Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Vikings Find Media Support for Tired Refrain on Quarterback

Entering the 2011 off-season, the Minnesota Vikings committed themselves to identifying their quarterback of the future.  Already on the roster was Joe Webb, a 2010 sixth-round pick who had started two games for the Vikings in 2011--winning one in dramatic fashion and losing the other with less impressive numbers.

Desperate to show conviction in identifying a franchise quarterback, the Vikings used the number twelve pick in the 2011 draft to select Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder.  Ponder, widely regarded as a 2nd to 4th round pick, was the fourth quarterback to go in the first round.  Twenty-three picks later, the Cincinnati Bengals used the 35th pick in the draft to select quarterback Andy Dalton, widely regarded as a late first-round, early second-round pick.

To date, the Vikings' gamble on Ponder has not paid off.  Against marginal opposition earlier this year, Ponder looked modest to good (against San Francisco).  In the last three weeks, against Arizona, Tampa Bay, and Seattle, Ponder has thrown for 58, 251, and 63 yards, respectively, with the bulk of the yardage against Tampa Bay coming in garbage time when Tampa Bay was giving 20-yard cushions (and Ponder was still dumping off and relying on YAC).

Through 19 NFL starts, Ponder has 23 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions, with the ratio beginning to skew negatively.  More alarming are that Ponder ranks near the bottom of the NFL in yards at catch (as opposed to yards after the catch) and in third-down conversion percentage.  Add to these issues the fact that Ponder's nookie blanket, Percy Harvin, may not be available in the near future, and there is every reason to worry that Ponder's problems will only accelerate over the remainder of the season.

The Vikings'--and Ponder's--explanation for Ponder's problems are that Ponder simply needs to play better.  The eye test says that Ponder needs to work on his mechanics, gain pocket awareness, and work on arm strength.  The intelligence test says that, if those things were not possible against the easiest schedule that any NFL team faced in the first nine weeks of the 2012 season, they are highly improbable over what is regarded as one of the toughest remaining schedules of the 2012 season.

When the Vikings selected Ponder, those in the local media charged with cheerleading everything done by the local teams went all in, noting Ponder's intelligence, arm strength, and agility, and putting their full faith in the wisdom of someone paid to evaluate talent.  For those suggesting that Webb had shown enough to merit consideration as starter, there was contempt and derision.

That contempt, that derision, has taken on Republican proportions.  Despite the evidence to the contrary, those who offered unwavering support for the curious decision to draft Ponder number twelve overall in 2011 now apparently feel too invested to back down.  Boxed in by the certainty of their own convictions, they now offer nothing more than a tired cliche--"Ponder deserves an opportunity to finish the season and show what he has"--as if the end of an NFL season marks some magical moment of clarity that can not equally be found in weeks six, ten, twelve, or any other.

For those crouching in their Ponder bunkers, there is more nauseating ammunition, however.  Not only does Ponder deserve to finish out this season, we are scolded, but Webb deserves nothing.  That Webb merits no further consideration, we are told, is evident from the fact that Webb "had his chance." Remember those two starts?  Webb showed nothing in those two starts, we are told.

Revisionism aside, in those two starts, Webb was 1-1 with three passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns, and two interceptions.  Those critical of Webb would have us focus not on Webb's rushing ability, which can be electric, or his greater lack of talent on the offensive line and in the passing game, but on Webb's two picks--Ponder's average over the past three games.

Webb's critics point to his "weak arm" and lack of pocket presence in trumpeting their conclusion that Webb has had his chance.  Notwithstanding Webb's strong arm, Ponder's eephus pitches when not rolling to the right, and the utter lack of any semblance of an offensive line for Webb's two starts, Webb's critics mystifyingly are able to deduce about Webb after two starts what they cannot bring themselves to deduce about Ponder after nineteen starts, despite personal statistics, a 7-12 career record, and the always useful eye test.

The Vikings have an excuse for their myopia on this issue--the General Manager, coach, and team have invested heavily in a player who most other teams regarded as far less of an NFL certainty.  And the Vikings did so with hubris, calling Ponder "the most NFL-ready quarterback in the 2011 draft."

Those covering the team have no such excuse.  Based on performance to date, there is nothing in Ponder's resume that even remotely suggests that he will turn things around this year.  If he does not, the Vikings will enter 2013 no further down the path to reestablishing the team as a playoff contender than the day the team drafted Ponder.  If the metric, therefore, is performance, Ponder ought to be replaced sooner rather than later with Webb given more than the two games he has been provided to prove his mettle.

Up Next:  2013 NFL Draft.

1 comment:

Childress of A Lesser God said...

According to Webster's, "ponder" has three definitions:

(1) to consider something deeply;

(2) to weigh carefully in the mind; and

(3) to lack the natural ability necessary to be a legitimate NFL quarterback (now or ever).