The first preseason game is usually a yawn. After the first series or two it is hard to recognize names, and players come and go so quickly you cannot tell if your team's 2nd string is beating your opponents' 3rd string or worse. The Vikings opened this week with the Houston Texans, and marquis names like Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, and Jared Allen were expectedly absent.
Usually on the agenda is a first glimpse of new additions to the team. Draft choices will make an appearance, provided they are not banged up, and off-season acquisitions will get their first chance to don the home colors. In the case of the game vs. Houston, two of the Vikings' three first-round picks made extended appearances. Cordarrelle Patterson made an instant impact, returning a kick-off 50 yards, stumbling only as he tried to go by the final tackler. He finished with four catches for 54 yards, 104 total yards as Minnesota gave the flashy rookie every chance to win over the crowd. Sharrif Floyd, a defensive tackle, made a couple of nice plays before getting dinged and leaving the field. Xavier Rhodes did not play.
But most eyes (and hearts) were trained on Matt Cassel. The majority of Vikings' fans are highly concerned with Christian Ponder's lack of progress, and moreover, frightened of who backs him up. Joe Webb struck a nerve in his under whelming effort in Green Bay last season in the Wild-Card loss. The addition of Cassel gave Ponder critics hope that Minnesota will 'see the light' and give up on the young quarterback. Fans who are still behind Ponder see the addition of the veteran quarterback as insurance that we will not see another game like the last vs. the Packers.
Ponder would play only the first series. He made a nice pass to Jerome Simpson for 15 yards on his first attempt. Then, on the Houston 40-yard line, Ponder's pass intended for Simpson deflected off of his fingertips and was intercepted. Catchable, but slightly overthrown in the middle of the field. The anti-Ponder fans were reminded of why they feel they way they do.
Cassel played the rest of the half. He completed 12 of 19 passes for over 200 yards, though the field was littered with backups and players hoping to make an NFL roster. Minnesota did keep Patterson on the field, and Cassel targeted him six times, completing four. Cassel's biggest play was a 61-yard touchdown pass to Zach Line, an unknown from SMU. Noteworthy on that play was the impressive efforts of Stephen Burton, who made a crucial down field block that allowed Line to score. Cassel hit Burton earlier with a 56-yard pass, where Burton's agility sprung him for a much bigger gain after the catch.
All in all a decent game.
There were some passes that should not have been thrown. Cassel was intercepted on a pass intended for John Carlson that never had a chance. A few others missed their mark. But I doubt if the anti-Ponder fans read too much into that. They were too busy celebrating 200 passing yards in a half. Cassel completed his first three passes, missed on five of the next six, and then completed eight of his last ten.
Matt Cassel is an interesting player. He never started a single game in college. Playing for USC, he threw only 33 passes in his four years. He had 11 rush attempts, and caught a pass. He never was involved in a touchdown directly. He was drafted by the New England Patriots with the 230th overall pick in the seventh round. His first three years at New England were as a back-up only. However, in his fourth season he took over for an injured Tom Brady and went 10-5, throwing for over 3,600 yards, 21 touchdowns, and only 11 interceptions. His passer rating was 89.4.
Cassel was a sudden commodity.
He ended up in Kansas City, after signing a 63-million dollar contract through 2014. Cassel would go 4-11 as a starter in 2009, throwing only 16 TDs in 15 games. But the following year things changed for the better. Cassel threw for 27 TDs with only seven picks, over 3,100 yards, and the Chiefs were 10-5 in his starts. Cassel played in the Pro Bowl that year, his only appearance to date.
Cassel had become a star.
But then the injury bug struck, Cassel started only 17 games the next two year, and the Chiefs were 5-12 in those games. Cassel threw 21 interceptions compared to 16 TDs in that stretch. Cassel's passer rating, 93.0 in his Pro Bowl year of 2010, dropped to 76.6 in 2011, and 66.7 in 2012. It got so bad that Arrowhead faithful actually cheered when he was injured last season.
Rick Spielman took Cassel away from all that, and now he works for us.
Matt Cassel will continue to see plenty of time during this preseason. While Christian Ponder will begin to take more and more snaps as he prepares to be the 2013 starter, Cassel will still get a quick education of Bill Musgrave's offense and players. Matt will start the season as Ponder's back-up.
A role he has parlayed into something bigger throughout his career.