Monday, September 02, 2013

As Rome Burns, Spielman Adjusts Timetable for Ponder (Yet Again)

In desperate times, men do desperate things.  So embarks Minnesota Vikings' General Manager Rick Spielman, who, in a bid to put a good face on a poor decision, has again likened his 2011 twelfth overall pick in the NFL draft to a Super Bowl MVP quarterback.  The unfortunate part of this equation is not that it reeks of even more desperation on the part of Spielman--that, it surely does--but that it suggests that Spielman and his subordinates are even more dedicated to demonstrating that Ponder is who they thought he was rather than allowing him to be who he is.

During his tenure as Minnesota's head coach, Leslie Frazier has been loathe to even remotely suggest that Ponder is making anything other than significant strides as the starting quarterback.  The refrain is now commonplace--"Christian just needs to get through his progressions and continue to make quicker reads.  We like what we see and we expect him to take another big step in our next game."

The emphasis in both Frazier's and Spielman's remarks on Ponder has been on the need for Ponder to develop his reads and release the ball quicker in the face of pressure.  There is little doubt that these are two of Ponder's short-comings.  Yet, despite Spielman's assurances that Ponder was "the most pro-ready quarterback in the [2011] draft," these short-comings, mighty indeed for any NFL quarterback, were readily apparent from the outset, particularly when Ponder was forced to remain in the pocket.

The point has been made on this site many times before, but it is worth repeating as we enter Ponder's third NFL season as a starting quarterback.  For virtually Ponder's entire NFL career, Ponder has labored under the dictate that he remain in the pocket and become a "pro-style" quarterback.  Having a check-down offense that favors dump-offs to looking down field would be a  hindrance to any pocket passer, but it is particularly challenging to a pocket passer who is not really a pocket passer.

Ponder's greatest asset upon joining the Vikings was that he had an instinct not only for when he should leave the pocket but, more importantly, when he should run.  The Vikings chafed at this talent, because it did not mesh with their notion of what they needed in a franchise quarterback.  In a league gradually cycling toward allowing quarterbacks to roam more freely out of the pocket to set up the passing game--come what may in the form of injuries--the Vikings insisted that Ponder stay home.

For most of his career, Ponder has stayed in the pocket.  The result has been three times the number of games with under 100 yards passing (six) than games over 300 yards passing (two), an improbable statistic for a starting quarterback in today's pass-friendly NFL.

Other numbers suggest that Ponder's norm truly is his norm.  The last five games of 2012, often citied by the Vikings as a sign of Ponder's maturation, support this position.  Over his past five starts in 2012, Ponder had five touchdown passes and three picks with an average of 150 yards passing.  On the whole, approaching care-taker status, assuming a 200-yard rushing game, each game, by Adrian Peterson.  Take away Ponder's one truly good performance in those five games and his numbers are startling awful--two touchdowns, three picks, and 125 yards passing per game.

For the Vikings, the clear dilemma is that Ponder's greatest consistency is in being below average in the pocket.  His stronger games have been the aberration.  For most, that would suggest a change at the helm is in order.  But Spielman has (intentionally) backed the team into a corner, a la Brad Childress with Tarvaris Jackson, anointing Ponder the starter and bringing in Kansas City's cast-off as a backup, with the only true pocket passer on the team relegated to third-string and zero repetitions even in practice.

Now, after two seasons of being told that season three is the year that quarterbacks show whether they have it--unless they play for Seattle, Washington, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Detroit, San Francisco, or numerous other NFL teams, apparently--Spielman is again massaging the timeline, rather than focusing on what is necessary to truly assess Ponder.

Because, as a strict pocket passer, Ponder appears to be an average to below average NFL quarterback destined for a career as a backup, the Vikings stand only to gain at this point by allowing Ponder to leave the pocket and use his legs.  If he gets hurt, he gets hurt and the team moves on.  If he does what he can do, however, he will at least give the Vikings a credible option at quarterback, rather than the imaginary option that Spielman fancies.

Up Next:  Laying the Foundation for Why Ponder Did Not Succeed in 2013.  Plus, done with the political bluster and on to the building?

1 comment:

Peter said...

Spielman has earned my trust. I will wait and see what Ponder can do. If Ponder would succeed more by leaving the pocket, then I trust the Vikings staff to see that and allow it. Perhaps that's why Cassel is the backup instead of Webb now - because Ponder's soon-to-be roamings leave him more vulnerable to injury than last year.