Matt Cassel (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)
All three of the Vikings quarterbacks rotated during individual drills, but the Vikings appear to going with Matt Cassel as their starter this week, and the Panthers expect that.
When Josh Freeman is ready with the playbook, he is expected to be the Vikings’ starting quarterback. For now, however, the signs point to Matt Cassel being the Vikings’ starting quarterback Sunday when they face the Carolina Panthers.
Cassel was first in the quarterback rotation during all of the individual drills at Wednesday’s practice, with Christian Ponder second and the newly acquired Freeman third.
When Christian Ponder’s fractured rib is deemed healed by the medical and coaching staff, he could figure back into that equation, depending on Cassel’s effectiveness this week and Freeman’s readiness in the coming weeks.
But Cassel’s performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers before the Vikings’ bye week likely earned him the right to start until either he falters or Freeman is ready.
“The No. 1 thing I think we did well as a group is we took care of the football. Anytime you have zero turnovers, it gives yourself a chance to win,” Cassel said. “We did a great job and (offensive coordinator Bill) Musgrave called a great game of mixing and matching the run; play-action passing alleviated some of the pressure. I think a lot of it was just managing the football game, making sure I controlled the huddle of getting in and out of the huddle. I think that we had maybe one penalty the entire game. Collectively as a group we did a good job and it resulted in a victory.”
Cassel started slowly against Pittsburgh, completing just 6 of 15 passes in the first half, but that included a 7-yard strike to Greg Jennings that he took 70 yards for a touchdown. In the second half, Cassel completed all 10 of his passes and finished the game 16 of 25 for 248 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating for 123.4, higher than any single-game rating Ponder had produced for the Vikings in his previous 29 starts.
Cassel became just the second Vikings quarterback since 1991 to complete all of his second-half passes (with a minimum of 10) – Daunte Culpepper was the other in 2004.
“The offensive line did a great job throughout the day of giving me protection and sometimes you go on that little run where you’ll hit 10 in a row, and there’s other times where you’ll miss a few passes. It’s just about consistency, seeing the field and going to the right targets,” Cassel said.
Ponder was throwing in Wednesday’s practice and didn’t appear to have any discomfort with his fractured rib. But the injury is at least part of the reason Frazier wasn’t willing to make any pronouncements about the team’s starter for Sunday.
“(We’re) not at a point, without watching the guys practice, where we can make a determination about who our starter is going to be. We’ll monitor that throughout the week and take a look at where the guys are,” Frazier said before Wednesday’s practice, but seemed to acknowledge that there could be a competitive advantage to not naming a starter yet.
“I don’t know if it’s, from our standpoint, a necessity to say on Wednesday which direction we’re going to go. There’s no urgency in getting that done.”
The Carolina Panthers, however, were doing the obvious: preparing for Cassel.
“We most certainly are. We looked at what he did against Pittsburgh and he did some really good things,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “I think as you look at their offense right now with Christian Ponder having the rib injury, for all the different things they do – the play-action, the boot-action, the quarterback being exposed – I’m not sure if you’d want to expose him to further injury so I think that’s why they would want to go with Matt. I know they have Josh Freeman, a guy that we got to see out here a couple times a year and I think Josh is a solid quarterback. He’s had some success against us.”
Frazier expects to have safety Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) and cornerback Chris Cook (groin) back in the lineup Sunday after they both missed the Pittsburgh game with injury.
Despite Josh Robinson’s struggles, Frazier said he will remain the starting left cornerback while Xavier Rhodes comes when the Vikings need five defensive backs.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of 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.