Brian Hall’s Oct. 3 Vikings mailbag

What do you know? It’s another quarterback-intensive mailbag. At least there’s some food for thought now after backup Matt Cassel played well in the Minnesota Vikings’ first win of the season.But Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier’s stance that Christian Ponder is “still our quarterback” had the fans up in arms.

Without further ado, here’s another round of our weekly Vikings’ mailbag:

Question: I love Jared Allen but he has been a complete no-show to start this season.  The supposed superstar pro bowler is in the last year of his contract, one would think he’d be making more plays out there to help our defense and especially the secondary. No wonder why opponents are scoring 30 points a game. We haven’t got any pressure from our de-line and linebackers just recently started to play “better”..I guess. So…where is JA? We need him badly. I know he gets chipped from the running backs and gets  double teamed sometimes, but not nearly as much as he did two years ago.– Joe Brandenburg, Waconia,MN

Answer: Was 2 ½ sacks not enough for you Sunday? Just kidding. In reality, yes, Allen seemed to start off the season a bit slower after saying during training camp how good he felt after offseason shoulder and knee surgeries. There is some concern with Allen’s age, but he’s still an effective pass rusher. The defensive line hasn’t provided the pressure I expected with Allen, Robison and Everson Griffen.

The first week, Minnesota didn’t have many chances because of Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford’s quick passing. Chicago’s offensive line does look much improved, allowing the third-fewest sacks in the league through four games. The Vikings got pressure on Cleveland in the second half, but mainly because of heavier blitzing than they normally use. Allen and the defensive line did take advantage last week against a poor Pittsburgh line, sacking Ben Roethlisberger five times, including Griffen’s game-saving strip-sack at the end. Minnesota will need similar play from the defensive line going forward, especially in light of the issues in the secondary.

Q: It was nice to see The Purple get a rare win.  I’m confused why they say they’re still starting Ponder though.  That’s nuts.  Is Frazier getting his marching orders from the GM or is he really that blind?  Matt Cassel was a heck of a lot better today than Ponder has ever been or ever will be.– Toby, St. Paul

A: Gerhart, is that you? Actually, the question brings up a point I’ve wondered and we all need to consider. Frazier has been roasted, repeatedy, in our mailbag for sticking with Ponder. But it might not be Frazier’s choice at all. The team really does need to find out, once and for all, what it has in Ponder, so general manager Rick Spielman — who will have to make the call on Ponder after this season and maybe find a new quarterback — could be telling Frazier to stick with Ponder.

We’ll likely not get the true answer on this. The team, especially with Frazier and Spielman, has always expressed a unified vision. It was Spielman who drafted Ponder 12th overall a few years ago and I could easily see this decision coming more from the front office than the head coach.

Q: Matt Cassel played a good game. I hope the Vikings don’t bring back Christian Ponder too soon. The Viking wide outs were more in sync with Matt Cassel than they are with ponder. The passing game gave the Vikings an added threat besides the running attack of Peterson. Which you don’t have with ponder as the starter.– Mike, Minneapolis

A: Is this a reasoned, thought out response to a topic that has been filled with so much emotion this year? There were several questions about how the team can go back to Ponder after how well Cassel played Sunday. For now, it appears the timing of bringing back Ponder is based solely on his ribs.

I was honestly surprised to see the Vikings stick with Ponder, health-permitting, on Tuesday. It wasn’t a shock for Frazier to say Ponder is still the starter after the game. It’s not in Frazier’s nature to make a switch like that without talking to the affected parties first. If Frazier was going to move to Cassel, he would talk with Ponder before announcing it in a post-game press conference.

However, Frazier stuck with his guns two days later, kind of. Frazier said Ponder is still the team’s No. 1 quarterback but hedged a bit. It’s still quite possible Cassel starts when Minnesota returns from the bye if Ponder’s fractured ribs haven’t healed and Frazier, possibly, knew he didn’t have to make any big decisions yet because Ponder’s health is still in question.

The offense was more in sync. The offensive line looked its best of the young season. Cassel made his reads, made quick decisions and got rid of the ball. It was his first game with Minnesota, but he finished with a higher quarterback rating than Ponder has in any single game of his career. The differences were apparent.

