Vikings’ Cassel disappointed he’s not starting
Matt Cassel is the only Minnesota Vikings quarterback to win a game this season. He also was the only Vikings quarterback who was told this week that wasn’t being considered as the quarterback who gave the Vikings (1-6) the best chance to beat the Cowboys (4-4) in Dallas on Sunday.
The 31-year-old backup clearly isn’t happy, but he’s not rocking the boat. Or at least any more than it’s already being rocked by the fact the Vikings have started three different quarterbacks in each of the past three games.
“Unfortunately, I don’t make the decisions,” Cassel said. “Coach (Leslie) Frazier and whoever is making the decisions have decided to go this direction. As a player, you might not always agree with it, but you accept it and move forward and continue to work hard. You have a choice. Any time adversity comes our way as players, we can feel sorry for ourselves and become a distraction. Or you can continue to work, be professional and do what you’re paid to do. That’s my choice.”
Cassel, 1-1 as a starter this year, will be the No. 3 quarterback. Coach Leslie Frazier wouldn’t announce his choice of a starter on Wednesday, but it became clear throughout the day that Christian Ponder (0-4) will get his second consecutive start even though he still looked skittish in the pocket, didn’t see the field and couldn’t pull the trigger on several passes in Sunday’s loss to the Packers.
Josh Freeman, who didn’t play last week because of a concussion suffered in his Vikings debut the week before, needs more time to learn the offense. Against the Giants two weeks ago, Freeman was horrendously inaccurate during a 20-for-53 performance in a 23-7 loss to the Giants at MetLife Stadium on Monday Night Football.
Frazier told the players who would start at quarterback. As for not saying anything publicly, Frazier said he’s not sure that will help against the Cowboys or not since most teams focus on running back Adrian Peterson anyway.
“But,” said Frazier, “it’s not necessary that I have to divulge anything on Wednesday.”
On Monday, Frazier said he wasn’t discounting what Cassel did while helping the Vikings beat the Steelers 34-27 in London in Week 4. In that game, Cassel completed 16 of 25 passes (64 percent) for 248 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers and a 123.4 passer rating. Cassel then posted a 74.1 passer rating with two interceptions in a 35-10 loss to the Panthers coming out of a bye week. He was benched after that in favor of Freeman, the former Buccaneer who was signed on Oct. 6.
In four games this year, Ponder is completing 60.3 percent of his passes (73 of 121) for 836 yards, two touchdowns, five interceptions and a 69.5 passer rating. In two games, Cassel is completing 69.6 percent for 489 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions and a 92.0 passer rating. And in one game, Freeman completed 37.7 percent (20 of 53) for 190 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and a 69.6 passer rating.
Last week, Ponder completed 14 of 21 passes for 145 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions and an 86.4 passer rating. The Vikings lost 44-31 while converting just 2 of 8 third downs as the Packers converted 13 of 18.
Ponder didn’t give away Frazier’s secret, but did agree that it’s time the Vikings stick with one quarterback.
“I’m selfish in that fact,” he said. “I want to be the guy who is consistently out there. But I think guys are handling it pretty well.”
It certainly appears that age and the future of the quarterback position are the team’s main concerns at this point. Ponder and Freeman are 25, while Cassel is 31. Frazier denied the team was looking beyond whoever gives them the best chance to snap a three-game losing streak on Sunday.
“I’m not going to get into specifics about what (Frazier and he) talked about, but obviously we both had our opinions on it,” Cassel said. “But at the end of the day, he’s the head coach. He makes the decisions.”
SERIES HISTORY: 22nd regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 11-10. The teams also have met seven times in the postseason, with the Cowboys winning four times. The Vikings have won the past two postseason meetings, the last of which was a 34-3 beatdown in a divisional game at the Metrodome during the 2009 season. The Vikings also beat the Cowboys 27-10 in the 1973 NFC Championship Game.
n The Vikings made news Tuesday by not making news. The trade deadline came and passed without Jared Allen being traded.
The trade was unlikely to begin with. Allen is 31 and in the final year of a contract that pays him $14 million. Any team trading for him would have had to pay a little more than half that total and give the Vikings more than the third-round pick they’re likely to get if Allen leaves via free agency after the season.
Allen said he’d like to finish his career with the Vikings, but that appears unlikely.
“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say I didn’t (watch the trade rumors) to see what was going on,” Allen said. “But all’s good. As I said in the statement I released through (Jay) Glazer, I understand this business. I truly do. There’s no hard feelings.
“Obviously, I’ve talked with (general manager) Rick (Spielman) and (vice president of football operations) Rob (Brzezinski) and we’re all on the same page. I understand where we’re at in the season. As a matter of fact, I take it as a sign of respect that they still think I have value.
“But I’m excited to be a Viking. I really am. I’m excited to try to right this ship, and I’m all in. I understand where we’re going - and again, I don’t even know how serious it was. They never called me. I was never like borderline getting ready to go anywhere. The hoopla. I just went about my day as normal and again, my focus is the Cowboys. I was watching film (Tuesday).”
n Allen was asked if there’s a line that temperamental players shouldn’t cross when they blow their stacks on the sideline during games (did someone say Dez Bryant?).
“The line is depending on how far your coaches are willing to let you go,” Allen said. “I think when they released the audio (on Bryant’s blow up), all of a sudden everybody’s got a different report. That’s why sometimes, no offense to our media guys, but things get blown up way more than they need to be.
“It’s a passionate game. It’s a violent game. Guys want to win. And sometimes guys need to vent and they need to express things. Heck, me and Frazier have been nose-to-nose on the sideline pointing each other in the chest, it doesn’t mean I disrespect him. It doesn’t mean I don’t love him. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to call him a name.
“I was pissed off at a situation, I’m venting my frustration about what I think needs to be done to win that game and 99 percent of the time it’s never about the individual. It’s usually about a situation. You heard the audio from Dez, it was ‘We need to do this. We need to do that.’ And everybody’s opinion changed. Now if other players have to break you up, I guess that can be a distraction. I don’t know. It happens. I’ve seen guys dang near try to choke each other on the sideline and it never gets caught on tape. It’s a passionate game, and honestly, not that I like seeing it all the time, but when you see that kind of heat and that energy, you know that person’s invested. That’s better than the guy that’s just moping on the sideline by himself with his helmet off. When you see that kind of energy, man, so the line is wherever the coach will let him take it too without fisticuffs.”
BY THE NUMBERS: 24 — Consecutive games in which the Vikings have started the same five offensive linemen in the same five positions. Unfortunately for the Vikings, they’re 11-13 in those games and the offensive line has actually regressed since last season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “I hope it makes a difference. I don’t know if it will. Everybody comes in saying we’ve got to stop No. 28 (Adrian Peterson), so it doesn’t always make a difference. But it’s not necessary to have to divulge anything on Wednesday.” - Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, when asked if his decision not to announce his starting quarterback will help in any way when it comes to Sunday’s game at Dallas.
Strategy and personnel
n RB Adrian Peterson ranks second among active players with 87 touchdowns. Only Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (106) has more.
n KR Cordarrelle Patterson needed only seven games in the NFL to tie the career record for most touchdowns of 105 yards or longer (two). His NFL-record 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on Sunday was the Vikings’ third special teams touchdown of the season.
n DE Jared Allen, now in his 10th season, has moved into second place in NFL history for most sacks in his first 10 seasons. With 120.5 sacks, he’s moved past Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas (119) and trails only Hall of Famer Reggie White (137).
n RB Adrian Peterson has only 150 yards rushing total in his past three games. He topped that total in seven of his final 10 games a year ago.
n CB Xavier Rhodes is by far the team’s most promising young defensive back behind FS Harrison Smith. Rhodes, a rookie first-round draft pick, had a career-high eight tackles and his first tackle for loss in last week’s loss to the Packers.
