5 Minnesota Vikings on the Hot Seat Following 1-3 Start
Though the 2013 season hasn't gotten off to as good a start as most Minnesota Vikings fans would have hoped for, the team avoided a complete disaster with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday in London.
Matt Cassel, substituting for an injured Christian Ponder, provided just enough spark to lead the Vikings to their first win of the season. Cassel's performance has given fans disenchanted with Ponder a reason to hope that the rest of the year goes better in Minnesota.
However, a seven-point win over a bad Steeler team isn't a cure-all. There are still many issues for the Vikings to correct if they have any plans to repeat last year's playoff performance.
The 1-3 start has some members of the organization on the hot seat. Unless the team starts winning, drastic changes might be on the way.
Here's a look at five Vikings on the hot seat following the team's 1-3 start.
(all statistics courtesy of Pro-Football Reference.com, unless otherwise noted)
Even though Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier stated that Christian Ponder is still the team's quarterback following the win in London, the reality is that unless Matt Cassel is injured or goes completely in the tank, Ponder is done starting games for Minnesota.
Frazier did what a coach is supposed to do. He stated the organization's point of view without backing the team into a corner.
The team has a bye this week, and there's no reason for Frazier to make any definitive statement about the quarterback situation. Frazier's comments also leave some room for maneuvering.
When the Vikings get ready to play Carolina on October 13, Frazier can say that Cassel will start because Ponder is still recovering from a fractured rib. If Cassel plays well, Frazier can simply say that the Vikings are staying with the hot hand for the next game. If Cassel doesn't play well, Ponder can be re-inserted into the lineup and Frazier can claim that the job was Ponder's all along.
Frazier, currently in the last year of his contract, would be foolish to mess with success. He needs the team to win games if he's going to keep his job. Simply put, he needs to keep Cassel on the field in order to give the team its best chance to win.
As Judd Zulgad of 1500 ESPN states, Cassel brings something to the table that Ponder was clearly lacking.
What Cassel gave the Vikings was the threat of a quarterback who could complete passes on a consistent basis and also throw the ball down the field. This meant the Steelers had no choice but to show some respect for a Vikings passing game that far too often has been easy to ignore.
It's pretty simple. Cassel's passer rating is 123.4. Ponder's is 65.9. Cassel made some iffy throws on Sunday, but he made them with authority. He checked out of a running play on one third down and zipped a pass to Jerome Simpson that garnered the team a crucial first down.
Ponder too often looks confused in the pocket. His passes lack zip, and it frequently appears as if he's playing to avoid mistakes as opposed to attacking defenses.
There's little doubt that Cassel gives the team a better chance to win. Ponder is squarely on the hot seat, if not already on his way out.
Another Viking on the hot seat is safety Andrew Sendejo.
Sendejo was pressed into action against Pittsburgh because of an injury to starting safety Jamarca Sanford. Though the Minnesota pass defense was porous to begin with, Sendejo's presence only made things worse.
Sendejo was frequently out of position, and was slow to react when Steeler receivers adjusted their routes. He was beaten routinely on passing plays and only contributed four tackles on the day.
While Sendejo is a strong contributor on special teams, he doesn't belong on the field in the team's base defense. Other players, such as Robert Blanton and Mistral Raymond, are also special teams contributors, and both of them are better than Sendejo in coverage and against the run.
When Sanford comes back from injury, the team would do well to let Sendejo go and try and sign some veteran help at cornerback.
Of the people on this list, Jarius Wright might be the only person who is on the hot seat for reasons beyond his control.
It isn't that Wright has done anything wrong. It's that he really hasn't done much of anything thus far this year.
For the season, Wright has only five catches. By comparison, Cordarrelle Patterson has seen roughly a third as many snaps as Wright and has four grabs. With the emergence of a healthy Jerome Simpson and the evident chemistry between Matt Cassel and Greg Jennings, it doesn't look like Wright's prospects are going to get any better.
Wright faces some of the same problems as Sendejo, though he seems to have more potential. Last year, Wright seemed like the only viable deep threat on the roster after Percy Harvin went down with an injury. This year, Patterson and Simpson have both shown the ability to get deep, and both are faster than Wright.
Wright has done some good things as a slot receiver. While he continues to line up in the slot, Wright will begin losing snaps to Patterson as the season goes on. Either Patterson will move into the slot position or he'll displace one of the outside receivers, who will then move inside.
Wright can also return punts and kicks. However, Patterson has quickly emerged as one of the most electrifying return men in the league, and Marcus Sherels is a capable punt returner.
It may seem like an odd thing to say about a 1-3 team, but the Vikings' roster depth may spell doom for Jarius Wright.
Like Jarius Wright, Jared Allen finds his way onto this list for a unique reason.
While Wright may get squeezed out by roster depth, Allen may find himself on the way out of Minnesota because of his recent stellar play.
After a relatively quiet first few games, Allen exploded against the Steelers. He garnered 2.5 sacks and was much more productive against the run than he's been thus far this season.
If the Vikings fall out of playoff contention, Allen would make ideal trade bait. He's in the last year of an expensive contract. (Allen's cap number for this season is in excess of $17 million.) He's still productive and could provide just the spark a contending team short on pass rushers needs.
The big question comes down to value. Could Minnesota coax a high draft pick out of a contender? In order to justify trading Allen, the Vikings would have to get at least a second-round pick and a third or fourth. While that doesn't seem like a lot for a Pro Bowl-caliber defensive end, the picks and the subsequent cap relief could be a strong attraction for a team that is looking to rebuild.
It may seem far-fetched, but remember that the Vikings have a young playmaker in Everson Griffen who is also in the last year of his contract. As a starter, Griffen could probably produce nearly as many sacks as Allen and would do so for less than half the price.
Chances are that unless Allen is willing to take a substantial pay cut, this is his last season in Minnesota anyway. It might be a good idea for the Vikings to try and get something for him instead of simply letting him walk.
Alan Williams is the only non-player on this list. The reason he's here is simple. The Vikings defense, expected to be a strength of this year's squad, has been abysmal.
Minnesota ranks 29th in the NFL in total defense. The Vikings are last in the league against the pass, 14th against the run (largely because of a low number of attempts against them) and 29th in scoring defense. These are the types of numbers that get coaches fired.
Some of the problems aren't totally Williams' fault. The Minnesota secondary, thin to begin with, has been decimated by injuries. In fairness, however, the team wasn't stopping the pass before Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford got hurt.
The Vikings have played some big-time quarterbacks. Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler and Ben Roethlisberger are among the most prolific passers in the NFL. However, the team also gave up more than 300 yards to Brian Hoyer, making his second career start, in the Cleveland game.
If the team continues to give up a ton of yards through the air, and fortunes decline in Minnesota, Williams could find himself out of a job.
Is someone missing from the list? Is there someone there that shouldn't be? Speak your mind in the comments section below.
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