Vikings coach Leslie Frazier defended his decision to start Josh Freeman with little prep time Monday night, even after the quarterback had one of the worst statistical performances in NFL history.
Freeman completed only 37.7 percent of his passes and repeatedly misfired wildly in a 23-7 loss to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Signed two weeks ago, Freeman was elevated to starter last Wednesday and only had four practices with the first-team offense before making his Vikings debut in a nationally televised game.
The coaching staff gave Freeman a pared-down playbook in what amounted to a cram session in order to get him on the field as quickly as possible. Given Freeman’s struggles and how inept the entire offense looked, Frazier admitted he opened himself to second-guessing.
“If I had to do it over again, I don’t think I’d do it any differently under the circumstances,” Frazier said. “I knew exactly why we made the decision. Felt very confident going into the ballgame with the decision.”
Frazier said Freeman will start again Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers, but he stopped short of naming him the starter the rest of the season.
“I don’t know if I’ve thought that far ahead,” he said.
Frazier said at no point Monday did he consider pulling Freeman and inserting Christian Ponder. Even more baffling, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave asked a guy with a rudimentary knowledge of the playbook to throw 53 passes while giving MVP running back Adrian Peterson only 13 carries.
Frazier acknowledged that the run-pass ratio got out of whack, but he stuck by his decision to start Freeman.
“We never go into a ballgame thinking we’re going to have to throw it 53 times,” he said. “It turned out that way, but we do want to be an offense that relies on Adrian Peterson.”
The Vikings signed Freeman at more than $2 million for the rest of the season so another quarterback change at this point seems highly unlikely. The Vikings benched Ponder presumably to give Freeman an extended audition to determine if he’s potentially a long-term option.
Frazier said he’s under “no obligation” from General Manager Rick Spielman or ownership to play Freeman.
“The only reason the decision was made to start him [was]because we believed that he would give us the best chance to be successful in that ballgame with the Giants,” Frazier said. “And the only reason he would start on Sunday is for that reason. No obligation other than that.”
The results, frankly, were embarrassing for the organization. Freeman completed only 20 of 53 passes for 190 yards with one interception and a 40.6 passer rating.
According to ProFootballFocus, 15 of his 33 incompletions came on overthrows. Freeman also became only the second quarterback since 1960 to attempt 50 passes in a game while finishing without a touchdown pass and fewer than 200 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“There were a lot of plays that were just a fraction off,” Freeman said. “That’s something that moving forward as a quarterback and receivers and an offense working together, guys are going to be more comfortable with me and vice versa.”
Many question whether Freeman should have been on the field at all given his limited practice time. Frazier said he felt comfortable that Freeman had a firm grasp and understanding of the game plan and could execute it.
“I’ll tell you, we really felt like we put together a good plan,” Frazier said. “And watching him execute that plan in practice, we felt confident going into it that we’d have success doing some of the things we had in place. It didn’t happen. But there was nothing I look back at that week in preparation that would have indicated that we would have come up with zero points from an offensive standpoint.”
Frazier attributed Freeman’s erratic passing to a breakdown in his mechanics, which the coaching staff noticed last week and tried to correct.
“One of the reasons the ball sailed at times, his footwork wasn’t ideal, his shoulders weren’t square all the time,” Frazier said. “So it was more technical stuff. But the mental part, he was sharp. He did a great job of running our offense throughout the night. Just some things from a technical standpoint that we’ll have to work on to get him better.”
Frazier’s team is 1-5 and has become a huge disappointment after finishing 10-6 and earning a playoff berth last season. Frazier, however, gave a one-word answer when asked if he’s planning any changes to his coaching staff or play-calling duties.
“No,” he said.