The Minnesota Vikings were considered virtually certain to beat the Cleveland Browns in Week 3, but they lost for the second consecutive week late in the fourth quarter to fall to 0-3. Now they’ll travel to London and take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 4, in a “home” game according to the schedule.
The convenient excuse for Minnesota’s poor start to the season is the play of quarterback Christian Ponder, and he clearly has not played well for the most part (691 passing yards, two touchdowns, five interceptions). But focusing strictly on Ponder means missing a defense that allowed over 400 yards to a Browns’ offense that had a quarterback making his second career start (Brian Hoyer) and had traded away their best offensive player (running back Trent Richardson) four days prior to the game. Poor play on special teams, highlighted by the return yardage the Vikings allowed to Devin Hester in Week 2 and the Browns successfully executing a fake punt and a fake field goal this past Sunday, also should not be overlooked in the team’s winless start.
Ponder will start Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh, barring something unforeseen, but whether he finishes the game has to be considered an open question at this point. The Steelers’ defense is not the quite the dominant unit it has been in the past, but if defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is able to render Ponder indecisive and skittish again Matt Cassel may enter the game fairly quickly.
Ponder obviously needs to play better to keep Cassel on the bench, and if the Vikings come home with a win over the Steelers it’s likely he keeps the starting job through the bye week and heading toward Week 6 against the Carolina Panthers. But I don’t think Sunday’s result should matter all that much in any decision to switch signal callers, since the Vikings may not need a good performance out of Ponder to beat the Steelers and if he plays poorly enough Cassel may replace him during the game any way.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.