Monday, December 24, 2012

Sunday's Victory Shows Vikings Error of Ways in Handling Ponder

The Minnesota Vikings defeated the Houston Texans on Sunday with a mix of modest offensive play and strong defense.  Two plays that most stand out from the victory demonstrate where the Vikings are in their progression and what they have been missing.

The first big play came near the end of the third quarter in a game still in the balance.  After permitting the Texans to gain some life with a seemingly effortless march to the Minnesota one-yard-line, the Vikings reverted to the defense that got them so late in the game with a cushion.  The key play in the sequence, following two defensive stops from the one, came on third and goal from the one.  With Schaub moving back in the pocket, Minnesota defensive tackle, Fred Evans, came up the middle and sacked Schaub for a fourteen-yard loss.

Houston converted the subsequent field-goal attempt, but what looked like a certain momentum-building touchdown drive just three plays earlier had crumbled into a deflating field goal that left the Texans still two scores behind.

The second big play came midway through the fourth quarter with the Vikings still holding a tenuous ten-point lead.  Facing a third and two from his own 44, Ponder scrambled for 29 yards, setting up the final score of the game.

The Evans sack was significant in demonstrating how far the Vikings' defense has come.  Last year, Minnesota's defense never would have halted a favored road opponent in that situation.  This year, with the season still meaningful, the Vikings stopped a team with its own playoff position still undetermined.

Ponder's scramble, too, demonstrated progress--if only back to early last year.  On the day, Ponder threw for 169 yards--60 yards less than the league averages against Houston.  To that, Minnesota Vikings' fans have become accustomed.  Ponder's long, fourth-quarter scramble, however, made up for his lack of passing yardage and some other gaffes, securing a touchdown that Minnesota likely would not have had under its favored check-down system.

On the day, Ponder rushed for 58 yards--nearly 50 yards above his season average.  Those yards mattered, particularly situationally speaking.  If the Vikings want Ponder to be relevant as a quarterback, they need finally to acknowledge what they have in Ponder--a scrambling quarterback with some good running instincts and an ability to throw on a line when he rolls right.  That's it.  And it might suffice--if "unleashed"--to move the Vikings into the playoffs against a cast of characters not much better overall than a Minnesota team with an above average defense and a solid running game.

Up Next:  Fixing the Fixed.

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