EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Coach Leslie Frazier wasn’t ready to say who would start at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings next week at Dallas, saying a decision hasn’t been made in what has become a weekly question as Minnesota’s season has spiraled to 1-6.
Frazier did say who wouldn’t be starting on Sunday when the Vikings face the NFC East-leading Cowboys: the one quarterback that has led Minnesota to a win this season, Matt Cassel.
“Thinking more with Christian (Ponder) along with Josh (Freeman),” Frazier said Monday after the Vikings’ 44-31 loss to Green Bay on Sunday night. “Matt did a good job for us, but thinking more of those two guys.”
It was Cassel who entered for an injured Ponder in Week 4 and led Minnesota to its lone win of the season in London against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cassel received another chance to start the following game, but struggled in a loss to the Carolina Panthers at home after the team’s bye week.
Since then, the Vikings signed Freeman, who was released by the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers and went back to Ponder, who started the first three games, after Freeman suffered a concussion a week ago.
On Monday, Frazier said the team still has things to discuss when deciding on a starter for next week and will decide in the “next couple of days.” But it won’t be Cassel.
“I don’t know if it’s anything he hasn’t done,” Frazier said of Cassel, the nine-year veteran Minnesota signed in the offseason to back up Ponder. “He’s done everything we asked him to. He’s practiced well, prepared well. He was ready yesterday if need be, and he’ll continue to work as hard as he can. He’s a pro. But I don’t know if there’s any one thing that I could point to and say why it’s Christian and Josh in this determination.” Cassel has a 92.0 quarterback rating in two games this season, completing 69.6 percent of his passes for 489 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He provided a spark in Week 4 playing for Ponder, who was out with a fractured rib, was 16 of 25 passing in the win for 248 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. However, he was 32 of 44 for 241 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in a loss to Carolina.
Still, the Vikings seem prepared to ride out the season with Freeman or Ponder, both younger options than the 31-year-old Cassel. Cassel is signed through next season with Minnesota, but has the option to get out of the final year of the two-year contract he signed this offseason after being released by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Frazier said he hadn’t spoken specifically with Cassel about this week’s game at Dallas, but had discussed the current quarterback situation with him and the decision to go with Freeman or Ponder.
“He’s a competitor,” Frazier said. “He wants to be out there. He wants to start, and he wants to help this football team win. I would expect nothing different from him. He’s been in this league a while now, he’s had some success in our league. He wants to help our team.”
But Cassel won’t get the chance. The Vikings want to evaluate Freeman, 25 years old and a free agent at the end of the season, and Ponder, 25, is signed for one more year.
“I don’t want to discount Matt, but Christian did some good things in that ball game yesterday,” Frazier said. “There are some things he can obviously do better, but it has something to do with it. He has led us to some wins in the past. Josh, we brought him here to evaluate him and determine if he could be a guy that could be a potential player for us in the future. So, that’s what goes into trying to evaluate the both of them.”
Ponder was getting another chance as the team’s starter after entering the season as the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback. Yet, Ponder was 14 of 21 passing on Sunday night for 145 yards and was still hesitant. He ran the ball five times after feeling pressure in the pocket and was sacked three times.
“Just trying to look at the whole picture, who will give us the best chance to win, from our standpoint as coaches, for this Dallas ball game,” Frazier said of deciding between Freeman and Ponder. “That’s what it will be based on. The other factor is what the health of the other guys are and primarily who do you think will give you the best chance in this ball game against Dallas.”
Freeman returned to practice Friday after clearing his concussion testing and said Saturday was the first time he could run and participate without feeling any symptoms. Frazier said Freeman’s health will still be a part of the decision, but Freeman said he’s passed all the necessary steps in the concussion protocol.
Freeman said he hasn’t been told if he will start this week.
“I really have no idea,” Freeman said. “That’s kind of out of my pay grade. That’s the coaches’ decision. That’s obviously their decision about who is going to play. My job is to continue to prepare as well as I can and be ready to go.”
Freeman’s lone start, coming just two weeks after signing with the team, didn’t separate him from Ponder. He was 20 of 53 passing for 190 yards and an interception for a 40.6 quarterback rating. He’s last in the league with a 42.9 completion percentage in four games this season.
“I wouldn’t say it was nervousness at all,” Freeman said of his one game with Minnesota. “You’re just fired up to be out there and just a little high on some throws, and put a little too much heat on a couple of them. It definitely was a great learning experience.”
Meanwhile, Ponder has lost all four of his starts and has a 69.4 quarterback rating, completing 60.3 percent of his passes for 836 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions.
Despite the concussion, Freeman has had another week in the system and said he’s eager to get back on the field as soon as he can.
“I wouldn’t say my feelings have changed,” Freeman said. “I feel like I can go out and compete and give our team a chance to win. That’s this week, any week, I just want to prepare as well as I can and go out and play well.”
Injuries hit again: The Vikings lost Sunday night and also lost safety Jamarca Sanford and cornerback Chris Cook to injuries. Sanford missed the second half while dealing with a groin strain and Cook was missing late in the game with a hip strain.
Frazier said Sanford and Cook are considered day to day. Sanford, who missed the Week 4 game with a hamstring injury, was frustrated being hit again by injury.
“Words can’t really describe it,” Sanford said Monday. “Just got to keep working. Sometime you have to question yourself, ‘What are you doing? Are you doing the right thing?’ I know I am. I take care of my body. I come in every day and work every day.
“Like I said, I take care of my body, it’s just part of the game. It’s a violent game. I go back and look at film and can’t come up with how I got hurt on that play. So, you know I’m going to go back and see if my leg got caught up under somebody and you twist the wrong way, but I still can’t come up with it.”
The Vikings hope to get tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle) back for Sunday’s game at Dallas. Frazier said running back Matt Asiata (shoulder) is day to day.
Not thinking about trades: The NFL’s trade deadline is Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern time and Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen is one of the rumored names available. But Frazier said he isn’t thinking about the possibilities of trades.
“I haven’t given that one any thought,” Frazier said. “I have no idea on that one. I haven’t really thought about a trade or change in personnel.”
Frazier knows rumors will float about trades, as well as talk of a coaching change.
“They’re going to hear a lot of things from different outlets,” Frazier said. “If they read the Internet and read different things, they’re going to read that information. They’ll have friends talking to them and giving them information, but myself and the coaches we’re going to continue to try and keep them focused on the task at hand. In this case trying to prepare as well as we can for this ballgame against Dallas.
“That’s what’s most important. That’s what I have to be able to do as the head coach of our team just making sure they’re focused on that part of it and trying to convey to them the importance of it and not allowing other things to become distractions. We’ve had enough distractions in this short season, so this week we really need to focus on Dallas and that’ll be a point of emphasis when we talk to the team.”