Just 62,000 pheasant hunters went afield last fall, and they bagged only 169,000 roosters. That's the fewest hunters and lowest harvest in 27 years. Hunter numbers declined 19 percent and the harvest was down 32 percent from 2012.
Before Mike Zimmer fielded questions from reporters today, he made a few announcements.
One was that he had picked a QB. We knew that was coming. Another was that a bunch of players were released. We figured that one would be coming, too. But the last announcement Zimmer made came out of nowhere, and it was about one of the most popular NFL analytics sites on the web.
Zimmer aired out his reservations about Pro Football Focus, a website whose data we sometimes use on this blog. While he was polite about it, the Vikings head coach made it clear he has concerns about their individual grades for players, which are done by a grader watching the coaches film.
“I look at the grades and I can’t tell you what a 0.7 is or anything like that,” said Zimmer, who is in his first year as head coach. “I know the people that are grading our games and our defenses and our offenses, they don’t know if the tackle gets beat inside he wasn’t sliding out to the nickel, or who our guys are supposed to cover. I guarantee they don’t know who’s in our blitz package and what they’re supposed to do. I would just ask that everybody take that with a grain of salt, including our fans. We as coaches get paid a whole bunch of money to do the jobs that we do, evaluate the players that we evaluate and grade them how we grade them, not based on something else.”
For a full explanation from Pro Football Focus on how and why they do their grades, click right here.
We occasionally reference their grades on this blog, but we try to be careful about it for the same reason Zimmer stated. In some cases, it’s obvious when a defensive end makes a great play or a receiver drops a pass he shouldn’t have. In other cases, the evaluations get a little murky.
That being said, PFF is a great resource for advanced stats on things like a wide receiver’s catch rate, which linemen the backs run behind most and which pass rushers disrupt quarterbacks most.
The NFL has certainly embraced the use of analytics in chorus with their own scouting and player evaluation, with some teams embracing it firmer than others. Sure, there are plenty of old-school coaches and scouts — I’m not saying Zimmer is one of them — who may always be skeptical of what someone with a calculator tells them opposed to seeing it with their own two eyes. But teams such as the Ravens, Jaguars, Browns, Rams and Bills have dipped their toes into the analytical waters.
The Jaguars even said one PFF study helped convince them to draft tackle Luke Joeckel in 2013.
But when it comes to grading players, Zimmer made it clear that the Vikings will stick with their own grades, though something tells me they won’t be publishing them to the internet like PFF does.
The announcement that came as no surprise to anyone outside of the organization was of no surprise to the two participants as well.
Matt Cassel, were you surprised to be named the Vikings starting quarterback this morning?
“To be honest with you, I worked tremendously hard this offseason to put myself in this position,” he said. “I’m excited that it’s gone the way it has. I played well in the preseason and I’m excited that the coach has given me the confidence and the trust to name me the starter.”
What about you, runner-up Teddy Bridgewater? Are you surprised?
“Not at all,” he said. “Matt has been playing some good football so far. He’s been great at mentoring the guys in the room. It was an overall team decision and I’m very excited for Matt.”
Cassel praised Bridgewater’s play — which includes a preseason with no turnovers and a passer rating of 117.1 — and Bridgewater returned the compliments later on.
“I take my hats off to Matt,” Bridgewater said. “He’s been playing great this preseason. I’m just going to continue to learn under him.”
For Cassel, today’s news was the latest in a wild ride that’s seen him go from Tom Brady’s backup to beloved Pro Bowler in Kansas City, to despised outcast to last year’s three-headed quarterbacking fiasco in Minnesota to redeemed starter heading into the regular season opener at St. Louis on Sept. 7.
“I’ve been through a lot in my career,” he said. “I’ve been through the ups, I’ve been through the downs. I’ve been through the highs and the lows, so at this point, nothing really surprises me in my career. So I think because of those, it calluses you to a few different situations that as a younger player, I might not have taken it as well.”
Meanwhile, Bridgewater, the rookie first-round draft pick, said he hasn’t changed his initial opinion about the Vikings and how he fits into their future.
“As I stated once I got drafted, I felt like this was the perfect situation for me,” he said. “Right now, I’m just able to learn, sit back and continue to learn, but also learn and prepare myself as a starter because as a backup you’re one play away from being out there on the gridiron with the guys.”
Based on three preseason games, the Vikings weren’t going to embarrass themselves regardless of which quarterback they chose as their starter going into the season. Both Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater have played pretty well in the tune-ups, meaning the decision for new coach Mike Zimmer could ultimately come down to which was the smarter play.
Zimmer doesn’t seem like a boring guy, but he does seem like someone who calculates the percentages and makes corresponding decisions. That can lead to some moves that are both boring and smart — and naming Cassel as the starter over Bridgewater fits into that category.
It’s boring because we know what Cassel can do. He’s a veteran who offers stability and the chance to give the team average QB play — something the Vikings haven’t had with consistency for several years. Bridgewater is the exciting rookie full of potential. Since this team is rebuilding, why not roll the dice right away?
