Frazier defends decision to start Freeman

Published 4:51 am Wednesday, October 23, 2013

EDEN PRAIRIE — Josh Freeman’s debut with the Minnesota Vikings was as ragged as could be, a 20-for-53 passing performance that produced no points on offense and raised further questions about how quickly he became the starting quarterback.

Coach Leslie Frazier expressed no day-after regret. Freeman was the right pick to play, Frazier said, and the job is still his this week.

“If I had to do it over again, I don’t think I’d do it any differently under the circumstances. I knew exactly why we made the decision. I felt very confident going into the ballgame with the decision,” Frazier said Tuesday. “It didn’t work out for us this time.”

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The Vikings (1-5) signed Freeman less than two weeks prior to his not-ready-for-prime-time showing Monday against the New York Giants, a 23-7 defeat by a previously winless team in a nationally televised debacle that had analysts, fans and even ex-players mocking and criticizing the quality of play by both teams all night.

“This is the worst sporting event ever broadcasted,” former Vikings left guard Steve Hutchinson said on Twitter during the game. The retired seven-time Pro Bowler was rarely that demonstrative during his career.

Frazier, whose hold on his job has grown increasingly tenuous this month with consecutive drubbings by a combined score of 58-17 against the Giants and Carolina Panthers, was doing his best Tuesday to point out some positives, encourage his players and defend his decisions.

He said he never considered benching Freeman, who threw one interception and finished with 190 yards, and said he was under “no obligation” from the front office or ownership to play him. The coach also said the move had full support from the players.

“We believed that he would give us the best chance to be successful in that ballgame,” Frazier said.

Christian Ponder, who had seven turnovers over the first three games, was the backup. Matt Cassel, who guided the Vikings to their only victory but followed that up with two costly interceptions in the loss to the Panthers, was inactive.

Though Freeman looked lost and overwhelmed, Frazier said he believed the 25-year-old’s troubles stemmed from physical mistakes and not a lack of understanding of the playbook. Of the 33 incompletions, many of those balls sailed several yards away from the target.

“His footwork wasn’t ideal. His shoulders weren’t square all the time. So it was more technical stuff. But the mental part, he was sharp,” Frazier said. “He did a great job of running our offense throughout the night.”

Freeman’s failures were especially glaring given this update distributed Tuesday by the NFL: the league-wide yards-per-pass-attempt average of 7.29 is on pace to be the highest of any season since 1966. Freeman’s number was a paltry 3.32.

The cumulative NFL completion percentage of 61.6, also on track to set the modern-era record, also cast Freeman’s performance in a bad light. His rate Monday was 37.7.

“There were definitely plays there to be made that from a lot of different standpoints were just a fraction off,” Freeman said after the game. “That’s something that, moving forward as a quarterback, as receivers, as an offense together, guys are going to get more comfortable with me and vice versa.”

In addition to the in-season quarterback tryout, the Vikings have been trying to develop a depleted, inexperienced secondary in a pass-driven league. Veteran Antoine Winfield, despite his age and own coverage limitations, has been clearly missed by this group. Safety Harrison Smith’s turf toe injury was a big blow, too.

The Vikings dropped two routine-looking, would-be interceptions that gave the Giants two big breaks, one in the first quarter during a long drive for a field goal and another in the third quarter right before a fumbled punt return set up the Giants for a short touchdown run.

Up next? Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

“I do have confidence that we can improve and get better, and we can get better when we line up on Sunday night at home,” Frazier said. “They don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can stay focused on what you have to get done and develop guys and win at the same time.”

Owner Zygi Wilf told reporters after the game at MetLife Stadium he wasn’t pondering changes at this point.

“I’m sticking with my team,” Wilf said. “That’s our team. We’re going to stick with it.”

NOTES: The Vikings cut CB Jacob Lacey again and claimed CB Shaun Prater off the waiver wire. Prater was a fifth-round draft pick by Cincinnati last year, cut at the end of training camp by the Bengals this season and signed by Philadelphia before being let go by the Eagles. Lacey’s second stint on the roster lasted one week. … LT Matt Kalil played the whole game despite a bad back and fared all right. “Obviously could have done some things better, but he finished the game, which is great because we were really concerned prior to the game whether he’d make it,” Frazier said.