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Vikings notes: Cassel in the spotlight

  • Article by: Chip Scoggins
  • Star Tribune
  • December 6, 2013 - 8:52 PM

Our snapshot look as the Vikings prepare for Sunday’s game against the Ravens at M & T Bank Stadium:

Player in the Spotlight

Matt Cassel already knew he would start Sunday, but coach Leslie Frazier made it official Friday by declaring Christian Ponder out because of concussion symptoms. Ponder did some running on the side during Friday’s practice, but Frazier said the quarterback still hasn’t passed all of the NFL’s concussion protocol.

That means Cassel will make his third start of the season and his sixth appearance. He completed 20 of 33 passes for 243 yards and one touchdown in the second half against the Chicago Bears on Sunday. Cassel described this second chance as the starter as a “one-week season for me.”

“If you start looking ahead, looking toward the future, the what-ifs and putting added pressure on yourself it’s as difficult as it possibly could be every Sunday because there are always good opponents,” he said.

The Ravens fit that description defensively. Since Week 2, the Ravens have allowed only 16.9 points per game, the fourth-lowest total in the NFL in that span. They’re allowing only 12.3 points at home this season, which is the league’s second-best mark. Baltimore ranks in the top 10 in most defensive statistical categories overall.

“We have a great test ahead of us,” Cassel said. “They’re an experienced group, a veteran group, they play stout defense, and they’re good against the run so we’ll have our work cut out for us.”

Keep an eye on

Erin Henderson is returning to his natural position — weakside linebacker — after starting the first 10 games in the middle. Henderson lost his job after his DWI arrest, followed by a personal issue that caused him to miss the Green Bay game.

The coaching staff decided to move Henderson back to weakside and keep Audie Cole in the middle to get their three best linebackers on the field at the same time in the base defense. Henderson will leave the field in nickel situations.

“From our perspective as coaches, it’s like getting back on a bike,” Frazier said. “He fit right in at his old position, and he’s practiced well this week.”

Most pressing question

Can the teams neutralize two of the best returners in the NFL in Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson and Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones?

Patterson leads the NFL in kickoff return average (34.0) and needs 258 return yards to break the Vikings’ single-season record of 1,345 set by Buster Rhymes in 1985.

Jones led the NFL in kickoff returns last season and is the team’s all-time leader in kickoff return average at 29.4.

“He is so good,” Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “He’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast, he’s elusive, he’s got great vision. He’s very concerning obviously.”

Ravens scoops

The Ravens remained noncommittal Friday about whether they plan to activate tight end Dennis Pitta from injured reserve/designated for return list by Saturday’s 3 p.m. deadline. However, coach John Harbaugh said that Pitta has a “reasonable chance” to make his season debut.

Pitta has been sidelined since suffering a hip injury in training camp. He returned to practice a few weeks ago.

Pitta caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012 and would give Joe Flacco one of his favorite targets again.

“He’s a pretty tough matchup for linebackers and sometimes even safeties,” Frazier said. “He’s almost a wide receiver in a lot of ways and it seems like he’s one of those guys that their quarterback looks for often. So he presents some challenges for your defense for sure.”

Questionable but ready

Officially, Adrian Peterson (groin) is listed as questionable, but he is expected to play. Peterson did some work in Friday’s practice after resting the previous two days.

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