The Minnesota Vikings' 34-27 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers not only gave them their first win of the season, it also produced a quarterback controversy. Matt Cassel was able to do in one game what Christian Ponder couldn't do in three—produce a win and deliver a turnover-free performance.
The decision of who starts the Vikings' next game in Week 6, when Carolina comes to the Metrodome, seems to be an easy one—except for head coach Leslie Frazier. On Tuesday, he was still saying that Ponder is the starter.
#Vikings' Frazier says Ponder is "still injured" but is still "our starting quarterback."— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) October 1, 2013
With the Vikings having a bye this week, this will be the most talked about topic for the next week and a half. Depending on the decision Frazier makes, it could be the topic much longer. Over 95 percent of people responding to a poll in a previous article believe Cassel should be the starter.
What is happening behind the scenes to make this a tough choice for Frazier?
Not only is Ponder off to a slow start this season, but it is the slowest start of his three-year career. The following table summarizes Ponder's performance in his first three games in each of his seasons.
These results make me question if perhaps Frazier suffered too many concussions from his playing days.
|Chicago Bears||3||1||vs. Saints (4-0)|
|Detroit Lions||3||1||@ Packers (1-2)|
|Green Bay Packers||1||2||vs. Lions (3-1)|
St. Paul Pioneer Press
If the games fall the way they should, the Vikings could find themselves within 1.5 games of the lead for the division.
On Tuesday during his press conference, Frazier indicated that the team came out of the Steelers' game unscathed, with no new injuries to report. This is great news for a team that played the game without two starters from the defensive backfield.
Here's the last injury report the Vikings issued before their game in London.
The good news is that the Vikings have an extra week to get healthy. The bad news is that includes Ponder.
What Must Improve
Cassel's play on Sunday addressed one of the areas for the Vikings that needed to improve. Now the decision-making ability of the coaching staff needs to use some common sense—as you can tell by now, this is a recurring theme.
Both the offensive and defensive lines played well against Pittsburgh on Sunday. The offensive line didn't give up a sack and opened up enough holes for Adrian Peterson to rush for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
The defensive line recorded four of the five sacks in the game—more appropriately, Jared Allen finally broke free with 2.5 sacks of Ben Roethlisberger.
However, not all was rosy...
Without starters Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford in the Vikings defensive backfield, the defense allowed Roethlisberger to pass for 383 yards. That dropped the already-porous defense from 29th to last in the league in passing yards allowed.
If the Vikings have any chance of turning around this season, the defense will need to get better—a lot better, and quick. Over their next six games, the Vikings will face Cam Newton, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson—all very capable quarterbacks of passing for a lot of yards.
If the Vikings don't find some way to get Antoine Winfield back in purple by the time the Panthers come to town, then this team is not serious about winning this year. In a report Tuesday from the Star Tribune, Frazier did not rule out the possibility of reaching out to Winfield.
Just like starting Cassel, re-signing Winfield is an easy decision.