Matt Cassel (Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY)
The Vikings have operated more efficiently this season with Matt Cassel at quarterback, making his future brighter. The numbers show the difference he has made in the passing game.
Matt Cassel made himself a lot of money Sunday.
Just as Toby Gerhart brightened his light on the free agent radar of scouting staffs from other teams over the past month, Cassel’s performance against Eagles Sunday put him in the driver’s seat.
If the “gives us the best chance to win” mantra maintains, the numbers speak for themselves. When Cassel topped 300 yards Sunday, the analytical minds immediately logged on to ask the question, “When was the last time the Vikings had a 300-yard passing game?”
It had been since Oct. 14, 2012 – two Thanksgivings had come and gone – since Christian Ponder threw for 300 yards. As happens with the analytical, it begs the question of a basis for a QB comparison.
The control group is Ponder. From the time he took the field in relief of Donovan McNabb, a player who may have kicked out the legs of the Tripod of Authority and given Rick Spielman roster autonomy, Ponder was “his guy.” From that moment, a career premier at Chicago, every game Ponder has played has been as a starter. The final 10 games of his rookie season. All 16 last year. The nine games he has played this season.
For his career, Ponder has played in 35 games. He has started the last 34 of them. That is enough of a body of work to make an assessment. Seeing as Josh Freeman’s singular in-game assessment and dozens of practice performances have apparently taken him out of the equation, the comparisons of Cassel’s minimal body of work (five games, four starts) is all there is to work with.
Here’s what the stat geeks came up with:
In the five games Cassel has played, four starts and one relief stint, he has never thrown for less than 241 yards. In an offense that is based around Adrian Peterson, if there are eight or nine players in the box, there are others that are single-covered, which should be conducive to big plays in the passing game.
How many times in his 34 starts has Ponder thrown for 241 yards or more? Six times. How many times has he thrown for less than 200 yards? Twenty times. For the purpose of comparison, how many times has he thrown for 150 yards or less in his 34 career starts? Thirteen times, an average of almost two of every five games.
Cassel has one or more touchdown passes in all five of his games played. That’s more than in a mop-up role. Ponder has no touchdown passes in 11 of his 34 starts – essentially once in every three games.
Last year, when the Vikings looked to replace the dynamic nature of Percy Harvin, they signed Greg Jennings to a lucrative contract. He was a significant franchise investment. How does the comparison work there?
Working with Cassel has also provided a boost to Greg Jennings’ production. Extrapolating his receiving numbers with Cassel and with Ponder or Freeman, it’s clear which has provided the most to him. In the eight games he played without Cassel, Jennings’ season receiving numbers would be 54-686-0. Using the five games he has played with Cassel, his full-season numbers would be 102-1,248-13.
Where the rub for the Vikings comes is that the option on the second year of Cassel’s contract is in his hands. If he wants to opt out, he can. His value on the open market will likely be solid. All you need is two teams to create a bidding war and there are plenty of teams that would consider Cassel as a better Plan B than what they currently have in place.
With the Vikings, especially if they invest their first-round pick in a quarterback, Cassel could be the presumptive starter until it is deemed the youngster is ready.
He’s done nothing to disprove the notion that he was a solid free agent signing. The only question should be why the Vikings gave Cassel’s agent the ability to opt out of the option year.
As the countdown to the final game at the Metrodome nears, Viking Update will present a series of stories on those who were integral parts of the history of the franchise during the Metrodome years. Sunday, the team honored its All-Metrodome team. We will have some of their stories and memories of the building and the era as we count down the days when they vacate the dome for the future.
Thanks to Sunday’s win, the Vikings’ projected first-round pick went from No. 4 to No. 8. If not for Dallas’ epic collapse, the Eagles could have been the third recent victim that, if they don’t make the playoffs, can point to not beating the Vikings.
The Vikings may be looking to work out long snappers this week. Following Sunday’s game, long snapper Cullen Loeffler’s injured hand looked like “a hot mess.” It was swollen and the middle three knuckles weren’t visible. Typically, with injuries like that, the day after is the biggest issue. Seeing as two good hands are critical to a long snapper’s livelihood, if Monday brings issues, the Vikings likely won’t press Jared Allen into full-time emergency snapping duties.
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.