Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder isn’t sure what the future holds this offseason and intends to speak to general manager Rick Spielman about the issue.
But it wouldn’t surprise him if the organization selected a quarterback in the first round.
“I think it all depends on what the new head coach wants to do,” said Ponder after the organization announced the firing of Leslie Frazier on Monday. “But it wouldn’t surprise me.
Ponder began the season as the team’s starting quarterback but played just nine games due to inconsistency and injuries. The 12th overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft intends to prepare this offseason as a starter either in Minnesota or with another team.
“This is what I’m familiar with. These guys my teammates, the ones I have a relationship and this is where I’d like to continue to be. But ultimately I want a shot to be a starter. So if that’s not here then I’ll have to find somewhere else.
Ponder, 25, wouldn’t be surprised if the organization brought him back along with Matt Cassel for competition purposes that would benefit both quarterbacks. If that was the case, he’d expect the front office to stick with one quarterback unlike this season.
“Matt’s done well and obviously he’s been the starter the past few weeks, and he’ll probably be named the starter going into the offseason if he opts in or they opt in,” Ponder said. “We’ll see. I think it could be a good competition. We have a good relationship. I think it could work out well.”
The morning after a 48-30 win over the Eagles, we take a look at the Vikings’ snap distribution on offense and defense.
Offense: 75 snaps
QB Matt Cassel – 75 snaps (played 100% on offense)
QB Christian Ponder – DNP
Cassel finished with the fourth most passing yards (382) among quarterbacks on Sunday and the only one in the top seven to win. He went 26 of 35 with two touchdowns and an interception, finishing with a 116.6 passer rating. The Eagles defense was ranked 29th in total defense entering the game, but it was the only team in the NFL that didn’t allow over 21 points since Week 5.
That streak is now history.
RB Matt Asiata – 65 (87%)
FB Jerome Felton – 28 (37%)
RB Joe Banyard – 5 (7%)
The average wasn’t pretty (1.7), but Asiata scored his first three career touchdowns in his first career start. Asiata became the first player in a first career start to rush for three or more touchdowns since former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper. He remarkably received 30 carries in the game for 51 yards.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
TE Rhett Ellison – 64 (85%)
WR Greg Jennings – 50 (67%)
WR Cordarrelle Patterson – 42 (56%)
WR Jerome Simpson – 36 (48%)
TE Chase Ford – 35 (47%)
WR Jarius Wright – 23 (31%)
WR Joe Webb – 17 (23%)
Jennings had a career-high 11 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown. He had 13 targets, more than double the receiver with the second most targets (Patterson had six). Cassel has made Jennings worth every dollar the Vikings paid him in the offseason.
C Joe Berger – 75 (100%)
G Charlie Johnson – 75 (100%)
C John Sullivan – 75 (100%)
T Matt Kalil – 75 (100%)
T Phil Loadholt – 75 (100%)
T J’Marcus Webb – 7 (9%)
G Joe Baca – 3 (4%)
Berger filled in at guard for Brandon Fusco, and the offensive line did a good job protecting Cassel for most of the game. A good example was Cassel’s 57 yard touchdown to Jennings. The offensive line bought him enough time to hit Jennings in stride. Cassel was still sacked three times though.
Inactives: QB Josh Freeman, RB Adrian Peterson (foot), RB Toby Gerhart (hamstring), G Brandon Fusco (knee), TE John Carlson (concussion)
The Vikings scored 48 points without Peterson and Gerhart. That says enough about Cassel’s day.
Defense: 69 snaps
DE Jared Allen – 65 (94%)
DE Brian Robison – 58 (84%)
DE Everson Griffen – 42 (61%)
DT Kevin Williams – 37 (54%)
DT Sharrif Floyd – 32 (46%)
NT Letroy Guion – 22 (32%)
NT Fred Evans – 20 (29%)
DT Chase Baker – DNP
Allen and Robison finished with two sacks each and seem to mirror each other in that category down the stretch. They combined for six of the team’s 10 quarterback hits. Williams also had two quarterback hits.
