EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- For Vikings fans who have been frustrated at how Christian Ponder handles pressure -- and we've heard from plenty of you who are -- Sunday's performance from Matt Cassel must have looked like an oasis. Upon closer inspection, Cassel's handling of the Philadelphia Eagles' blitz didn't just stand up well to what Ponder has typically done. It stuck out against what the entire league did.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Cassel posted a Total QBR of 99.7 when facing five or more pass-rushers yesterday (those of you who follow the stat closely will remember a QBR of 100 is perfect). Cassel hit 10 of his 13 throws against extra pressure yesterday, throwing for 240 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. In other words, he threw for more yards in those 13 attempts than Ponder or Josh Freeman has in an entire game this season, and nearly matched three of his own full-game yardage totals.
Cassel had the best QBR in the league against the blitz on Sunday, but over the course of the entire season, the results haven't been much different. He's second in the league with a QBR of 90.4 against five or more rushers this season, having completed 45 of 71 passes for 723 yards, five touchdowns and an interception (the tipped pass he threw Sunday). That puts him just behind Chicago's Josh McCown, whose QBR against blitzes is 92.4. If you're wondering how journeymen like McCown and Cassel can still be so effective for stretches in the NFL, it's not difficult to deduce; they're getting rid of the ball under pressure and taking advantage of favorable matchups while they're there.
"He does a great job of studying, for one, and understanding what the looks are you’re going to get and what coverages you’re going to get as well. He knows where to go with the football in pre-snap and gets it out of his hands because of that," Frazier said. "They ran a zero pressure (a blitz in man coverage with no safety help) yesterday that was a great example of that and they were going to have a free guy. He sees it in pre-snap, he knows exactly where his hot (receiver) is, where he has to get the football to and just like that he negates the zero pressure and free blitzer because he gets the ball out so fast. He doesn’t hesitate. He knows exactly where it has to go and that’s his veteran experience and the confidence he has that he can make those plays.”
Ponder, on the other hand, has a QBR this season is 51.3 against five or more pass-rushers, which is up from 50.0 last season and 22.5 in his rookie year. He's 22nd in the league this season against the blitz, having hit 53 of his 87 passes for 698 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. Ponder has improved throwing the deep ball over the course of his career, but he's more hesitant than Cassel to get the ball out quickly, and he's less comfortable staying in the pocket and stepping up to avoid pressure, preferring to make plays with his feet. That can work at times, but as Cassel proved yesterday, the best returns come from making decisive throws against single coverage and letting receivers go to work. It's a large part of why Cassel has continued to get chances to play late in the Vikings' season.