Imagine reaching the end of a terrible workday. You’ve just stepped out of the shower, you’re half-naked and getting dressed when a group of people sidle up to you. With tape recorders and cameras rolling, these folks want you to relay to the world how you really feel about your co-workers and bosses.
You probably wouldn’t be entirely forthcoming, eh?
Now you know how the Vikings feel during this year’s 2-8 free-fall. Particularly the quarterbacks, all three of whom essentially were asked some form of “What the heck’s going on at quarterback?” following Sunday’s 41-20 loss at Seattle.
“I don’t know,” last week’s starter, Christian Ponder, said.
“That’s a question you’ll have to ask [coach] Leslie [Frazier],” backup Matt Cassel said.
“It’s not really my job to make sense of the situation,” said Josh Freeman, the favorite to start against the Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
Frazier has sidestepped the question about who will start twice this week. He might do the same Wednesday when the Vikings return to Winter Park to begin preparing for the Packers in earnest.
It’s hard to blame Frazier as he tries to navigate one of the more difficult NFL quarterback quandaries you’ll ever see unfold over the course of 2½ months. By now, Frazier has to feel like the game-show contestant who wants the Corvette but wins the donkey no matter which door he chooses.
Combined, the Vikings’ quarterbacks have turned the ball over 17 times in 10 games. They own a minus-8 turnover differential compared to the opposing quarterbacks. And the differential for the points scored off those turnovers is minus-41.
Now compare that to Russell Wilson, who has directed the Seahawks to an NFL-best 10-1. His turnover differential compared to opposing quarterbacks is plus-8 with a plus-54 point differential.
Amazingly, this week marks the seventh time in 11 games that Frazier has faced having to make a decision on his starting quarterback. Three of them have been injury-related.
Let’s analyze those decisions here. Just follow the bouncing ball, literally, as we use turnovers to try and figure out why Frazier made the decisions he made. Just keep in mind that it’s not Frazier’s job to lose games so his successor can draft Johnny Football.
Decision time I: Week 4 vs. Steelers.
The skinny: Ponder to Cassel. Ponder broke a rib during the Week 3 loss to Cleveland. The only mistake was waiting until three days before the game to announce that Ponder had broken a rib.
Turnover situation: This was an opportune injury. Not only was Ponder 0-3, but he had seven turnovers.
Decision time II: Week 6 vs. Panthers.
The skinny: Cassel stays put. Ponder’s rib had healed after the bye, but sticking with Cassel after a victory over the Steelers was a no-brainer.
Turnover situation: Cassel had just played a turnover-free game and his turnover differential compared to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was plus-2.
Decision time III: Week 7 vs. Giants.
The skinny: Cassel to Freeman. Cassel was coming off a miserable game against the Panthers, and Freeman had just been signed the week before.
Turnover situation: Cassel turned the ball over twice in a humiliating 25-point loss at home. He was minus-2 in turnover differential to Cam Newton. And the point differential off those turnovers was minus-14. The mistake wasn’t Frazier starting Freeman against the Giants after only four practices with the first team. The team was 1-4 and needed a bold move. The mistake was offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave abandoning the run too soon. Instead of protecting Freeman, he showcased him with 53 passes while Adrian Peterson got 13 carries.
Decision time IV: Week 8 vs. Packers.
The skinny: Freeman to Ponder. Freeman revealed concussion-like symptoms a day after completing 37.7 percent of his passes in the Giants debacle.
Turnover situation: Cassel’s two-turnover performance against Carolina shifted the focus back to Ponder. And, at 1-5, it wasn’t a bad idea to see if the Freeman signing would motivate Ponder.
Decision time V: Week 9 vs. Dallas.
The skinny: Ponder stays put. Freeman was cleared to play.
Turnover situation: Ponder won the job for another week by playing turnover-free while completing 67 percent of his passes against Green Bay.
Decision time VI: Week 11 vs. Seattle.
The skinny: Ponder stays put. A separated left shoulder that sidelined Ponder during the Washington game 10 days earlier could have been another excuse to bench him. But he had played too well while winning his first game of the season.
Turnover situation: Ponder’s one turnover against the Redskins led to a field goal. But he also completed 81 percent of his passes, threw for two touchdowns and sacrificed his body while reaching for the pylon on a hit at the goal line.
Decision time VII: Week 12 vs. Packers.
The skinny: To be determined.
Turnover situation: Why do we say it’ll be Freeman on Sunday? Just follow the bouncing ball. Ponder and Cassel are coming off a game in which they combined on four turnovers that led to 20 points in a 21-point loss to Seattle.