How Will the Minnesota Vikings Perform Coming out of the Bye Week?

Matthew StensrudContributor IIIOctober 4, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Quarterback Matt Cassel #16 of the Minnesota Vikings throws the ball during the NFL International Series game between Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings at Wembley Stadium on September 29, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Michael Steele/Getty Images

The Minnesota Vikings are off this Sunday with a bye week, which may prove to be good timing for an organization facing more questions than answers at this point in the season.

After starting the season 0-3, the Vikings managed to hold on for their first win across the pond in London against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Matt Cassel filled in for an injured Christian Ponder and played well enough to keep the 2011 first-round draft pick on the bench for the foreseeable future.

Just don't tell that to Leslie Frazier. You won't get a straight answer from the head coach about the starting quarterback. When asked if he'll stick with the hot hand of Cassel, via, Frazier danced so well he may be receiving calls from ABC:

We’ll talk about a lot of things but it’s more than one ball game. He did a good job and I don’t want to take anything away from what Matt did but we’ll try to do what’s best for our team and if we thought that Matt gave us the best chance to beat Carolina than we’d approach that situation as well. If Christian is healthy then we’ll take a look at what we need to do.

In other words, Christian's our quarterback, sort of, unless we want to win against the Carolina Panthers in Week 6. Based on feedback from fans, Ponder can be "our quarterback" all season, as long as he's on the bench.

Sep 8, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder (7) on the bench in the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

For the Vikings to perform well coming out of the bye, they'll need to continue the winning formula that helped the team avoid an 0-4 start to the season.

First, that involves playing the quarterback with a passer rating of 123.4 and no turnovers under center, as opposed to the one with a passer rating of 65.9 and six turnovers (5 INT, 1 fumble).

I'll give you a hint. The former player is not Christian Ponder.

Second, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave will need to build on the game plan and play calls from last week, as opposed to some of the head-scratching decisions over the first three games of the season.

On the first drive of the game, Minnesota threw the ball three times on first down, compared with one first-down run by Adrian Peterson. The drive ended with a 54-yard field goal by Blair Walsh.

On the Vikings' next offensive possession, Cassel threw the ball three straight times, which concluded with a 70-yard touchdown strike to Greg Jennings.

And just like that, the Vikings led 10-0 off two drives that included eight passing attempts and three rushing attempts. Maybe there's something to this idea of creative play calling versus Run, Run, Pass, Punt.

Furthermore, Peterson still had an outstanding game with 140 yards rushing on 23 attempts and two touchdowns. Wait, it was actually his best rushing performance of the season.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Running back Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings scores a touchdown during the NFL International Series game between Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings at Wembley Stadium on September 29, 2013 in London, En
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Yes, that's right, you can actually set up the run with passing plays, especially when you have the best running back in all of football. The defense starts to question what you might run on first and second down.

Third, the defense for Minnesota will dictate the end result coming out of a bye week where they face a dangerous opponent in quarterback Cam Newton. The Vikings finally got to the quarterback against the Steelers, recording five sacks and adding an interception from Chad Greenway.

The five sacks for the Vikings were more than they had the first three games combined. No play was bigger than the final drive where Everson Griffen got his hands on Ben Roethlisberger, with Greenway stripping the ball and Kevin Williams recovering to close out the game.

Prior to that play, it appeared the Steelers were on the verge of tying the game down seven in the fourth quarter, completing a comeback after trailing 34-17.

Considering the final seconds against the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns, the outcome felt like a foregone conclusion for Vikings fans. Instead, an otherwise porous secondary received a much-needed boost from the defensive line, and Minnesota walked out of Wembley Stadium a winner.

In the end, when the Vikings lace up against the Carolina Panthers in Week 6, fans should expect to see three things:

1) Matt Cassel at starting quarterback.

2) Adrian Peterson rushing for over 100 yards, with Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton back in the lineup for his second game of the season.

3) The Vikings' defense holding Cam Newton under 300 yards passing and 50 yards rushing.

With a revamped game plan and better play calling from Bill Musgrave, the Vikings are in a position to improve to 2-3 against a weak Panthers team who have started the season 1-2.

And Leslie Frazier can keep dancing around questions about a quarterback controversy, as long as he's doing the two-step with Christian Ponder on the sideline.


Matthew Stensrud is a Featured Columnist for the Minnesota Vikings. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.