Vikings-Steelers Box Score (ESPN)
Matt Cassel: how an average NFL QB saved the day
Today we saw what the Viking offense looks like with a normal NFL QB that does normal NFL QB things. He dropped back and stayed in the pocket while looking for open receivers. He targeted numerous passes deep downfield. And he put passes mostly right near the receivers' hands where they could make an easy play on the ball.
The result? Holy cow! Greg Jennings is a talented wide receiver, and he was given a chance to show it. Jerome Simpson made plays downfield. Adrian Peterson found space to make plays. The Vikes put up 34 points and looked good doing it: they could both make big plays and sustain long drives.
The most impressive thing was Cassel's willingness and ability to stay in the pocket. Sure, the Vikes pass blocked better today than they have in their previous three games. But Cassel could execute a play, read the defense, and give his pass catchers a chance to make plays. And they did. It's hard not to imagine Christian Ponder darting out of the pocket as quickly as he can, failing to throw the ball to receivers that broke open, and throwing off target when he does try to hit those receivers. The Vikes looked like they could try pass routes today that they couldn't try with Ponder. Maybe they have been trying them and Ponder can't execute them. I don't know. But I know Cassel looked a million times better than Ponder just by being a normal NFL QB.
The offensive and defensive lines performed
The Viking offensive line has struggled to block; today they performed very well. This may actually be more about the Steelers' inability to rush the passer. And the Viking defensive line has struggled to put pressure on passers; today they did a terrific job pressuring the quarterback. This may actually be more about the Steelers too: their offensive line looks pretty bad right now, and Ben Roethlisberger holds the ball a long time.
But this was a huge factor in the game. The Viking offense was able to execute a variety of offensive plays that they wouldn't be able to do without good blocking. And the Viking defense, which was not terrific in general, did regularly pressure Roethlisberger, and when they were about to give up yet another late touchdown and blown lead, they came through with a forced fumble on a sack.
The Viking defense still isn't good enough; they almost blew a day of effective quarterbacking. Maybe they'll be awful against the pass all season long; maybe the coaches will work on some things while they have the bye week. Either way, this doesn't look like an "In Gus We Trust" situation: the defense isn't good enough to compete right now.
Still, if the Viking coaches care about competing this season, they'd be nuts--NUTS--to put Ponder back in at quarterback. Ask Greg Jennings if he'd rather have Ponder throwing to him (or watching him run pass routes and not throwing to him). Ask the offensive line if they want to block for a guy that's standing tough trying to execute a play or a guy who runs around like a maniac at the first bit of pass pressure.
Skol, Vikes. That was a fun win.