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Frazier Discusses The Ponder / Cassel Dynamic, Injury Updates and More

Posted Oct 1, 2013

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier

It’s good to be back home. That trip to London was a good trip for our football team. The people there were so good to us. The league did a good job of setting things up along with our operations staff here at Winter Park, they did a terrific job of having things laid out where myself, the coaches and players could really concentrate on the game and it worked out well for us to come back with a win. It was a good experience all the way around and I’m really proud of the way our organization handled things while we were there along with being very appreciative of the hospitality that we were shown by the fans, the people that organized the event. It was good all the way around, a lot of plusses for our team. Injury wise we came out pretty good, nothing new injury wise. We’ll have to see how Christian does as the week goes on and the fact that we’re during our bye so we’ll have some time and then we’ll come back and reevaluate him along with Rhett Ellison and some of the other guys that were banged up last week and weren’t able to play. Looking back at the game, so many plusses for our football team. First of all to get our first win of the season, that was big. The way our coaching staff did a great job of keeping our players focused on the task at hand, the way our players handled any situations that were there that could have been a distraction, didn’t allow things to become a distraction, stayed focused on the game and then to go out and see so many players step up and make the big plays that they made. Jared Allen with the sacks, to see Adrian play the way he played, Greg Jennings big play after big play, just a lot of guys making big plays throughout the day, the big sack-fumble by Everson Griffen at the end of the game, our offensive line really stepping up and opening up some holes. The defensive line consistently putting pressure on the quarterback, our young secondary working as hard as the they could to try to limit a very good quarterback and some good receivers as well, our special teams, Blair (Walsh) another 50-plus yard field goal, 12 consecutive ones sets a franchise record. A lot of plusses, a lot of good things for us gives us some momentum going into this bye week as we prepare for our next ball game that will begin to take shape and prepare a little bit. Pleased with the results of the game, obviously.

Q: So you’re sticking with Christian as the starting quarterback?

A: Yeah, Christian is still injured but he’s our starting quarterback and we’ll see how he does coming out of the bye.

Q: A lot of players were complimentary of the job that Matt Cassel did on Sunday. Did you take any of that into consideration when you decided not to make Matt the starter right now?

A: I haven’t read many of those comments even up to this point. We’ll see how things go this week as well as next week with Christian. Matt did a good job. His experience definitely showed up in that ball game and that’s one of the reasons we signed him in the offseason for moments like what we had this past weekend and we were all hoping that he’d play well and he did.

Q: So if Christian is healthy coming out of the bye week he is still the starter?

A: You know we’ll talk about a lot of things when we get to next week but we’ll see what happens when we get to next week.

Q: Are you preparing yourself for the onslaught from the fans being upset if Christian is the starter against Carolina?

A: I don’t think our fans will be upset, they just want the Vikings to win. We’ve got great fans, they want the best for our football team and they’ve been so supportive throughout. I would expect our fans to be cheering for everybody that is wearing purple on Sunday when we get back at home. We’re all looking forward to getting back in front of our fans. The experience in London was great, there were a lot of people wearing purple in those stands, that was terrific, but to be back at Mall of America Field, I’m sure our fans will be very supportive of our players.

Q: When would Christian have to be healthy enough for you to put him back in?

A: We’d probably take a similar approach to what we did a week ago. If he’s not able to function at a level where we feel like he should be by Friday of game week then we’d probably make a decision that Friday. There are certain things that we’d need to see to be certain that he’s prepared so we’d try to make a decision by that Friday.

Q: Did you see any differences with the efficiency of the offense?

A: Yeah, I mean the big plays that we had, the rhythm that we had has an offense was good to see. I think some of the attempts down the field maybe helped with our run game but we were much more efficient and probably the big thing, we didn’t turn the ball over and that’s been an Achilles heel for us. We ended up scoring off of one of the turnovers, scoring a touchdown, and that ended up being the difference in the game, we win by seven. That is the one thing that sticks out to me the most. We’ve taken the ball away but we’ve given it right back and that’s caused problems for our team.

Q: Is this a comfort thing with Ponder’s ribs or is it something from your medical staff that you just have to look beyond him having to endure it?

A: It’s more than just being able to endure. There could be some negative ramifications if he were to get hit or land a certain way so it’s more than just pain tolerance.

Q: How much of the offense’s efficiency was because of Matt?

A: A lot of it had to do with Matt getting the ball out on time, getting us out of runs and executing when we had some 8-man fronts in the passing game. I think a lot of it had do with his execution as a quarterback.

Q: Then why not stick with him?

A: 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.

Q: It sounds like you haven’t made a decision. Is that the case?

A: It’s hard to be concrete when you know that Christian is dealing with an injury so we’ll see what happens.

Q: You mentioned the deep balls. Is that a facet of what Matt brings or more of what the Steelers were giving to you?

A: Kind of what they were doing on defense but we’ve taken shots down the field in prior games as well and we’ve hit some. We didn’t actually hit the nine route to Cordarrelle (Patterson). He made a terrific play to break up a potential interception but we did hit some deep in routes and we’ve done that as well. The key to Matt’s performance was not turning the ball over. We’ve hit those dig routes this season, we’ve hit some long balls this season, we’ve had some good drives but we kind of negated those good drives with turnovers. We didn’t do that on Sunday.

Q: With the issues in the secondary have you revisited the thought of bringing in Antoine Winfield even if it’s just to see if he’s healthy enough to give it a go?

A: We’ve talked about a lot of things. We got a little bit beat up in the secondary. We knew going in that we’d have some new guys playing some positions and there would be some growing pains along the way and we’re experiencing that but we’ve got to bringing them along and keep hoping that they’re going to improve, which they are, I mean they are improving in some areas, but this bye week should help us. But we’ve talked about a lot of things in ways that we can try and help our secondary.