Q: It feels so good to get a win!  The Vikings and Steelers gave the people of London a thrill and represented the NFL incredibly!  I must say I love listening to player interviews.  Particularly Greg Jennings and Adrian Petersen.  They always seem to have such positive things to say about the team even during losing streaks like we endured at the beginning of this year.  What types of activities does a team generally try to help build unity?  Anything besides a trip across the ocean.– Brian Herding, Grafton, North Dakota

A: The Vikings do have other team-building activities, mainly in training camp. But there probably is no substitute for team bonding quite like going to London for a week and being together in the middle of the season. Training camp is a big part of building team chemistry and Minnesota likened the trip to London to a training-camp atmosphere.

During training camp, the team will bond, being confined to living in the dorms in Mankato. They also do a movie night where the entire team goes to the movies. During the season, the interaction is still there. The defensive backs are famous for gathering and watching Monday Night Football every well. Cornerback Antoine Winfield used to be the host and organizer of the Monday night gatherings, but safety Jamarca Sanford and Chris Cook have apparently taken the reins this year and keep up the tradition.

Q: PONDER 3er qb; MBT 2do qb; CASSEL starter PLEASE(POR FAVOR)!!!!!!!!!!– fabricio pons, leon guanajuato MEXICO

A: I know this is kind of repeat, but come on, it’s from Mexico. How could I not include it? I think Fabricio here echoes what the fans believe should be the new depth chart. Cassel has even more people in his corner after last week. McLeod Bethel-Thompson is unknown, and intriguing because of it. And most fans are ready to move on without Ponder.

Q: Why aren’t more people screaming about the Vikings’ ultra conservative offense that nearly cost them the game at the end?  Their unimaginative 3-and-out on 3 running plays was dreadful. Cassel had just completed 11 passes in a row.  A single first down would have iced the game.  Trust your QB to win a game, Frazier.  I know you’re used to the play of the remarkably inept Ponder, but Cassel can actually play some ball by the looks of it. Frazier needs to go.  Musgrave needs to go.  Spielman needs to go.  Period.– Doug, Edina

A: Minnesota’s four-minute offense hasn’t been able to sustain any drives at the end of games. The spotlight in late-game situations, deservingly so, has been placed on the defensive collapses, but the offense hasn’t succeed in running time off the game clock either. It’s hard to fault an offense that is fifth in the league in scoring. But there has been chances to bail the defense out too. One prime example was in Week 3 when Ponder overthrew Greg Jennings on a third-down play that would have given the Vikings an important first down.

This is also one of the rare instances I’ve heard someone calling for Spielman’s job. He’s been given credit with some shrewd free-agency moves and a few strong draft classes. But when the going gets tough, it’s clear no one can avoid the blame.

Q: What does the Bishop and Patterson have to do to get more playing time?– Affy68, Wisconsin

A: A good two-parter here. Both linebacker Desmond Bishop and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson are getting more snaps each week, but their involvement in the game — other than Patterson on kickoff returns — has been minimal. I’ll start with Patterson. The Vikings used Percy Harvin so well, and learned to get him the ball in different ways so he could use his unique playmaking talents. They need to do the same with Patterson. One underappreciated aspect is the improvement along the receiving corps this year. But there needs to be more of a concerted effort to get Patterson the ball.

Bishop is a victim to the use of nickel defenses, more than anything. Marvin Mitchell is still the starter, at least in name. However, Bishop played more defensive snaps than Mitchell last week. Even with that, Bishop was only on the field for 15 defensive snaps Sunday because Minnesota is in the nickel defense so much. I believe Bishop will get more opportunities as the third linebacker as the season progresses, but the Vikings just don’t play their base defense enough for it to be a major impact.

Q: It seems as if the defense has gone into a “Prevent” defense in our close win (which should have never been that close at the end) and at least two of the losses we have had this year.  When will our Defensive Coordinator and Head Coach figure out the only thing a prevent defense does is usually prevent you from closing out a game and winning?– Darin, Kasson, MN

A: Ah, one of my favorites. The ol’ “the only thing the prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.” There is truth to it. Teams try to avoid giving up big plays with prevent defenses, but lose the aggressiveness they have played with the rest of the game. I’m not sure if Frazier or defensive coordinator Alan Williams would say they have played a “prevent” defense, but the late-game aggressiveness and coverage seems to fall off. At least for a week, the defensive line made the play necessary last week in getting the fumble recovery.