The most impressive aspect of Sunday’s game was how the defense limited Eagles running back LeSean McCoy to eight carries for 38 yards. To put that in perfective, Asiata had 22 more carries than the league’s leading rusher.
LB Chad Greenway – 69 (100%)
LB Audie Cole – 67 (97%)
LB Erin Henderson – 11 (16%)
LB Marvin Mitchell – 1 (1%)
Henderson saw an increase in snaps, particularly short yardage downs, but the Vikings remained almost exclusively in the nickel. Cole led the unit with seven tackles and a quarterback hit. Greenway had five tackles.
CB Marcus Sherels – 69 (100%)
CB Shaun Prater – 69 (100%)
FS Harrison Smith – 61 (88%)
SS Robert Blanton – 59 (86%)
SS Jamarca Sanford – 47 (68%)
FS Andrew Sendejo – 30 (43%)
CB Robert Steeples – DNP
Smith didn’t start the game but that’d be hard to tell based on the amount of snaps he received. He was rotating with Sendejo, but Smith took over at safety in the second half. He finished tied with a team-high eight tackles with Blanton.
The cornerbacks had a good day without three players although Eagles quarterback Nick Foles finished with 428 yards. Prater got his first career NFL start and an interception against his former team. Sherels finished fourth on the team with six tackles.
Inactives: CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle), CB Chris Cook (knee)
One quarterback has already removed himself from the 2014 NFL Draft.
Oregon announced on its official Instagram account redshirt sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota will return for his junior season. He completed 63.1 percent of his passes this season for 3,412 yards, 30 touchdowns and four interceptions.
“It is an honor to be a student at the University of Oregon and to have the opportunity to represent our institution on the football field alongside my teammates,” Mariota said in a press release. “I look forward to earning my degree next year and to the rest of my career at this great university.”
Mariota was ranked the top quarterabck (third overall) by ESPN's Scouts Inc. and Todd McShay ahead of Lousville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (fifth), but Mel Kiper Jr. had Mariota as the second best quarterback (fifth overall) behind Bridgewater.
The announcement eliminates a possible option at quarterback for the Vikings in the upcoming draft.
Without Mariota, Bridgewater, Hundley and Manziel have been widely regarded as the top quarterbacks in this class, but they all also still have eligibility remaining. Hundley is the least likely to declare for the draft out of the three quarterbacks.
If the season ended today, the Vikings would have the sixth overall pick.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier wouldn't come out and say Christian Ponder will start on Sunday at Seattle. But he did admit that's the likely scenario, barring an unforeseen change in Ponder's progress from a separated left [non-throwing] shoulder on Saturday.
"Christian is better," Frazier said after today's practice. "We gave him a little bit more today in practice, so that was encouraging. We'll see how he feels tomorrow with the extended work he got today and then we'll make a determination based on where he is tomorrow. We want to make sure that he feels comfortable as well as our medical staff as well.
"The way he moved around today, he looked pretty good. Hopefully, he'll wake up tomorrow without any residual effects, negative effects from the workload that we gave him. But you never know."
Frazier wouldn't say whether Matt Cassell or Josh Freeman would serve as the backup, although Cassel looks to be the No. 2. Frazier also said it's possible the team will keep all three quarterbacks active against Seattle.
In other news:
We'll have the official injury report up soon, but it appears Christian Ponder's left shoulder is making steady progress.
Ponder left the practice field before reporters were allowed into the team's indoor practice facility. But Josh Freeman talked to the media after spending extra time working with quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson after practice.
Asked who took the majority of snaps at quarterback with the first-team offense, Freeman said, "I’m not exactly sure who took the most. Christian probably got the majority [of first-team reps]. Glad to see he’s feeling better. I’m just continuing to whatever they give me, gobble it up and try to be as efficient as possible."
Earlier, Frazier had said the coaches still need to talk about who would start Sunday if Ponder isn't able to play. Ponder separated his non-throwing shoulder in a collision at the goal-line in last week's win over the Redskins. He left the game with 1:12 left in the third quarter and did not return.
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