Frazier gives the second-guessers plenty to Ponder
Even when they don’t make a change at quarterback, the Vikings manage to surprise everyone during this season-long struggle to find consistent quarterback play.
Even coach Leslie Frazier knew Wednesday’s announcement would shock reporters who were expecting a lost 2-8 season would be turned over to Josh Freeman when the Vikings travel to Green Bay for Sunday’s NFC North matchup with the 5-5 Packers.
So first, Frazier announced that Christian Ponder would keep the starting job despite three more turnovers, a 1-6 record and a fourth-quarter benching — his second benching of the season — at Seattle on Sunday.
Then he pre-empted everyone’s first question why asking it himself.
“I’m sure the follow-up questions will be, ‘Why?’” Frazier said.
Frazier went on to answer it with typical coach-speak that didn’t exactly fill in all the holes.
“Like every decision, you try to make a decision based on who you think gives you the best chance to succeed,” Frazier said. “In our case, we think that’s Christian at this point.”
Obviously, that doesn’t say much about Freeman. So Frazier was asked Freeman has met his expectations since general manager Rick Spielman signed the former Buccaneers first-round draft pick on Oct. 6?
“He has,” Frazier said. “In some ways, based on the information that we received, he’s exceeded those. He’s been all in, he’s been a professional in everything we’ve asked him to do.
“I like the way he handles himself in the pocket, in the meetings in the locker room. Much better than some things that we had heard.”
So then why not actually play him in a game now that he’s had six weeks to learn the offense?
Seems fair since Frazier started Freeman against the Giants on Oct. 21 after only four practices with the first team. That game, of course, was a debacle, a 23-7 loss in which Freeman completed only 20-of-53 passes.
Freeman also cost the Vikings $2 million for 12 games and is not under contract beyond this season. Frazier was asked if not playing Freeman at this point means he doesn’t believe that signing him was the right move.
“I do,” Frazier said. “When you look at where we were at the time and what we were trying to accomplish and what we were facing, to not take advantage of that opportunity to bring him in and be able to be around him, take a look at him, see if he could help our club.
“I think we’d be kicking ourselves just wondering. We still have other games to play. There still may be other opportunities for him. No regrets about bringing him in.”
Freeman certainly doesn’t appear to be upset in the least about not playing or being inactive in four of six games.
“I’m just working,” Freeman said. “It’s been great. I’ve just been focusing on football. I’ve had a chance to really (focus). There are no distractions, no anything.
“You just get to sit and focus. I get my beats bumping in the QB room, just sitting there and jamming and watch tape and take notes. It’s great.”
It’s also been a very odd season that’s seen Frazier have to make a quarterback decision before seven of his team’s 11 games. Three of those have been injury-related.
In the others, he’s gone from Ponder to Matt Cassel, Cassel to Freeman, Freeman to Ponder and, now, Ponder to, well, Ponder.
SERIES HISTORY: 105th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 55-48-1. Packers are 29-22-1 in Wisconsin, including a three-game regular-season winning streak at Lambeau Field. The teams also have met twice in the postseason, both times as wild-card opponents at Green Bay. The Vikings won, 31-17, during the 2004 season, while the Packers won, 24-10, last season.
n From Day 1, Vikings WR Greg Childs has insisted that he’s going to be the first NFL player to return successfully from tearing the patellar tendons in both knees. He’s still got a long way to go, but 15 months after he blew out both of them during a training camp practice as a rookie, Childs returned to practice on Wednesday. The Vikings have 21 days from Monday to activate him from PUP, release him or place him on injured reserve.
“As soon as I came into the door today, (teammates) were like, ‘You practicing today?’” Childs said.
They were surprised. Childs isn’t.
“I’m just not built to where I’m just going to fall into what everybody else thinks,” Childs said. “‘Oh, he got hurt. This type of injury he had, there’s no way he can come back. His career has to be done with.’ But since I was smaller, my dad always instilled in me, ‘If you want it, go get it. Don’t let anybody else deter you.’”
n It sure doesn’t sound like the Packers are concerned about Wednesday’s news that Christian Ponder will continue on as starting quarterback for at least one more week. At least not as it pertains to Ponder’s passing ability.
“Well, obviously he can make plays with his feet,” LB Clay Matthews of the Packers told Twin Cities reporters during a conference call on Wednesday. “I think that’s what we worry first and foremost about him. When the pocket collapses or when he doesn’t find his read, he’s going to take off.
“He’s been able to get some yards against other teams. He’s obviously very athletic and that’s going to be our No. 1 priority is trying to keep him in the pocket and force him to beat us with his arm.”
BY THE NUMBERS: 109 — Yards that rookie KR Cordarrelle Patterson returned the opening kickoff for in the first meeting against Green Bay in Week 8 at the Metrodome. The return set the NFL record and gave Patterson his second touchdown of 105 yards or more, which tied another NFL record.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s not my job to make sense of the situation.” — Vikings QB Josh Freeman, when asked after the 21-point loss at Seattle how he makes sense of how the Vikings are handling a messy quarterback situation that seen them switch starters because of performance three times in nine games.
