Minnesota Vikings: Fan Talking Points After Win Against Pittsburgh Steelers
The biggest headline coming into the matchup was that backup quarterback Matt Cassel would be the starter, replacing Christian Ponder, who was sidelined with a fractured rib.
An above-average performance by Cassel helped lead the Vikings to victory, as he posted 248 yards through the air, two touchdowns and (most importantly) zero interceptions.
Even as Minnesota's defense appeared to be on the verge of collapse in the fourth quarter after leading 34-17, Everson Griffen and Chad Greenway combined to sack and strip the ball from Ben Roethlisberger, with Kevin Williams recovering to end the game.
The Vikings were able to celebrate victory for the first time this season while improving to 1-3. Conversely, the Steelers fell to 0-4, resulting in Big Ben claiming, via ESPN.com, "We're the worst team in the league."
The win for Minnesota was a much-needed change of direction as it heads into a bye week, preparing for the Carolina Panthers in Week 6. At the same time, the performance on Sunday has led to a host of talking points among fans the following days.
We take a look at a few of these issues below, asking fans to weigh in with their opinion in the comments section.
Matt Cassel: Backup or Starter?
Without hardly a moment for the conversation to begin, head coach Leslie Frazier reiterated a common mantra throughout the season after the Vikings game in London, via Ben Goessling of ESPN:
"Our quarterback is Christian Ponder."
Even in a game where Cassel was far from perfect, he clearly outperformed Ponder and helped lead the team to a win. He failed to throw an interception, something Ponder has done in every start of this season, including three against the Detroit Lions and a pick-six against the Chicago Bears.
Let's compare Ponder's performance through three games and Cassel's lone start.
In addition to pure statistics, Cassel passed the eye test on Sunday, demonstrating quick decision-making and confidence in his delivery. For a so-called backup, he led the team with poise and command.
For Frazier to bench Cassel in favor of Ponder, he would have to make the argument that Ponder still gives the Vikings the best chance of winning. The quarterback with five interceptions compared to two passing touchdowns. The quarterback who ranks 31st in passer rating in the NFL.
The sooner the front office can make a decision at starting quarterback, the better. And they may want to pull their heels from the ground in the process.
Wait... Who's the Vikings' No. 1 Wide Receiver?
Greg Jennings finally erupted for the type of game Vikings fans have been waiting for, hauling in the first touchdown by a wide receiver on a 70-yard touchdown. The veteran showed off some impressive moves in the open field on his way to paydirt.
Jennings followed that up with his second touchdown of the game on a perfectly thrown, 16-yard pass by Cassel in the end zone. He finished the game with three receptions for 92 yards.
However, the story at this point in the season has been the play of wide receiver Jerome Simpson. With low expectations coming into this season following a year of injuries and dropped passes, the former Cincinnati Bengal has led the Vikings in receptions and yards.
Among all receivers in the NFL, Simpson currently ranks 13th in receiving yards with 342 and is tied with Jennings for eighth in average yards per reception at 18.0.
Expect Jennings to continue to improve throughout the season, but there does not appear to be any sign of regression from Simpson, who has received steady targets from both Vikings quarterbacks.
Defense Finally Starting to Pressure Quarterback
Through the first two games of the season, the Vikings were only able to record one sack against their opponent, albeit an impressive strip-sack by Jared Allen that Brian Robison returned for a 61-yard touchdown against the Chicago Bears.
Over the past two games, Minnesota has eclipsed that total eight-fold, dropping the quarterback three times against the Cleveland Browns and five times against the Steelers. Jared Allen leads the club with 3.5 sacks.
In order for the Vikings to limit passing opportunities with a banged-up secondary, defensive coordinator Alan Williams will need to continue to mix up schemes against opposing quarterbacks.
The play of Griffen at the end of the Steelers game was particularly timely, as Roethlisberger was unable to outmaneuver the grasp of the fourth-year defensive end.
And while the defensive line has done a good job at disrupting the quarterback the past two games, linebackers Erin Henderson and Greenway have added to the mix with sack totals of 2.0 and 1.0, respectively.
Given the continued injury concerns of starting cornerback Chris Cook, Minnesota cannot allow a clean pocket or unobstructed throwing lanes on defense. The question will be whether the Vikings can maintain this level of pressure against Cam Newton in Week 6.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com, unless otherwise noted.
Matthew Stensrud is a Featured Columnist for the Minnesota Vikings. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.
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