Settling the Cassel-Ponder debate can wait until Ponder is healthy.
Stand down, people. Drop your pins and step away from the Leslie Frazier voodoo doll.
Yes, the Vikings coach did say for the second time in three days that Christian Ponder “is still our starting quarterback.” But for the second time in three days, Frazier also wouldn’t commit to Ponder as the starter for the Oct. 13 game against the Panthers, even if his fractured rib heals in time.
“It’s hard to be concrete when you know that Christian is dealing with an injury,” Frazier said. “So we’ll see what happens.”
Reading between the lines, the wise bet — Einstein-esque, in fact — is on Matt Cassel starting a week from Sunday at Mall of America Field. The Vikings were 0-3 when the calm veteran provided a turnover-free boost that resulted in a season-high 34 points and a victory over the Steelers in a “noon” “home” game played at 6 p.m., 4,000 miles from the Metrodome.
It’s kind of a you-do-the-math scenario, which is kind of why Adrian Peterson, the league’s reigning MVP, answered a question with a question, saying “What do you think?” when asked Sunday who should be starting at quarterback after this week’s bye.
As for Frazier, he, like any other coach, isn’t going to be concrete when it’s 13 days before the next kickoff and Ponder’s rib is still mending. Although Ponder said he was told the rib will be healed in time to play against the Panthers, there’s no guarantee that it will.
So it’s understandable Frazier would put off this decision until it actually has to be made rather than satisfy hypothetical questions. The ramifications are too great for a false start by the team’s top tongue.
Announcing a change at quarterback usually comes with the understanding of a long-term commitment to the new guy. Such a definitive commitment to Cassel could very well mean the end of Ponder’s career in Minnesota. That’s a big deal when the latter was the 12th overall pick less than three full seasons ago.
With that in mind, how silly would Frazier look if this quite-possible scenario played out: 1, Frazier announces Cassel is his guy, period! 2, Ponder remains injured and can’t play on Oct. 13. 3, Cassel starts and stinks on Oct. 13. 4, Uh-oh.
That’s not a box out of which Frazier wants to wiggle. And, frankly, why should he even climb in it to begin with?
So, for now, Frazier is going to talk about how the offense was balanced and efficient mostly because there were no turnovers. Between the lines: Cassel had no turnovers. Ponder had seven in two games.
“I think a lot of [the efficiency] had to do with Matt, getting the ball out on time, being able to get us out of runs and execute when we had some eight-man fronts in the passing game,” Frazier said. “So, I think a lot of it had to do with his execution as a quarterback.”
So why not, you know, stick with him?
“We’ll talk about a lot of things, but it’s more than one ballgame,” Frazier said. “He did a good job. I don’t want to take anything away from what Matt did. But we’ll try to do what’s best for our team. If we thought that Matt gave us the best chance to beat Carolina, then we’d approach that situation as well. But if Christian is healthy, we’ll take a look at what we need to do.”
Frazier was asked if he was “prepared for the onslaught” from angry fans if he starts Ponder.
“I don’t think our fans will be upset,” said Frazier, basically proving that coaches are way too busy to put their finger on the pulse of the public. “They just want the Vikings to win.”
He is right about the latter. The fans would start off angry, but their mood swings from play to play. If Ponder played like he did in last year’s victory over Green Bay, the fans wouldn’t be brooding that Frazier chose to start him.
Considering that fractured rib was near Ponder’s heart, there’s a good chance Frazier will get another chance to see Cassel play before he has to choose between two healthy QBs.
Until that’s the choice on the table, making a decision and announcing it makes no sense.
Mark Craig • firstname.lastname@example.org
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