Sportswriters: Vikings surprise, quarterback Ponder, baseball nixes home-plate collisions

Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times  sports editor Gary Larson, former Princeton Union-Eagle editor and sports columnist Luther Dorr, former Times intern Logan Marxhausen and sports fan Ben Johnson. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.

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•Question:  The Minnesota Vikings defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 48-30 Sunday at Mall of America Field. Minnesota, now 4-9-1, was without running backs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, its top two tight ends, its top three cornerbacks and a couple of other starters. The defense allowed 475 yards, including 396 yards passing. How do you explain the victory?

-Dorr: It’s beyond unexplainable. I think it tells us that, despite what some wrote and said last year about Adrian Peterson carrying the Vikings to the playoffs on his shoulders, that wasn’t the case. He’s a great back but in a game during which his replacement averaged 1.7 yards a carry, the Vikings were able to get a win, albeit against one of the worst defenses in the NFL. I think the Eagles would easily win the majority of games if the teams played 10 times. StarTribune columnist Jim Souhan wrote Monday that, projecting Cassel’s stats over a whole season, he would’ve gotten the Vikings to the playoffs, citing the 382 yards he had Sunday. Maybe he forgot about Cassel’s 44 percent passing in the loss to Baltimore, or the woeful performance in a 35-10 loss to a struggling Carolina team. Way too much is made of a quarterback’s passing yardage. Want proof? In the 16 games last week, 12 of the losing teams had more passing yards than the winners. The losers averaged 287, the winners 236. Clemens (who?) of St. Louis threw for 158 in a 27-16 win over New Orleans, while Drew Brees had 393 for the Saints. Rivers of San Diego, in a 27-20 win over mighty Denver, threw for 166, while Peyton Manning had 289. Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh, in a 30-20 win over the Bengals, had only 191. And Manuel of Buffalo had only 193 in a 27-20 win over Jacksonville. Meanwhile, Tom Brady threw for 364 in New England’s 24-20 loss to Miami, Fitzpatrick of Tennessee threw for 402 in a 37-34 loss to Arizona (the Cards’ Palmer had only 231), and Romo of Dallas had 358 in a loss to Green Bay. Oh yes, Foles of the Eagles had 428 in their loss to the Vikings. People get too caught up in yardage totals.

-Marxhausen: The Vikings executed on offensive, making plays and first downs, controlling the ball the entire way. Sure quarterback Matt Cassel threw one pass that turned into a turnover, but they still executed on offense, totaling time of possession at 36 minutes and 26 seconds and converting eight out of 13 third-down plays. One thing that helped the offense have breathing room was the essence of the deep ball with Cassel in the game. He was able to connect with receivers deep, making the defense play honest. Another thing the offense accomplished was the ability to score on multiple drives. The offense was able to push the ball down the field and put points on the board in each quarter, keeping the pressure on the Eagles. Maybe the Vikings want to end the last few games at Mall of America Field with victories, showing that they are a better team than their record, with five games decided by four points or less this season, including a tie. If those five games were reversed, the Vikings would have a record of 9-5 and be leading the NFC North.

-Larson: Minnesota’s victory, while a huge surprise, was another example of how few really good teams there are in the NFL. Seattle stands out at 12-2 but every other team looks, and has been, beatable on a given day. The Vikings should be commended for a nice performance when they could’ve taken a “who cares?” attitude and been blown out.

-Johnson:  Who would have predicted the performance the Vikings displayed on Sunday?  Matt Cassel picked apart Philadelphia’s defense all game and led the Viking offense to a season-high 48 points.  I think the Viking’s matched up well against the Eagles. The Eagles’ secondary was susceptible to big plays and the Vikings took advantage of that.  The Vikings’ defense came up with some key plays, sacking quarterback Nick Foles four times and intercepting him once.  They also held MVP candidate LeSean McCoy to just 38 yards rushing.  I wonder if either Peterson or Gerhart would have influenced the outcome any differently.

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•Question: Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel completed 26 of 35 passes for 382 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles, with one interception. He connected with six different players, including Greg Jennings, who had 11 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown. Was this bad news for Christian Ponder?

-Dorr: I missed all of the first half and saw only a few minutes of the second half so I don’t feel very qualified to comment on the performances of the players. Cassel and Jennings must have had good games. I did see the interception thrown by Cassel and it looked as though the defense was going to cave in again and give away the game as it had five times earlier this season. But, despite giving up 30 points and 475 yards, the defense made enough plays to save the win. As far as bad news for Ponder, I don’t know. It depends on how he looks at it and what happens in the next two games.