Q: Is Xavier at a position to where he could step into a starting role if needed? Josh Robinson seems to still be struggling.

A: Xavier is doing some good things. He is playing a lot in our nickel package which almost equates to being a starter with the number of snaps you get. We’ll see how he continues to progress. Josh has had some ups and downs, but we think he’s going to get better. We’ll evaluate that coming out of the bye as well.

Q: How do you evaluate Josh Robinson through the first four weeks?

A: He’s had some struggles, in particular inside playing the nickel position. That’s been a challenge for him with all the things we ask that position to do. He’s had some good moments and he’s had some moments I’m sure he looks back at the end of the four weeks and said, ‘Man, I can do that better,’ and we think he will. He just has to continue to gain some experience and we’ll get better because of that as he gains more experience. But we knew going in this offseason and even in training camp that there were going to be some moments that we would have to work through and we’re experiencing some of that, but he’s doing some good things as well.

Q: What did you notice this week against the Steelers defense that was different from the offensive line from the first three weeks? Was it a personnel thing or did you do something dramatically different?

A: I think we played better up front for sure. We were able to stay on our blocks a little bit longer. We talked about that, being able to sustain blocks and the style of defense they played was similar to what we saw the week before in Cleveland so that kind of helped as well. We were seeing some of the same looks so that helped, but the fact that our guys did a better job of staying on blocks along with playing a defense that was similar to what we had worked on the week before probably a combination of the two, probably helped us to have a better run game and a do a better job in pass protection.

Q: Xavier took a shot at an interception late in the game, is that something you want him to go for or would you rather him play it conservatively?

A: If he makes that play the game is over. I like the aggressiveness. We worked on that play, he anticipated, he was there and came up a little bit short. You like to believe if we’re in that situation again, as he gains more experience, he’s going to make that play. You don’t want to stifle that aggressiveness at the corner. The fact that he had enough gumption to go try it, that’s a good thing, but if you don’t make the interception, you have to make the tackle. You can’t do both, but he’ll learn from it and fortunately we survived it. That’s part of some youth in the secondary.

Q: Do you guys give Cordarrelle Patterson the green light to bring it out on kick returns wherever it’s at?

A: Yeah, we do have a lot of trust in him for sure. We have some parameters on when he can bring it out and when he doesn’t, but it’s not by yards. We think he can return one 109 yards, 108 yards and he’s done 105 so we trust his judgment. We do have some things we talk about when it comes to where the ball is kicked when he has to not return it, but he’s made good decisions up to this point.

Q: Do you like that in a guy? He seems pretty fearless.

A: Yeah, we knew going into this game he was going to have a lot of return possibilities. They had not had a lot of touchbacks so he went into it with an aggressive mentality and it was good to see. We were so close to breaking a couple of those so we want him to maintain that aggressive attitude.

Q: Do you expect Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford back next week?

A: Yeah, from what I’ve been told those guys should be on pace to be practicing with us next week barring any hiccups this week. But yeah, they should be on pace for next week. We definitely need them.

Q: Given your bye and the 1-3 start, what played into how you approach this week? Did you think about having the guys stick around for a couple days?

A: When I put the schedule together many, many weeks ago, I took into consideration the London trip and what we would be doing there and how that would impact this next week. Now when I put the schedule together I didn’t know what our record would be. I had hopes it and goals of where our record would be, but as we approached this week and got closer to this bye week, I stayed true to what my original thoughts were and I’m glad I did. I think it’s important that our players get a chance to get away, take their minds off some things for a little bit and also physically get reengaged from a physical standpoint as well. So I think this is the right decision. We’ll come back on Monday, get started on the next opponent, we’ll introduce them to a short degree then come back on Wednesday to start preparing, but the time away, along with the London trip and what we’ve experienced in the first four weeks I think it was the right decision. Time will tell.

Q: Do you think the timing of your bye is beneficial or would you rather have a later bye?

A: You know, hypotheticals, it is what it is. This is where we are. We’re going to take advantage of this bye week and try to use it the right way. As coaches, we’re going to do a self-analysis of these first four weeks, try to learn about our football team, where we are, review our personnel and try to come out of this a better football team than we were going into the bye. But this is a chance for us to look back at the first four weeks as a staff and try to improve.

Q: How was it having Jerome Felton back?

A: I think it was great for Adrian. It gave our offense a boost. It definitely created a comfort level for Adrian knowing that Jerome was out there. He didn’t have to talk through certain things, there’s just a synergy between the two of them and for our offensive line it’s like having an extra blocker because of his success as a lead blocker. I think it definitely helped and Adrian had a terrific day and I think Jerome had a part to say in that.

Q: During the offseason you talked about your desire to balance the offense. If this weekend is any indication it seems Matt Cassel can do that a little better. Is that how you read it?

A: Not so much. We tried to be a little bit more balanced as the season has gone on and I have to go back to what I said earlier, we had some pretty good drives going, but then we do things to stop those drives ourselves with turnovers. It’s not so much some times what other teams have done to us. We’ll have some series where we’ll have to punt the football, but we’ve had too many series that ended with the ball in the other team’s hand. We can create that balance if we maintain possession of the football and put together some drives. And we haven’t always done that. Yesterday we didn’t run a lot of plays because we had some big plays on offense and we were very productive and relatively balanced, but part of that was we finished with either points or punted. We didn’t finish with the ball in the other team’s hand.

Q: Do you take those turnovers into consideration on Sunday, the fact that Cordarrelle knocked the one away and Jerome picked up the fumble, as you weigh the Cassel or Ponder Decision?

A: Without question, I think you have to look at the entire picture and I definitely have to do that, Yeah.