Friday, October 26, 2012

Ponder Not the Answer for Vikings

In Thursday night's 36-17 home loss to the previously 2-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings' quarterback Christian Ponder was 19-35 for 251 yards, one touchdown and one interception.  Those appear to be relatively modest numbers.  Appearances, as they say, however, can be deceiving.

Where modest appearances often mask spectacular quality, Ponder's modest numbers on Thursday masked what can only be described as a horrid performance.  For three straight weeks, Ponder has underwhelmed in the role of caretaker quarterback--falling below even the levels of his predecessor, Tarvaris Jackson.

With a season and one-half under his belt, Ponder, on Thursday, verified that he is not the franchise quarterback that the Vikings desperately hoped that he would be when the team reached for him with the twelfth overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft.  Nor, unfortunately, is Ponder, at this juncture, even capable of being the caretaker quarterback.

Through the first quarter on Thursday, the Vikings had four yards of offense on 0-5 passing by Ponder.   That was good, somehow, for a passer rating of 39.5.  Against the 29th ranked pass defense, Ponder had 75 passing yards at halftime, when the game was still in doubt.  His pass to start the final drive of the first half was so awful, that the Vikings decided to run out the clock rather than risk yet another turnover in their own end.  Not until Tampa Bay had the game firmly in hand and had shifted to a deep cover zone did Ponder amass the bulk of his mostly meaningless yards.

In addition to the awful numbers, Ponder progressively--or regressively--exhibits characteristics opposite of those necessary for strong on-field performance.  He routinely throws off the back foot, throws across his body, attempts to make impossible plays rolling to the left, fails to spot wide open receivers, opts for the check down, exhibits no strength on his downfield passes, and shows no confidence.  And, despite contentions by some affiliated with the team, Ponder's greatest flaw is not his lack of confidence--the greatest flaws are mechanics, lack of arm strength, and the fact that he appears to be in over his head far too often and increasingly so.

Early last season, Ponder appeared to be making progress toward being at least a decent NFL quarterback.  That seems like eons ago, however.  Were Ponder a free agent today, no NFL team would pick him up--that's how bad things have become.

Unfortunately, those in large part responsible for this mess--not because they drafted Ponder, but because they failed to develop an out-of-the-pocket quarterback into a part pocket, part out-of-the-pocket passer--probably will refuse to admit their mistake until Ponder's contract expires.  That could make for a long interlude for Vikings' fans.

The options, were the Vikings willing to consider them, unfortunately are not all that appealing anyway.  If the Vikings are insistent on molding a pocket passer, Ponder is not their guy.  Nor is Joe Webb--the stronger armed, better running version of Ponder.  Only McLeod Bethel-Thompson has the arm strenght and staying power to meet the requirements of the pure pocket passer that the Vikings, for whatever misguided reason, feel is necessary to lead the team.  And the odds of the Vikings benching Ponder for an untested rookie are lower than Ponder's quarterback rating.

For all involved, Ponder's journey in the NFL has been unfortunate.  Ponder entered the league as a modestly armed passer, good at hitting short routes and wide-open long routes for which the eephus toss that characterizes his downfield passing is more suited for the college game.  He was also gifted at scrambling.

The Vikings liked Ponder's IQ and personality, but they wanted a different football player--a pocket passer.  To transform Ponder into something that he is not, the Vikings permitted and encouraged Ponder to milk the short pass.  Ponder, to his detriment, eschewed the run and dumped it short--often behind the line.  Now, he is incapable of even assessing situations outside of the dump pass and looks both miserable and lost.

Most telling of Ponder's short-comings was not a failure on Thursday, but a success.  His second-quarter touchdown to Percy Harvin was his longest touchdown pass of the season.  The play went for 18 yards.  In game eight of the season, that statistic says a mouthful.  In year two of a career in which he has had the opportunity to play with Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, and Kyle Rudolph, it fills the stomach.

Up Next:  What's Next?

1 comment:

Childress of A Lesser God said...

Ponder is simply not a starting quality NFL QB. He's just not.

It took a few games, but the other teams have figured out the Vikings lateral passing game. Harvin disappears for long sections of the game because he is easy for other teams to locate and double. Because everyone is within five yards of the line of scrimmage, doubling Harvin does not open anyone else up.

And don't even get me started on the defense. They can't stop the run, can't tackle, take bad angles in pursuit and offer wide-open zones for WRs. Josh Freeman and Doug Wilson looked like Terry Bradshaw and Marshall Faulk.

How are the Vikings going to play in GB or Chicago when the absolutely lay an egg at home against horrible TB?

After a 5-2 mirage-like start, 7-9looks like the best possible finish - and that's optimistic.