completions of 70, 51 and 24 yards. Ponder’s average was a full three yards less (6.9 yards) in the first three games.
But the biggest statistic that matters for the Vikings at this point is that they are 0-3 with Ponder as the starter and 1-0 with Cassel. For a team whose season was on the line Sunday – you don’t make the playoffs in the NFC this year starting with a 0-4 record – Cassel delivered the win with a near-perfect second half and opened up a full-blown quarterback controversy.
The fans at the Metrodome made their feelings known loudly last week that they don’t want Ponder as the starter. Cassel made his case today that he can get the job done. Frazier’s word may be a week away, but, considering the Vikings are playing at home, there could be a near-mutiny among fans if Cassel doesn’t keep the starting job.
There’s a longstanding mantra that starters don’t lose their jobs due to injury. That’s not true and Cassel may end up being the latest example of that.
“It’s going to be tough for them. It’s a good thing we have the bye week coming, let those guys sit back,” Peterson said. “I’m going to do my job. Ownership and our head coaches (can) square things out and we’ll see how things roll when we come back after the bye week.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.