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Bangers and Mash (10/02/2013)
By Patrick Marek
Vikings Outlast Steelers 34-27

The Steelers came late to the party in London, arriving on Friday with hopes that a normal week of practice would help them storm the Vikings’ Cassel and secure their first victory of the season. The Vikings spent all week in Great Britain, and responded to their “home game” by tearing down Big Ben.

For years, analysts have speculated about what would happen when the Vikings had a quarterback who could make teams pay for stacking the box to stop Adrian Peterson. Now we know. Matt Cassel may be a lower tier quarterback by NFL standards, but he certainly is an upgrade from Christian Ponder. Cassel set the tone on the game’s first drive, delivering quick slants that caught the receivers in stride for first downs. The former New England Patriots back-up quarterback was decisive in the pocket, and delivered the ball quickly and on time. Cassell completed 16 of 25 passes for 248 yards for a 123.4 quarterback rating. That rating is higher than anything Ponder has achieved in his three-year career at Minnesota. Best of all, Cassell didn’t turn the ball over, although he got lucky on two dropped interceptions, and a fumble that was recovered by Jerome Simpson.

Leslie Frazier is still president of the Christian Ponder fan club. After the game, he refused to anoint Cassel as the starter for the team’s next game against Carolina. He began his post-game press conference by saying: “Christian’s our quarterback.” It’s apparent that his vote of confidence isn’t shared by the players. Adrian Peterson talked about Cassel’s commanding pocket presence, and Greg Jennings (three catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns), and Jerome Simpson (seven catches for 124 yards) could hardly contain their glee when praising their new quarterback’s performance. Cassel’s accuracy enabled the receivers to catch the ball in stride and put the defenders in vulnerable positions.

Perhaps most telling is the fact that the offensive line didn’t give up a sack, and opened holes for Adrian Peterson all day long. Ponder had to be wondering where that line was when he was getting pummeled for the first three weeks. It’s a lot easier to block when your quarterback doesn’t look like he’s posing for a statue in the backfield. Ponder is a cerebral player who tends to overthink plays, and is afraid to make mistakes. Now he’ll have plenty of time to think on the sidelines.

Speaking of statues, is there any other quarterback in the NFL who holds the ball longer than Ben Roethlisberger? Big Ben is mobile in the pocket for such a supersized quarterback, and has an amazing ability to stay upright despite the best efforts of defensive linemen. This is great if you have a decent offensive line, but the Steelers have one of the league’s worst. Steelers left tackle Mike Adams is going to be seeing Jared Allen and the rest of the Minnesota defensive line in his nightmares. Allen destroyed Adams while collecting 2 and a half of the Vikings’ season high five sacks. Adams was also part of the protection package that allowed Everson Griffin to strip the ball from Roethlisberger on the Steelers last possession.

Unfortunately, Minnesota’s linebackers and defensive backs didn’t grade out as well as the team’s defensive line. The linebacker group seems ill-suited to the Tampa II coverage scheme and performs equally poorly against the pass or the run. Desmond Bishop has been effective when in the game, but spent most of his time on the sidelines. The secondary has been ravaged by injury, and Josh Robinson in particular has been picked on unmercifully. Hopefully the bye week will allow Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford to get healthy, and spare us the heartburn and anxiety we’ve experienced at the end of the first four games. 


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