n CB Chris Cook (hip) strained a muscle in his hip on Sunday and didn’t practice on Wednesday. He’s looking doubtful for Sunday. If he can’t play, A.J. Jefferson would replace him. Jefferson has regressed during an injury-marred season after showing some promise a year ago.
n SS Jamarca Sanford (groin) left Sunday’s game early on and didn’t practice on Wednesday. He, too, looks doubtful for the game. He’d be replaced by Mistral Raymond, whose stock has fallen significantly since he was battling for the starting job early last season.
n TE Rhett Ellison (ankle) didn’t play Sunday and didn’t practice on Wednesday. He’s day-to-day. His value has been on special teams since FB Jerome Felton returned from his suspension.
n RB Matt Asiata (shoulder) didn’t play Sunday and didn’t practice on Wednesday. Asiata also didn’t practice because he was in Utah, where his father was killed in a car accident on Monday.
n NT Fred Evans (knee) didn’t practice on Wednesday. He’s day-to-day. Evans has improved over the years as a backup who sees consistent playing time in the Vikings’ defensive line rotation.
n WR Greg Jennings (knee) didn’t practice Wednesday. He caught only one ball for nine yards in his first game against his former team, the Packers, last week. He’s day-to-day, but is expected to play.
GAME PLAN: Unfortunately for the Vikings, they don’t have the quarterback capable of becoming the fifth to throw for 400 yards against the Cowboys. No, the Vikings will have to do this the old-fashioned way. Via the ground. A running game that’s still stuck in a rut - Adrian Peterson has only 150 yards on 33 carries the past three weeks - must outmuscle the Cowboys’ 17th-ranked run defense for the Vikings to have any chance of winning on the road against a high-powered team that ranks fourth in scoring. If the Vikings are able to control the game with their running attack - a huge if that used to be routine during Peterson’s MVP run a year ago - it also will help a defense that’s worn out and could be missing three starters in the secondary.
It’s also a defense that ranks last in third-down conversions, having allowed teams to convert 51 percent of the time. A week ago, the Vikings possessed the ball for just 19 minutes, 6 seconds. They had only three snaps in the third quarter. If something similar happens on Sunday, the Cowboys will score as many or more points (44) than the Packers did last Sunday night.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Vikings QB Christian Ponder vs. Cowboys MLB Sean Lee — All signs point to Ponder getting his second consecutive start after replacing the injured Josh Freeman (concussion) in last week’s loss to the Packers. Ponder still looked skittish in the pocket, afraid to release the ball and unable to see the entire field. Lee, meanwhile, not only leads the Cowboys in tackles with 99 (38 more than the next highest total), he also is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with four. Lee, who has two interception returns for touchdowns this season including one in last week’s loss to Detroit, is instinctive and in a groove.
Vikings CBs A.J. Jefferson and Josh Robinson vs. Cowboys WR Dez Bryant — With starting right CB Chris Cook (groin) expected to miss a game for the 28th time in just four seasons, the job of covering Bryant could fall to Jefferson, a backup who has regressed during an injury-marred season. Jefferson’s only memorable snap this year came when Cleveland’s Josh Gordon torched him for a deep touchdown in the Browns’ Week 3 upset win at the Metrodome. Jefferson, who had just entered the game to replace an injured Cook, literally sprained an ankle on Gordon’s double move and had to leave the game. Bryant’s physical skills are far and beyond what the Vikings’ banged-up secondary can handle. The Vikings could be without three of their starters in the secondary. Besides Cook, FS Harrison Smith (turf toe) is on injured reserve and SS Jamarca Sanford (groin) was hurt last week. And the only starter who definitely will play is Robinson, who has had a nightmarish beginning to his first year as a starter. He’s struggled most in the slot corner spot when the Vikings go to their nickel. Look for the Cowboys to make sure Bryant gets some reps across from Robinson. And even if Cook is able to play, he, too, hasn’t performed well this season.