"If Ponder's a hassle, start Matt Cassel!"
Almost immediately following the signing of Matt Cassel this past offseason, Vikings fans and local radio hosts started saying things of the like. Rumors started swirling. Adam Schefter said the Vikings are bringing in Cassel to compete with Christian Ponder for the starting quarterback job. Then the Vikings employed damage control and shot it down quickly. All summer we heard about how Ponder looks better, how he's "commanding" the offense. Heck, even his arm "looked" stronger!
Smoke blowing extravaganza commences! Such is life being a fan of a team without a "franchise" quarterback.
Each year since the Vikings drafted Samantha's husband, we, as fans, have tried to find ways to justify the pick. After all, he was taken 12th overall in a draft where "experts" said he'd maybe creep into the end of the first, if lucky. I remember sitting there when the pick was announced and writhing like a worm in acid. But then folks like Mike Mayock told us that he was the most NFL-ready passer of the bunch. Pete Prisco, one of the most negative-nellies out there, predicted Ponder would be a good NFL quarterback.
As a Vikings fan, I've endured the ups and (mostly) downs of Christian Ponder for the last two-plus seasons. He's struggled to embody any resemblance of a starting NFL quarterback. He has flashed at times, and has a decent pair of wheels, but has the pocket presence of a greasy penny in your hole-riddled jean pocket. This season has been no better. Through three games he's produced 691 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions, a 65.9 QB rating and enough bewildered looks to last a lifetime. It seems the offseason reports were just cruel mind games and now, after one wackily-reported rib injury, Matt Cassel could be the guy in Minnesota.
I'm not trying to say that Cassel is some castle-homed-knight in shining armor who's going to march in and guide the Vikings to the playoffs. I am not saying that. (Heck, he's the same guy that was booed off the field after he sustained a concussion in a game last season for the Chiefs. That's beyond cold by the way, Chiefs fans...) He did, however, go 16/25 for 248 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against Pittsburgh last week. He stood pat in the pocket (no sacks), stepping up to deliver a few crisp passes to Jerome Simpson and Greg Jennings during crucial moments. The same moments, in recent games, that replayed Christian Ponder tunnel-visioning one player and missing wide open guys either at or near the first-down marker.
If you take a look at this year with Ponder, the Vikings have attempted 109 pass plays with 47 of them resulting in a positive outcome. That is, 43.12 percent of the Vikings plays, according to our metrics, have been successful. With Cassel in, 26 pass plays were run with 14 deemed a success. That's a 53.85 percent positivity-clip. We ain't pretending to sniff Peyton Manning numbers here folks, but it's an improvement.
One must pump the brakes a bit, as the Steelers defense isn't the menacing maniacal black and yellow hornet ready-to-sting-you-to-the-tune-of-a-team-endorsing Wiz Khalifa jam. With that said though, Vikings players seemed to be more than on board with the switch. Earlier in the week, Greg Jennings was quoted saying "Cassel is more verbal, kind of commanding in the huddle." When Adrian Peterson was asked after the game if Cassel should be the quarterback he said, "What do you think?" The Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is playing hard-to-get when it comes to the starter going forward. He quickly stated it would be Ponder when asked post-game, but as he's been poked and prodded with follow-up questions, his stance continues to soften. We'll have to wait and see, but vibes veer towards Cassel.
The move to Cassel likely just feeds the monster that is Peterson to more monstrous levels. He's used to stacked boxes, and has produced facing them. Any alleviation to that will just be icing on the cake. He's one of only two fantasy running backs with two 100-plus yard games and has two more rushing touchdowns than second place Marshawn Lynch. After being bottled up a bit lately, All Day done ran for 140 yards and two scores against the Steelers in London. Things will only get better when defenses have to respect the passing game at least some.
After signing a fat contract, Greg Jennings was supposed to step right in and take over a large chunk of the Swiss-Army-knife-like role that Percy Harvin had done so well with the past couple seasons. As a master of route running, Greg was supposed to be Christian's best friend. But, with Ponder, Jennings has averaged 53 yards per game through the first three games, only topping 75 yards once. One game with Cassel produced 92 yards and two scores. Jennings could at least produce as the WR3 you hoped for when you drafted him with Cassel at the helm.
Jerome had a nice game against Pittsburgh, too: 11 targets, seven catches and 124 yards. He's a solid YAC-guy. He also had a very nice game Week 1 with Ponder, going for 140 against Detroit. Simpson has been an up-and-down player his entire career though, so it's hard to predict his productivity. He's more of a bye-week filler - maybe WR5-type - but the 11 targets against Pittsburgh were three more than any other game so far this year.
Rudolph The Redzone Reindeer has been one of the bigger disappointments in fantasy this year. He's been, and will, remain touchdown-dependent since he's not a burner, but he's only gone over 20 yards once this year. You're not starting him, and probably don't even own him anymore with the wealth of tight end options this year. To make matters worse (via numberFire's Jeff Miller), in 2009-2012 in Kansas City, the Chiefs ranked 29th, 20th, 32th, and 29th in fantasy points at tight end with Cassel quarterbacking. Things don't look good for Rudy.