Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Josh Freeman situation becoming clearer
By Ben Goessling
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Matt Cassel will start for the second straight week Sunday, after completing 44.7 percent of his passes against the Ravens and posting 265 yards with the help of Cordarrelle Patterson's 79-yard touchdown on a screen pass.
In his six-game run as the Vikings' starting quarterback before that, Christian Ponder hung onto the job after games in which he threw for 145 yards against Green Bay, threw a fourth-quarter interception against Dallas and was benched after throwing two interceptions in four passes against Seattle.
We bring all this up to point out that the standard of quarterbacking in Minnesota this season -- the threshold Cassel and Ponder have cleared to keep their jobs at various times this season -- hasn't been terribly high.
Each week since Oct. 21, when Freeman completed 20 of his 53 passes for 195 yards in his one start against the New York Giants, coach Leslie Frazier has named someone else as the Vikings' starting quarterback. The first time it happened was after Freeman had sustained a concussion against the Giants, but in most cases since, when I've tweeted out the quarterback news, the popular follow-up question has been, "Why won't they put Freeman back on the field?"
Frazier has heard some variation of that question plenty from reporters this season. Here's what he said Wednesday, when asked if the decision was because of something Freeman hadn't done or something that Cassel and Ponder had done to elevate themselves over him:
"It's a little bit of all three. Matt and Christian have done some things along the way that have created a situation where we wanted to see Christian play a little more, and now we want to be able to seem Matt play a little bit. We've watched some things with Josh in practice and meetings. He's done a lot of good things, but where we are now, we want to be able to take a look at Matt and see how he does in back-to-back starts."
Once again Wednesday, Frazier wouldn't rule out the possibility of Freeman playing again this year, but he also wouldn't commit to the idea of the quarterback playing. Frazier said Freeman will be inactive Sunday, which means he could start two games, at most, the rest of the season. As quickly as the Vikings rushed Freeman into action after signing him Oct. 7, and as reluctant as they've been to play him again even as their other quarterbacks have been mediocre, it seems increasingly obvious that Freeman isn't doing enough to surpass the Vikings' other quarterbacks.
That could be for a couple reasons. The Vikings have been working with Freeman on his footwork all season, and he's still seemed to struggle with his accuracy in the times I've watched him in practice. Frazier also said on Nov. 20 that while Freeman has put in the work to learn the Vikings' offense, adding he'd surpassed the team's expectations based on what they had heard about him, it would be hard for the quarterback to have a "complete grasp" of the offense when he wasn't with the team in training camp.
It's also important to reiterate what we've discussed before: The Vikings are 3-9-1, and Frazier likely has every reason to be concerned about his future, considering he is only under contract through 2014. If winning a few games at the end of the year gives him a chance to save his job, that's not a terribly conducive environment for him taking chances.
Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman have both said the head coach made the decision to start Freeman on Oct. 21, though it's hard to know if anyone above Frazier strongly suggested to him that Freeman should start before he made that call. But as hasty as the move looks now, what's clear is Freeman hasn't put the onus on the Vikings to give him another shot after an embarrassing game on national TV.
While the Vikings' other two quarterbacks have kept the bar relatively low for Freeman to clear, the fact that he'll be on the sideline for the eighth straight week should say plenty.