Well, because the decision to start Cassel is smart for the same reason it is boring. You start with the known commodity against a tough early slate of games — three of five on the road, against teams with aggressive defenses, top QBs or both — because you know what you’re getting. You also do it because if he succeeds, he can keep the job while Bridgewater keeps learning. And if he fails, the switch to Bridgewater is seamless (the fifth game, against the Packers, is on a Thursday and therefore offers a long stretch afterward to prepare should the Vikings want to make a move then).
If you start with Bridgewater, you could catch lightning in a bottle. But if he fails early, it’s much harder to go from the rookie to the veteran than vice-versa. It’s common sense. A rookie coach doesn’t want to start 0-5 or 1-4 with a rookie quarterback. Then nobody looks good. If the coach starts that way with a veteran, there is still hope on the way. Zimmer’s comments seem to indicate he’s even thinking along these lines. Per Access Vikings, here are a pair of quotes from Zimmer:
“It wasn’t just about the quarterbacks. It’s not always the best player at that position — and I’m not saying that Matt’s not. … It’s all about how everything works together. And at this stage, where we’re at right now, it’s the best thing to do.”
“We will hold the quarterback position to the exact same expectations as we do every other position. If you perform, you play. If you don’t, then somebody else will get an opportunity at some point.”
It sure sounds like Cassel is the starter for now, and our guess is that he has a five-game audition. It might make the early part of the season a little less interesting than if Bridgewater had the keys from the start, but sometimes boring and smart go hand in hand.
Head coach Mike Zimmer just made the big announcement that should have surprised no one.
“Matt Cassel will be the starter going into the season,” Zimmer said after the morning walkthrough.
Zimmer told the team this morning that he would go with Cassel over rookie Teddy Bridgewater for the season opener in St. Louis, now just 13 days away. Cassel has started every preseason game, completing 66.7 percent of his attempts for 367 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“Matt did not do anything to lose the job this preseason,” Zimmer said. “I think he’s played great. I think the team has a lot of confidence in him. They feel good about the veteran leadership and presence, and I had to think about the whole football team. It wasn’t just about the quarterbacks. It’s not always the best player at that position — and I’m not saying that Matt’s not. … It’s all about how everything works together. And at this stage, where we’re at right now, it’s the best thing to do.”
Zimmer had a conversation with Bridgewater about the decision, and he said that the first-round pick handled it well. He pointed out that Bridgewater was in this position his first year at Louisville.
“I told Teddy this morning that I’m so happy that he’s here with us,” Zimmer said. “I’m glad he’s the guy we picked. I love everything that he’s done. It wasn’t anything that Teddy did or didn’t do. Teddy will be still, in my estimation, a great player for this franchise for years to come.”
After an uneven performance in his first preseason game, Bridgewater has been efficient, and he led a game-winning drive in the second. He has completed 26 of his 40 attempts for 266 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions, and his passer rating is 117.3, better than Cassel’s 103.3.
While Zimmer has confidence in Cassel — who has started 68 NFL games, including six here last season — he did indicate that Cassel will have to play well early in the season to hold onto his job.
“We will hold the quarterback position to the exact same expectations as we do every other position. If you perform, you play. If you don’t, then somebody else will get an opportunity at some point,” Zimmer said. “That position, just like the outside linebacker spot, we have an expectation for performance. And as long as those guys perform, they’ll play.”
The Vikings trimmed their roster from 90 to 76 players on Monday, announcing 14 players that were either released or waived due to injury.
Safety Brandan Bishop, defensive tackle Kheeston Randall, tight end Kory Sperry, tackles Kevin Murphy and Pierce Burton, cornerbacks Derek Cox and Robert Steeples, defensive ends Tyler Scott and Jake Snyder and wide receivers Andy Cruse, Kamar Jorden, Erik Lora and Ty Walker were all released by the team. Safety Mistral Raymond (hamstring) was also waived with an injury designation.
The Vikings also activated tight end Chase Ford off the physically unable to perform list. Ford missed all of training camp and the preseason due to a broken left foot.
The Vikings still need to make one more cut by Tuesday at 3 p.m. CT. All 32 teams must have their rosters set to a maximum of 75 players at that time.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer informed his players this morning that Matt Cassel will be the starting quarterback for the season opener against the Rams, according to a FOX Sports report.
Cassel had been battling first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater for the chance to start. But despite impressive preseason numbers from Bridgewater, which included four touchdown passes and no interceptions, it was clear throughout the summer that Cassel was firmly entrenched as the starter.
Cassel got the majority of the first-team reps during training camp and started every preseason game for the Vikings. He played nearly three quarters of Saturday night’s 30-12 win over the Chiefs.
Bridgewater, meanwhile, only received reps with the first-team offense in the preseason opener.
Since drafting Bridgewater in May, Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman have said that they do not want to rush Bridgewater onto the field before he is ready. And they re-signed Cassel before even picking a quarterback to be the bridge to whoever their next quarter of the future would be.
Zimmer is expected to formally announce his decision at a press conference later this morning.