-Marxhausen: Cassel has spent a good chunk of his career as a backup quarterback but he finally emerged in 2008 after Tom Brady’s knee injury and played well in the spotlight at New England. The Patriots saw potential in Cassel but traded him to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009. In 2010 Cassel led the Chiefs to their first division championship. When the Chiefs traded for Alex Smith, Cassel needed a starting job somewhere else. The Vikings have not had much luck with Ponder. In Cassel’s starts for the Vikings, he has outperformed Ponder in nearly every category and he is been a factor in three of the four Viking victories, compared to Ponder’s one win in eight games. This season has been bad for Ponder as the Vikings see recent success with Cassel and have the option of resigning Josh Freeman in the off-season, resulting in tough competition at the quarterback position.

-Larson:  Barring an injury to Cassel, it’s unlikely Ponder will be with the team next season. Many favor a plan that has Minnesota drafting a quarterback with their first pick in the college draft and having Cassel help tutor him. Or, maybe the team will enter the bidding for Chicago’s Jay Cutler. And, what was the point of signing Josh Freeman?

-Johnson: I’ve stated all year that Cassel is the Vikings’ best quarterback.  He has a stronger and more accurate arm than Ponder, he has a better pocket presence, and he doesn’t turn the ball over near as often. I wish coach Leslie Frazier would have noticed this much earlier in the season.  It appears that the NFC North is completely up for grabs.  Another three wins and the Vikings would have been right in the mix.  I think the writing is on the wall that Ponder will be part of another team in 2014.  Depending on how the last two games go, discussions may be had about Cassel as the quarterback of the future for the Vikings.

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•Question: Last week Major League Baseball’s rules committee voted to eliminate home-plate collisions in a move to protect catchers and baserunners from serious injuries. What do you think of that decision?

Also on the baseball front, the Minnesota Twins signed former Twins outfielder Jason Kubel to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. What do you think of that move?

-Dorr: Football has gotten to a ridiculous point of not allowing many hits that were formerly legal and I think baseball is following suit. Maybe it’s a good thing to try to cut down the number of injuries, as well as prolong careers. I think it was worth it to sign Kubel to see if he can regain his hitting stroke. It can’t hurt – it’s just a minor league contract and we all know the Twins need people who can hit home runs.

-Marxhausen: Seeing the day where home-plate collisions were taken out of baseball was not a day I thought I would ever witness, let alone this early in my life. This fabled play fills the stadium with excitement as a runner rounds third base and is darting for home while the catcher is focusing on catching a ball from an outfielder or relay person. The runner squares up so he can barrel full-force into the catcher, making the play as tough as possible for the catcher. There is no doubt that the home-plate collision play is one of the most dangerous plays in all of sports. Just like hitting a defenseless receiver or quarterback while he is trying to make a play, the home-plate collision can cause serious damage to a player’s body, thus resulting in an injury that can be short-term as well as long term. The 1970 All-Star Game can attest to that. When Pete Rose rounded third and collided at full speed with catcher Ray Fosse. Fosse suffered a separated and fractured shoulder that resulted in chronic pain and never healed properly. In this day and age it is time to eliminate this dangerous play. On a lighter note, the Twins are giving Jason Kubel another chance as he is set to try out in spring training. I like this move for the Twins because Kubel has the potential to be a dangerous power hitter and could help fill the Justin Morneau void as the big hitter in dugout.

-Larson:  The proposed rule protects owners’ investments and keeps players in the lineup. Baseball has so many exciting plays that we won’t miss this one. I’m curious what the penalty will be if there still are collisions. The Twins’ signing of Kubel, along the recent signing of two free agent starting pitchers, gives more credence to the theory that the Pohlads have been taken over by aliens. If Kubel regains his form it’s a very good move for a team whose outfielders lacked power last season.

-Johnson:  I never really understood the theory behind allowing a baserunner to run over catchers.  As if it were a display of athletic ability to jar the ball lose from a catcher while plowing into him.  Likewise, is it a special feat of talent to hold on to the ball and take a shoulder to your chest or head as a catcher?  This isn’t football or hockey.  I remember watching the replay of Pete Rose taking out catcher Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game.  It ended Fosse’s career.  I’m glad they eliminated collisions at home-plate.

When I heard that the Twins signed Jason Kubel, I was excited.  I always liked Kubel when he was with the Twins and thought he was extremely underrated.  I know he had a down year last year but from 2008 to 2012 he averaged 23 home runs a year, with a 270 batting average.  He could easily step in as an outfielder, designated-hitter, or provide some power off of the bench, all for very little money.  He is a team player and already acclimated with Minnesota.  Great pick-up for the Twins if he can find his old swing.

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Do you have an opinion on this week’s question? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to editor.millelacscotimes@ecm-inc.com or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.

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