Sunday slant: Caution with Cassel celebration

Vikings fans are excited about Matt Cassel starting, but there is no real indication that he will be the savior. Whether it's just eyeing up his offseason or comparing his statistics last year to Christian Ponder's, or even their numbers under pressure, nothing portends a dramatic improvement in quarterback play.

Old adages can survive time when they have renewed application.

This one seems especially timely for Vikings fans: "Be careful what you wish for."

Fans have ripped Christian Ponder. They've booed him in the Metrodome and in their living rooms. And, now, they will finally have the chance to see what the Vikings can do against another winless team with Ponder's replacement, Matt Cassel, under center.

So, what are the differences between Ponder and Cassel? Many, actually, although that may not matter in the results.

Ponder has been sacked 10 times this year and it may have been more if not for his mobility and ability on the run. Cassel doesn't have that, but he does have better pocket presence. Call it a wash there.

But what about when they get the ball out under pressure? Actually, fans might be surprised to find out that Cassel is actually worse there than Ponder. According to Pro Football Focus, Cassel had an accuracy percentage of 57.1 when under pressure last season and threw five interceptions under pressure. Ponder? He has been at 67.9 percent under pressure this year, sixth-highest in the NFL.

Overall, too, there is no big statistical advantage for Cassel. Sure, he has 62 NFL starts compared to Ponder's 29 starts, but the statistical differences are negligible.

For his career, Ponder has completed 59.2 percent of his passes, averaged 6.3 yards per attempt, has a 33-30 touchdown-to-interceptions ratio and a 75.8 rating.

Cassel has completed 58.9 percent of his passes, averaged 6.6 yards per attempt has an 82-57 TD-to-INT ratio and an 80.4 rating.

To date, Ponder has done nothing to earn the starting job with the Vikings long term. He has been erratic with his accuracy, confounding with some of his decisions – even those that didn't end up biting him – and has even called some of his decisions "terrible." Whether he could have played or not this week, he "earned" his spot on the bench when he had a chance to earn the designation of "franchise quarterback."

Although Ponder said last Sunday that he had "no doubt" he would be the starting quarterback in Week 4, there is plenty of doubt if he will get another chance to lock down the role for the future. In the chances he did get, he didn't do enough … consistently enough.

Cassel and head coach Leslie Frazier both tried to keep the focus on Sunday's game against the Steelers and not the future of the Vikings' quarterback position. But it's hard not to with what appears to be another lost season.

Either way, Cassel might not be the savior fans are anticipating. He didn't look discernibly better than Ponder during the offseason, and behind an offensive line that has been surprisingly inconsistent, Cassel may find the throwing lanes and escape routes as difficult as Ponder.

But what if Cassel bucks the bad performances he had last year with the Kansas City Chiefs – where his passer rating (66.7), touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio (6-12) and yards per attempt closely mirrored Ponder's this year? What if Cassel puts on the appearance of a capable starting quarterback with the supporting cast of the best running back in the league and what this year is an NFL-worthy corps of receivers?

It would mean better viewing for fans, more cheers than boos at the Metrodome, and hanging up a handful of wins … and put the Vikings further away from being in position to really solve their quarterback position long-term with a highly drafted quarterback that deserves to be a high draft pick.

Yep, Matt Cassel may or may not put the Vikings in a better position to win now, but that might not help the franchise for the future.


  • Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger made a trip to London during the summer to promote this game. It will be interesting to see how the fans react.

    "I've heard that during games they are a little soccer crazy – the horns, the thunder sticks, just kind of making noise all the time. Not necessarily situational noise, just noise," Roethlisberger said. "But when I went over there I did some fan forums with some of the Steelers' fans. There is Steelers Nation UK over there, so I got to meet them. They're passionate. They know their stuff. I wouldn't say they're as knowledgeable as everyone over here because they still have a little rugby and soccer on their mind, but they genuinely are passionate for the Steelers and for NFL football over there."

  • What does Adrian Peterson want to see improve? If it's not about turnovers, try red zone execution.

    "Last week, we had an opportunity on the 4-yard line with three minutes left to score a touchdown and really close the game out. We didn't do it," he said. "The weekend before that, same opportunity in Chicago on the 15-, 16-yard line. Didn't do it. Twice. That's two games right there that are turned around if we handle our business as far as executing and being more efficient in the red zone."

  • Leslie Frazier talked to some of his star players about trying to do too much. For the past two weeks, Frazier indicated that Peterson might be trying to make too much of every handoff instead of taking the yards that are presented to him by the defense.

    "We have to understand that we have to trust our teammates to do their jobs. We only need each player to do his job," the head coach said. "If you are Peterson or Jared Allen, (and they think) I've got to take the whole team on my back, that creates other problems for our football team. You try to get that message across. Hopefully guys buy into it and just concentrate on doing the very best they can at their role."

  • What's the balance for the Vikings in letting their player enjoy a trip to London versus being a taskmaster on the week of practice?

    "You don't want to be Scrooge. This is a great place to be, being in London, England. There's so much history here," Frazier said. "I know our players would love to get out and experience London, but at the same time we've got a game to prepare for and we've got to find a way to get that accomplished and yet enjoy our time here."

  • Peterson on his tweet after last Sunday's loss that his daughter said she couldn't believe the Vikings lost to the Cleveland Browns: "She kind of shocked me when she said it. It kind of threw me off a little bit. In my head I was like, you've got to give credit to those guys. They were pretty good. Not the same old Browns I remember."

  • According to Pro Football Focus, CB Josh Robinson has allowed 22 catches on 23 balls thrown into his coverage and 147 yards after the catch on those receptions.

  • The Vikings can take credit for their dubious contribution to the number of comeback wins in the NFL this year. Through three weeks, eight games have been decided by a team that was trailing scoring the winning points in the final minutes, the most in the first three weeks of an NFL season since 1970. The Vikings helped increase that total with last-minute losses to the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns.

  • In case you need some misery for the Green Bay Packers to take the bitter Vikings taste out of your mouth, Elias Sports Bureau offers this: In the Cincinnati Bengals' 34-30 win over Green Bay last week, the Packers erased a 14-0 deficit with a 30-point run. The Bengals are only the third team in NFL history to win a game after allowing 30 unanswered points.

    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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