Cassel gets another start for Vikings, Ponder to be backup
Leslie Frazier is giving Matt Cassel another start after he threw for 265 yards and two TDs last week.
By BRIAN HALLFS North
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Leslie Frazier knew the question was coming even before he gave reporters a chance to respond.
Frazier named Matt Cassel the Minnesota Vikings' starter at quarterback for Sunday's home game against the streaking Philadelphia Eagles, giving Cassel a second straight start over a now-healthy Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman. Frazier knew the follow-up would be why he decided on Cassel, so he went ahead and answered the question he's pondered since Sunday.
"I just feel he did some good things in that ballgame on Sunday and we're going to give him an opportunity to get back-to-back starts and I look forward to him leading us to victory on Sunday," Frazier said in his opening statement during Wednesday's press conference.
Cassel threw for a Vikings' season-high 265 yards Sunday in a loss at Baltimore in snowy and cold conditions. He was 17-of-38 passing and had two touchdowns and no turnovers. Frazier didn't give any promises on Cassel starting past Sunday, but the coach wants to find some sort of stability with his starter becoming a near-weekly decision.
"I just decided to give this him opportunity to see if he can continue to build on some of the play that he had in the ballgame on Sunday," Frazier said.
Cassel has started three games this season and has replaced Ponder in three other games, twice because of injury and once for performance. In his four games in which he's played at least a half, Cassel has thrown for 241 yards or more, the four biggest passing games by a Minnesota quarterback this season, and provided a complement to the running game of Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart.
Cassel has also made better use of receiver Greg Jennings. The two veterans who signed with the Vikings in the offseason have particularly clicked and Jennings has caught all three of his touchdowns from Cassel this year.
"I think the number one difference is the control of the huddle, the demand," Jennings said of the differences between Cassel and Ponder. "The way they approach the game is pretty much similar. They both study, they're both very smart quarterback. Honestly, they both give us a chance to win. I think the number one difference is just the experience.
"Matt, you can feel that he's much more experienced. He's a lot freer out there. When Christian's out there, he's free but he's not as free as he may possible want to be. But other than that, they both are very smart quarterbacks. They both have the tools to make sure we're in a position to win, to have success. Like I said, it all comes down to execution."
Frazier said the quarterback position is "one week at a time for us." But choosing Cassel this week is at least a change of approach from earlier this season when Cassel wasn't in the mix for the starting role with Frazier deciding between Ponder and Freeman.
Cassel made two starts in October, the second after Ponder was available after missing a game with a broken rib. Ponder's concussion Dec. 1 opened the door again for Cassel. Ponder is recovered from the concussion and will be Cassel's backup Sunday.
"It's not really any different for me," Cassel said. "My preparation, as I've told you guys in the past, is to try and be consistent. Anytime you do get an opportunity, if one week you're a different guy and those guys see it and the next week you're somebody else when you're getting the nod, it maybe creates inconsistency for them and who you are as a leader. As a leader and as a quarterback, I think consistency is the key."
Frazier would appreciate consistency at quarterback. Whether Cassel has a chance to earn the job for an extended period, even into the offseason, Frazier was non-committal.
"I guess, potentially, but it's so hard to be able to say today," Frazier said. "We'd love to be able to have stability at the position. It's hard to really build your team if you don't have stability at the position, so this is a chance to take a look at Matt at length and then go from there."
Cassel is the only Vikings quarterback to throw more touchdowns (seven) than interceptions (four) this season and he carries a team-leading 84.9 quarterback rating into Sunday's game against Philadelphia, the league's second-worst pass defense. Cassel has avoided sacks (3.6 percent of his dropbacks) compared to Ponder (10.2 percent), and turnovers.
Ponder has 13 turnovers. Cassel has four turnovers this season, all on interceptions after throwing 12 interceptions to six touchdowns in his final season in Kansas City last year.
"I wouldn't say that," Cassel said when asked if he's been more careful this season. "I just think we've been doing a good job of taking care of the football all around. I think last year at times we got behind early and we had to throw the ball a lot and sometimes there's tipped balls and everything else that goes on. Sometimes it's just a bad decision, and I'll be the first to tell you I'm not perfect at all. Anybody that plays this position, you know you're going to have some turnovers and you're going to do that. But the other thing is coming back from that."
Freeman hasn't received a chance to come back from his notorious Minnesota debut, when he was 20-of-53 passing two weeks after signing with the Vikings. When Freeman signed with Minnesota in October, Frazier said he would eventually get the chance to start.
As Freeman has been passed over in recent weeks, Frazier noted circumstances have changed from when Freeman first signed.
"Matt and Christian have done some things along the way that have created a situation where we wanted to see Christian play a little more, and now we want to be able to see Matt play a little bit," Frazier said. "We've watched some things with Josh in practice and meetings. He's done a lot of good things, but where we are now, we want to be able to take a look at Matt and see how he does in back-to-back starts."