Q: Nice win for our vikings! !! The offensive line did a great job. My concerns are what are they going to do about josh robinson?  In all four games he has been torched. Also why do you think bishop is still getting very little snaps?  He seems like every time he’s in he’s making the tackle. Marvin mitchell’s name never comes up in any tackles or stops. I just don’t get how bishop can start for a great team like green bay and lead them in tackles every year and can’t crack a starting job on poor defense like the vikes have– Gary, az

A: I covered Bishop above, so I’ll focus on Josh Robinson, who is just not getting the job done in his first year as a starter. Robinson always seems to be around the ball, but is a split-second late on making the play. Perhaps this will change with more experience. But right now Robinson is a liability and I believe the Vikings would be better off playing Xavier Rhodes ahead of Robinson, and maybe even Marcus Sherels when Chris Cook returns.

The stats are staggering. Robinson has allowed 35 catches on 38 targets to receivers he’s covering, according to Pro Football Focus signature stats. He’s given up 391 yards, including 200 after the catch, according to PFF and quarterbacks have a 109.5 quarterback rating throwing in Robinson’s direction. On the flipside, Rhodes and Sherels have been Minnesota’s two highest rated cornerbacks according to PFF. Sherels ranks 20th and Rhodes 22nd among all cornerbacks in the service’s rankings. Robinson is 154th of 155 cornerbacks in the NFL.

Maybe things will change out of the bye and the Vikings are being conservative with the rookie Rhodes and are OK with his playing time because he’s on the field a lot as the third cornerback. But Rhodes should be playing ahead of Robinson, at this point. The first-rounder hasn’t looked in awe or out of place in his first NFL games.

Q: Marcus Sherels has looked decent the past couple of weeks. Is he a reasonable option at corner if Chris Cook is unable to return?– Ben, Minneapolis, MN

A: Sherels might be the ultimate NFL survivor. Every year, he’s seemingly trying to be replaced as the punt returner and he’s believed to be a worst-case scenario at cornerback. His size (listed generously at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds) is always a knock. Then he’s pressed into action and fares well. He’s certainly resilient.

I’ve been impressed with his work on defense this season. According to those PFF rankings, Sherels has actually been Minnesota’s best coverage cornerback this year, allowing just a 58.2 quarterback rating on throws in his direction. On 21 targets to receivers he’s covering, he’s allowed 11 receptions for 59 yards. I’m still not sure he’s a long-term answer as a starter, but he’s definitely put himself in the conversation for more playing time. I believe he needs to be involved, even when Cook returns.

Q: Why is Kyle Rudolph not utilized more in the passing game?
— Raleigh Engel, Fisher, MN

A: Again, there’s little to complain about with an offense that is fifth in the league in scoring — other than the turnovers — but Rudolph’s lack of production has been strange. There were times last season when Rudolph would disappear as well. There just isn’t the consistency many expected at this point from Rudolph, whether that is game plan-related, quarterback ineffectiveness-related or defenses taking him away.

All we heard during the offseason was about Rudolph’s development and increased confidence after going to the Pro Bowl last year and being named MVP. Players and coaches talk about his big hands, reliable catching ability, large catching radius and how he’s nearly uncoverable in the end zone. Instead, Rudolph has 12 catches for 103 yards in four games. He has one touchdown after scoring nine last season. Whoever is at quarterback will need to get Rudolph more involved, particularly in the red zone.

Q: Frazier is not worried that the(FANS WILL BE UPSET) ???? if Ponder is the starter against Carolina?  Christian Ponder having a fractured rib near his heart It’s best to allow the bone to fully heal before any physical contact! The Q is how many weeks?  The answer it depends on the type of fracture.– MD, Savior

A: Where exactly is Savior? Are you an actual M.D.? Anyway, Ponder won’t be put back out on the field until the team is confident his rib is healed enough. Cassel’s success, even if Minnesota wants to stick with Ponder, at least gives the team the luxury to be patient with Ponder.

However, I do feel Frazier doesn’t grasp the fans’ disgust with Ponder. On Tuesday, Frazier said he isn’t worried about any negative reactions about starting Ponder in the Metrodome next week if possible. He said the fans “just want the Vikings to win” and will cheer “for everybody that’s wearing purple on Sunday when we get back at home.”

Frazier can’t be swayed by the fans’ opinions. He must do what’s best for the team. But Ponder was booed lustily in his last appearance at the Metrodome and if he returns to the field while Cassel is playing well, it will be a tough environment for Ponder, Frazier and the team. Frazier might be misinterpreting the situation, at least as far as the fans are concerned.

Thank you for your submissions. We’ve received very good response for our weekly mailbags and it’s because of you. Sorry we’re not able to answer each question individually. I believe this covers many of the hot topics. I hope we continue to hear from you in the future. With the Vikings on a bye, the look for your chance to submit questions after the Panthers game with the next mailbag at on Oct. 16.

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