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By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - So Leslie Frazier didn't come out and name Matt Cassel the Vikings starting quarterback twelve days from now against the Carolina Panthers. So what? We should all know better than to jump in and take an NFL coach at their word. Besides, he never came out and said that Cassel wasn't going to be the starter. All he said in his press conference on Tuesday (CLICK HERE to read more on that) was that the team would "re-evaluate the situation on Monday." Who can fault him for that?
It's almost a requirement in today's NFL for head coaches and upper management to have mastered the art of the "smokescreen." Teams utilize this strategy year after year during the NFL Draft and the Vikings themselves utilized the smokescreen tactic last week when they withheld the fact that it would be Matt Cassel and not Christian Ponder under center for the Vikings in London against the Steelers.
Think about it. If their reasoning was in fact that if they were to put Ponder on the field, his life would be in danger, that knowledge was not acquired later in the week. They knew that Ponder would be ruled out the Monday after the Browns game. Instead, they played the Steelers and waited until Mike Tomlin and his team were mid-air on a transatlantic flight before they announced Cassel the starter. It's all a ploy.
So why are Vikings fans all up in arms when they see Frazier utilizing the same tactic against the Panthers through the Bye Week? I fully expect to see Ponder taking snaps on the practice field when the team returns next week. I fully expect Frazier and the Vikings to wait until Friday, October 11th before announcing their starting quarterback. And I fully expect Matt Cassel to be the starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings against Carolina at Mall of America Field.
Even Frazier couldn't fully hide how well he thought Cassel did Sunday against the Steelers. Read between the lines of his Tuesday afternoon press conference and you can see it too. Even the coach found ways to praise Cassel and take passive aggressive shots at Ponder.
Here are three reasons how you can tell that Leslie Frazier's decision is already made, and that the decision will in fact be Matt Cassel.
Here's a sampling of what Leslie said about Cassel's performance on Sunday...
- "Matt did a good job, his experience definitely showed up in that ball game."
- "I think a lot of [the efficiency] had to do with Matt getting the ball out on time, being able to get us in and out of runs and executing when we had some eight man fronts in the passing game."
- "I think a lot of it had to do with [Matt's] execution as quarterback."
- "[I liked] the big plays that we had, the rhythm that we had as an offense, it was good to see."
- "We were much more efficient."
- "Probably the biggest thing [on Sunday], we didn't turn the ball over. That's been an achilles heel for us."
That doesn't sound like a coach who is still deciding which of his two options is best? It's either the guy that didn't throw to the other team and won the game, or the guy who threw five interceptions and lost. Seems pretty simple to me...
When I asked Leslie about the offense being more balanced, more explosive, and overall better with Cassel under center, Frazier attempted to talk his way in a circle and support his former starting quarterback (that's what I'm now calling Christian Ponder). In reality, all Frazier did was expose one of the team's biggest frustrations with Christian's play the first three weeks. Here is exactly what Frazier said...
"We've tried to be a little bit more balanced as the season goes on. We've had some pretty good drives going [under Christian's lead] and then we do things to stop those drives ourselves with turnovers...We've had too many series that ended with the ball in the other team's hand...We were very productive and relatively balanced [with Matt Cassel on Sunday]. Part of that was we finished with points or punted it. We didn't finish with the ball in the other team's hands [as we did with Christian]."
Wow. If that doesn't expose some inner frustrations, I'm not sure what does. The numbers back up Frazier's claim too.
With Ponder running the offense, the Vikings turned the ball over ten times through the first three weeks of the season. Admittedly, five of those ten turnovers were fumbles (two of which were credited to Ponder) but five of them were interceptions, many of which came while the Vikings were driving.
How quickly we forget that we've heard this song before and that if we just think about it, we know how it plays out. Do any of these comments sound familiar?
- "He continued to make the plays that needed to be made. He showed a lot of the poise and composure that you need against a very good defense. He made a lot of plays"
- "He did a good job for us throughout this game and just battled and continued to make plays for us to the end."
- "He's a guy who's pretty composed out there, pretty much under control…they really feel as if he's in charge and they kind of rally from that."
These comments, which are eerily similar to those Frazier spouted off about Matt Cassel after this last Sunday's game, were uttered back in 2011 when the Minnesota Vikings opted to bench their last starting quarterback Donovan McNabb and replaced him with their current starting quarterback Christian Ponder. They were said in reference to Ponder's first career start against the Green Bay Packers at MOA Field. At that point in time, starting Ponder was simply an experiment brought on after McNabb got off to a slow start. Heading into the following week, nobody, not even Frazier (supposedly), was sure whether Ponder would be the team's starting quarterback or if they would give the ball back to the incumbent.
We saw how it played out back then. It was time to make a change and Frazier knew it. Ponder never looked back and McNabb fizzled into the background as his former backup took the starting job out from under him. So why is it any different today?
So there you have it. Everybody just take a deep breath and step back from this situation before we start throwing stuff out the windows and calling for peoples heads. There are still twelve days between now and gameday. That leaves twelve days for Frazier to toy with the opposition, twelve days to put out the smokescreen, and twelve more days to pretend like he hasn't already made his decision.
And if all of that hasn't convinced you, ponder this for a minute (pun intended). Coach Frazier joined KFAN and Dan Barreiro Tuesday evening and he admitted to that he already has made a decision.
When asked whether or not he has made the decision on his starting quarterback, Coach Frazier replied by saying, "that would be fair to say."
Coach went on to say that he will continue to withhold his decision as long as possible because it creates "a competitive advantage for our opponent. We'd like them to practice and work with two quarterbacks in mind, that helps us."
Frazier saying that the decision has already been made is pretty much the icing on the cake for a Cassel start after the bye. Ponder's health is still up in the air, so how come the starting spot is no longer up in the air? Because deep down, Frazier has already given the nod to Matt Cassel to start in two weeks against the Carolina Panthers.
Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions regarding this post in the space provided below. For Vikings updates and breaking Vikings news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjKFAN