Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Blog Page 158

With Christian Ponder yet to pass the concussion tests required for him to suit up, and Josh Freeman still mysteriously riding the bench, the Vikings sound as if they’ll ride the hot hand of Matt Cassel for at least another week.

The weekly quarterback updates this season have been almost as tiring as all of the losses, but it is still important to note that Cassel will get the nod against Baltimore this week.  As of now, Leslie Frazier acknowledged that Cassel will start and Freeman will back him up, but qualified his statements by saying that could change should Ponder make quick progress.

“More than likely, Matt Cassel is going to end up being our starter for this ballgame,” Frazier said. “We’ll proceed accordingly, with Josh (Freeman) as his backup, understanding where Christian is, in trying to pass those tests. … It’ll probably be tough (for Ponder). If he were able to practice (Thursday), maybe — but we’re not planning on it.”

By pretty much every unit of measurement, Cassel has been the Vikings most successful quarterback this season, and for a coach who desperately needs to accumulate some wins it seems like the most logical choice by a long shot.

The overtime victory against the rival Bears on Sunday was a positive step for Vikings fans that just wanted the team to prove they still know how to win football games, but a step back for those that want to see the Vikings nab the first overall selection of the 2014 NFL Draft.

The mixed emotions about this win don’t end there, though.  A win is a win, but this was not a pretty one, and there is certainly a great deal of things we saw on Sunday that were beyond worrisome.  I’ve decided to split the difference and will look at five things I liked and five things I didn’t following the 23-20 victory.

FIVE POSITIVES

1.  Matt Cassel Shows Stones

When Christian Ponder had to exit early it was Matt Cassel, not Josh Freeman, who was dressed and ready to take the reigns.  Cassel came in as a reserve, but played in a way that should clearly give him a leg up in the quarterback conversation in Minnesota.  He went 20 for 33 and a touchdown.  His lone pick was not his fault in the slightest, as tight end Rhett Ellison bobbled a perfect strike, and it really should have ended up being a second touchdown on the statline.  The only reason it wasn’t a touchdown for the Bears, by all appearances, was Cassel’s hustle as he chased down linebacker Khaseem Greene after he returned the ball for 49 yards.  Cassel may not be the starter next week against Baltimore, because no decision regarding this team ever seems to be the obvious one, but he showed up big after the Vikings offense netted just 16 passing yards through the first half with Ponder at the helm.

2. Nobody Does It Better

Much was written about Adrian Peterson’s greatness Monday, after the future Hall of Famer broke the 10,000 rushing yard threshold Sunday, but I’m so in awe of his everyday accomplishments that I can’t even begin to put into words how prolific his career has been thus far.  Peterson ran for 211 yards on 35 carries (6.0 yard average) against the Bears and seemingly willed the offense down the field at times, including moments in the fourth quarter and in overtime, and you just know he is the still a player that makes his team a competitor week-in and week-out.  Even when they are a bad team.

Quarterback Josh Freeman will continue to ride out the 2013 season as the third-string quarterback for at least another week.  Freeman is inactive for today’s game against Chicago.

The rest of the Vikings inactive players are:  CB Josh Robinson, DT Chase Baker, G Jeff Baca, T Mike Remmers, WR Rodney Smith, and TE Kyle Rudolph.

Linebacker Erin Henderson is active this week, but Audie Cole had a nice debut in his absence last week and is again expected to get the start.

The Bears will be without S Major Wright, QB Jay Cutler, and LB Lance Briggs today.

Join us in our VT Chat Room during today’s actions.

When Rick Spielman decided to win a bidding war with Chicago for the services of right tackle Phil Loadholt, he was willing to make veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield a casualty by sending him packing.  At the time, I opined that the Vikings not only lost their best cornerback as a result, but that they also lost their best linebacker and defensive leader.

Then, through free agency and the NFL Draft, the Vikings refused to make considerable investment into the linebacker position despite numerous opportunities.  Some third day Draft picks, and injury-prone free agent Desmond Bishop, amounted to no immediate upgrade to the starting linebacker positions.  Instead, the team was willing to move forward with Erin Henderson manning the middle.

Now, I am on record as being supportive of Henderson.  I think he has played better than many fans give him credit for.  Until last week, he led the team in tackles.  Only ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison have more sacks than his three.  He leads the Vikings with nine tackles for a loss, is tied for a team lead with two interceptions, and leads all the linebackers with three defended passes.  Those stats, however, have not been enough for fans and analysts to grant Henderson immunity from criticism as the Vikings currently place 29th in pass defense and 24th against the run.

Henderson was expected to step up, take command of the defense, and instead the entire unit has been on a season-long campaign of collapse.  With Winfield gone, and Kevin Williams and Jared Allen clearly on their way out, it seemed natural to look for a leader on defense to ease the transition.  Instead, Henderson has been at the center of a defense that has shown no ability to stop opponents, and instead of being a vocal leader that speaks of consistency and accountability he has found himself in the center of controversy.

That is exactly what you don’t look for in a team leader.

Last week, news broke that Henderson had been picked up for DWI and possession of a controlled substance.  The details are murky right now, and he claims this isn’t the “personal reason” he had for missing last week’s game, but Henderson has a long ways to go before anybody will consider him a legitimate leader on defense.

Henderson counts as the third Vikings player in three weeks to hit the police blotter, which prompted General Manager Rick Spielman to release a public statement, and the Vikings brass cannot be happy about any of this.  Surely this issue will come up when end-of-season evaluations of Henderson’s value are being performed and I can’t imagine the front office will be content relying so heavily on him in 2014 and beyond.

Perhaps the best case scenario, for Henderson, is to end up back at the weakside spot.

That would certainly seem like a preferred alternative to being out of a job.

 The Vikings are set to tangle with the division rival Chicago Bears this weekend at the Metrodome. It’s a game that usually has me buzzing all week most seasons… not so much this year.

 The Vikings match up pretty well with the Bears this time around and actually have a solid chance to win this game. Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart are coming off a combined season high 239 yards rushing on 40 carries last week at Lambeau Field and you can expect to see more of the same again this week.

The Bears are giving up 4.9 yards per carry and currently ranked 32nd in the NFL in rushing defense allowing 145.2 yards per game. Last week the Bears’ defense let the Rams run the ball 29 times for 258 yards. That’s a whopping 8.9 yards per carry! Ouch.

 So, why am I not trash and smack talking to all the Bears fans I work with? I guess because maybe it’s a meaningless game. Or, maybe I’ve just thrown in the towel on this disheartening season? In any case, my psychologist told me that I just need to forget about wins and losses, draft positions, coaching fixes, injuries and arrests… and just focus on enjoying a good football game.

The last Vikings game I really got fired up to enjoy was way back in week two. I was seated one row from the top at Soldier Field during a rainy contest that unfortunately saw the Vikings fall short to the Bears in the final seconds of an exciting 30-31 ballgame. Yes, I know first hand that when these two teams get together it will usually result in an entertaining affair.

I’m counting on another engaging contest between the Vikings and the Bears this Sunday. A week 13 win just seems fitting. Wins have been few and far between lately… so why not enjoy this one? Punching the Bears in the mouth would be the highlight of the year for me.  Wouldn’t it be nice to see the Metrodome really rocking one last time? And, I think the Vikings can win one more game and still land a quality, gritty, big-armed senior QB like Fresno State’s Derek Carr or LSU’s Zach Mettenberger come draft time.

 Go Vikings! My pulse still beats for the purple.

 

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