Monday, September 30, 2013

Vikings Face Jerry Kill Moment

In Sunday's unnecessarily harrowing 34-27 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at storied Wembley Stadium, the Minnesota Vikings created for themselves a question that really ought not be a question--who starts at quarterback going forward?

This is a question that another local team recently encountered.  Faced with the decision of whether to start a quarterback, coming off injury, who had not played particularly well this season or his replacement who played well against a common opponent and even better in his first full start, Minnesota Gopher coach Jerry Kill fell back on the old saw that his starter is his starter.  The result was a performance that likely will cost the Gophers 20,000 or so fans per game for the remainder of the team's home schedule--no small significance given the estimate of $75 in revenue per paying customer.

The Vikings are far more adept at marketing and managing a team than are the Gophers, but that does not mean that they will automatically make the right decision in naming a starting quarterback when the team returns to the field.  Like Kill, Frazier and Spielman are judged on wins and losses.  Kill thought that the quarterback he named to start gave his team the best chance to win; almost everyone disagreed and the results tend to support the argument that sticking with the backup would have meant far more to the team in all areas.

Spielman has been wedded to Christian Ponder since using a high first-round pick on him in 2011.  The eye test suggested as far back as 2011 that Ponder was an average-at-best quarterback in the NFL.  Spielman was not convinced, however, and called for patience.  His eyes saw things more clearly, we were told.

Spielman first argued that eighteen starts were necessary to judge a quarterback at the NFL level--an odd claim given that he based his decision to pick Ponder on the notion that the judging had already been done and stated that Ponder was the "most NFL-ready quarterback in the [2011] draft."  When eighteen games came and went, and Ponder still looked just like the quarterback who first took the field in 2011, Spielman changed the requirement to twenty-four games.

After twenty-four games, and no signs of greatness or even a sense of consistency evidenced itself in Ponder's play, Spielman again changed the standard.  "We really need three seasons to get a feel for what Christian can do," he argued, all while planting the seed in the mouths and minds of his trusted couriers in the local media that the first year really should not count as a year, because Ponder did not play the whole year.

Following a solid if relatively average performance by Matt Cassel in London--a performance that netted 248 passing yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions--Cassel represented the lowered expectations that Spielman had set for Ponder, expectations that Ponder was not meeting.

Asked after the game whether Cassel's performance solidified his status as starting quarterback for the Vikings' next game, at home against the Carolina Panthers, Frazier nauseatingly offered that he just wanted to enjoy the victory for twenty-four hours, as if answering a question regarding a starting quarterback and enjoying a victory are mutually exclusive.

In Sunday's game, Cassel was the epitome of the type of quarterback that the Vikings claim they can live with as long as Adrian Peterson is the focus of the offense.  He hit open receivers.  He hit open receivers in stride.  He spread the ball to all of this receivers, even connecting with John Carlson.  He made quick decisions.  He released the ball quickly.  And he produced in the red zone.  Ponder not only does none of these things well, he does all of them poorly.

If, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, Frazier cannot find yet another Ponder injury or simply be bold enough to state the obvious, that Cassel gives the Vikings a better chance to win games, he ought to be given no more credence as a head coach than Jerry Kill is receiving after a lifeless and hapless loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes.  The guess here is that the Vikings' ownership will not allow that result to transpire, no matter the inertia to the contrary in some quarters at Winter Park.

Up Next:  Numbers.

1 comment:

ErictheRed said...

I can understand Spielman wanting his draft pick to succeed and giving Ponder every opportunity. That ship has sailed though. If he is starting over Cassel then I can no longer defend the GM. The coaches can go either way as far as I'm concerned that's another debate. It isn't like Cassel is the long term solution either, but at least he gives the rest of the team something to play for.