Powers: Vikings' Cassel with drama-free game

By Tom Powers St. Paul Pioneer Press A full 60 minutes into the season and no one is taking the quarterback's name in vain. They shouldn't be, anyway. And there is no ugly postmortem, either, despite opening in a hostile environment. The two like...

Matt Cassel
Sep 7, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel (16) looks to pass against the St. Louis Rams during the second half at the Edward Jones Dome. The Vikings defeated the Rams 34-6. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

By Tom Powers

St. Paul Pioneer Press

A full 60 minutes into the season and no one is taking the quarterback’s name in vain.
They shouldn’t be, anyway. And there is no ugly postmortem, either, despite opening in a hostile environment. The two likely go hand in hand.
Did you notice Matt Cassel out there against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday? Me neither. Isn’t that great? Not that any starting NFL quarterback isn’t visible. It’s just that Cassel wasn’t “Oh my God what’s he doing?” visible. In the season opener, Cassel did what the Vikings have been trying to get their quarterbacks to do for the past three years: Stay out of his own way.
“I thought he did well,” Mike Zimmer said. “He was efficient with the football. He got us in the right place.”
That was his job against the Rams. It won’t always be his job. There will be times when he’s asked to do more, probably as early as next week against New England. In Game One, however, the Vikings didn’t have to throw the kitchen sink at their opponent. They didn’t even have to throw one faucet or a drain stopper.
Cassel did well, even as most people would have settled for “not awful.” That’s just how folks have come to see the position over the last few years. But this? Well, it’s like a gift.
In the opener, Cassel’s role was to serve as more of a caretaker. He did just that.
“Today was maybe a little bit different than maybe it’s going to be next week,” Zimmer noted. “The way we played on defense, we could be a little bit more conservative offensively today. They’re not all going to be like that. Each week is a different week.”
This was a grinding week, at least for much of the first half. I’d say slogging, but I think teams have to play outdoors to slog. Indoors, they grind. There was nothing fancy going on, although the Vikings did pitch to Cordarrelle Patterson. Mostly they played basic football.
“Yeah, that’s the thing,” center John Sullivan said. “We know the Rams have a great defense. They make it tough on you to score, make things a little chaotic. We just stuck with it.”
They ran a lot, threw a little and put the ball in the hands of a quite a few people. This was the first time the offense deployed Norv Turner’s system in a real game, and everyone seemed to know where to find all the different pulleys and levers. The good news is that many of the plays and formations in that arsenal remain under wraps. The Vikings didn’t need to show very much against St. Louis.
“First and foremost, we knew going in we were going to be challenged with their rush,” Cassel said. “I think that we were trying to slow that rush down during the course of the first half. Obviously, we had our hiccups as an offensive unit. But all in all we made some big plays and took advantage of some situations.”
Those hiccups included a couple of botched snaps, neither of which proved fatal. There were a few penalties, too. Cassel, meanwhile, completed 17 of 25 for 170 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with a lofty 113.8 quarterback rating. The reality is that he was able to manage the offense in an orderly manner because Minnesota’s defense was shutting down the Rams.
The Rams’ (lousy) offense was stifled to the point where the home crowd went from ecstatic to miserable in about an hour, jeering after almost every play.
“We got to that point in this game where the game was under control, we continued to pound the ball and we made some big plays,” Cassel said. “Then the crowd started to calm down, and at that point you feel pretty good about being able to go up (to the line) and everybody can hear the cadence and go from there.”
Cassel hit nine different receivers and was not intercepted. That’s more than acceptable from a position that has been the Vikings’ Achilles.
“You never know in these games,” Cassel said. “Especially Opening Day. You don’t know what to anticipate sometimes. At the same time, any time your defense goes out there and performs the way that they did, holding the opponent to six points, I like our chances.”
Take note, Teddy Bridgewater. That was an under-control performance by a veteran quarterback. You don’t have to build a stone fort when a small mud hut will do. This is Cassel’s best role. He ran the show and at the end of the day people were talking about Patterson, Adrian Peterson, Harrison Smith and NOT him.

The Pioneer Press is in a media partnership with Forum News Service.


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