Strategy and personnel
n RB Adrian Peterson is set to appear in his 100th career game. Peterson is tied for second in the NFL with three 100-yard games this season. He has 40 in his career. He’s averaging 115.5 in 13 games versus the Packers. That’s the most by any Packers opponent.
n DE Brian Robison has three sacks in the last three games. He was the only Viking to get to QB Russell Wilson in Seattle last week. He has four sacks this season, one behind team leader Jared Allen.
n WR Jarius Wright had his first multi-touchdown game and first touchdown on the road when he caught two scoring passes at Seattle last week. With WR Greg Jennings still nursing an Achilles injury, Wright could get extended playing time again this week.
n TE John Carlson has accounted for 167 receiving yards the last two games. He’s had back-to-back games with at least 50 yards. He’s done it three straight only one time in his career, when he was with Seattle.
n C Joe Berger, the Vikings’ backup at all three interior line positions, started for injured LG Charlie Johnson against Washington on Nov. 7. He might have to start Sunday for C John Sullivan. If he plays well, he could be in the mix as a starter at left guard, since Johnson hasn’t played particularly well this year.
n RB Adrian Peterson (groin) played at less than 100 percent on Sunday. He had 21 carries for 65 yards (3.1) and lacked his usual burst and decisiveness. He didn’t practice on Wednesday, but rarely does this late in the season. Coach Leslie Frazier said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that Peterson will play on Sunday.
n TE Kyle Rudolph (broken left foot) will be out another two-to-four weeks. The No. 1 tight end job has fallen to John Carlson, who has caught 12 passes in the two games Rudolph has missed.
n NT Letroy Guion (chest) missed his second straight game but returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday. He was replaced in the starting lineup Sunday by Fred Evans, who missed the previous two games because of a knee injury. Also seeing time at nose again was Kevin Williams.
n WR Greg Jennings (Achilles) missed Sunday’s game despite being listed as probable on the injury report. He also missed practice on Wednesday.
n CB Josh Robinson, the second-year pro who has struggled in trying to replace the departed Antoine Winfield, probably will miss the rest of the season because of a fracture in his sternum. He suffered the injury on Sunday. It’s a four-to-six-week injury. Robinson has gotten better of late, but still has a long way to go. Rookie first-round draft pick Xavier Rhodes will replace him at left corner. PR Marcus Sherels becomes the nickel back.
n C John Sullivan sustained a concussion in Sunday’s game and had not passed the league-mandated concussion protocol in time to practice on Wednesday. He’ll have to pass it before he can practice Thursday.
Not having to face QB Aaron Rodgers levels the playing field for every one of Green Bay’s opponents, but particularly the Vikings. Rodgers has toyed with Minnesota’s conservative 4-3 zone-based scheme for years. In 12 meetings, he has 27 touchdown passes and four interceptions. In the Week 8 game, he completed 24- of-29 passes, and at least three of the passes were throwaways or drops. His 130.6 passer rating even surpassed his 116.4 career mark against the Vikings. A career mark that’s the best by an NFL player against one opponent since 1970. So the Vikings’ run-oriented attack built around Adrian Peterson has a chance to go on the road and not have an elite quarterback throw circles around it. Stopping the run on first and second down will be key for a Vikings defense that played surprisingly well against RB Marshawn Lynch overall a week ago at Seattle. If the Vikings can stop Eddie Lacy, who had 94 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting, they should be able to put pressure on QB Scott Tolzien, who will be making his third NFL start. That would keep the score down and allow RB Adrian Peterson, if his troublesome groin injury isn’t a problem, to lead the way offensively. It also would allow QB Christian Ponder a chance to get comfortable at a place where he’s struggled.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
n Vikings KR Cordarrelle Patterson vs. Packers P-KO specialist Tim Masthay: In the first meeting in Week 8, Masthay boomed the opening kickoff 74 1/2 yards to the back of the end zone to start the nationally-televised Sunday night game. Patterson, as usual, never flinched. He has the green light and he always takes it. The result was an NFL-record 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. It took the Packers some time to get out of that hole. And if it were to happen this time, they won’t have QB Aaron Rodgers to bail them out. Scott Tolzien, 0-2 as a starter, would have to do it this time. Patterson leads the NFL in kick return average at 34.4. He also had a 105-yard return for a touchdown at Chicago in Week 2. That was tied with Percy Harvin’s franchise record until the Packers game. Patterson’s 962 yards on kickoff returns is a franchise-best through 10 games, topping the 924 that Percy Harvin posted as a rookie in 2009.
n Vikings Ss Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo vs. Packers QB Scott Tolzien: Tolzien has passed for 619 yards while completing 65.8 percent of his passes in two-plus games since replacing injured Aaron Rodgers. But he’s also thrown five interceptions and only one touchdown pass. Rodgers has been a man among boys when playing against the Vikings over the years. His passer rating against them is the highest by one player against another team since 1970. Minnesota’s secondary lacks a playmaker, with FS Harrison Smith still out because of turf toe. No other starter back there has an interception. In fact, the only defensive back other than Smith with an interception this season is backup CB A.J. Jefferson, who intercepted a pass by Tony Romo in the eighth game of the season. The Vikings will be without starting CB Josh Robinson (fractured sternum), meaning every starter in the secondary will have missed at least one game. Robinson will be replaced by rookie first-round pick Xavier Rhodes. PR Marcus Sherels will take Robinson’s role as slot corner in the nickel defense.