Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Vikings Laying Groundwork for Ponder's Demotion

This morning, the Minnesota Vikings announced that quarterback Christian Ponder suffered a rib injury early in Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns.  Were it left at that, there might be little story.  It is not, however, left at that.

Ponder responded to the statement noting that the hit to his ribs in Sunday's game "caused some discomfort, but I was able to throw."

Yesterday, one day before the team's announcement, Ponder was witnessed throwing passes to London school children in a league choreographed photo op.  Ponder said that, despite some slight discomfort, he was ready to play and was preparing for the game as if he would be the starter on Sunday.  Head coach Leslie Frazier replied that the Vikings are "monitoring the injury" and said the team would make a final assessment on Friday.

After the announcement of Ponder's injury, Vikings' General Manager Rick Spielman appeared on the flagship station with Paul Allen and Pete Bercich.  Responding to a question regarding who he looks to to guide the team out of its 0-3 start, Spielman rattled off several names, including Frazier, Kevin Williams, Jared Allen, Chad Greenway, and Greg Jennings.  Notably, Spielman did not mention his starting quarterback.  That, independent of the injury announcement, spoke volumes.

Tuesday's string of events suggests that the Vikings remain overly concerned about Ponder's psyche.  It also suggests that the Vikings are in circle-the-wagons mode when it comes to a possible change at quarterback with all decision makers now seemingly buying into a plan to use injury as pretext for change at quarterback.

Announcing Ponder's "injury" mid-week provides the Vikings cover should Matt Cassel start on Sunday and perform poorly.  Should Cassel be wretched--not a stretch given his career numbers--the Vikings have left the door open to return to Ponder.  If Cassel plays even reasonably well, however, the Vikings have both performance and "lingering injury" to support a move to Cassel.

Up Next: Favre or Cassel?


shah8 said...

The thing about Cassel, though, is that defenses need not change scheme at all. Pittsburgh is very well aware of his talents, too. I think there is a very good chance he puts in a horrific performance, even worse than the incoming Glennonpocalypse. Cassel is able to make easy throws, but he's also far more prone to make bad decisions (Ponder only reads one and dumps, Cassel is more likely to attempt the act of being a QB). It's also very likely that you will see a multi-fumble day from him as well, given his lack of mobility and poor ball security.

I watch the Vikings with the faint sense of amusement of someone who knows that Webb, however raw he is, is virtually the only actual QB on the roster. We're at 0-3, not 0-6 or 7. Absent Favre or Freeman, Speilman is pretty likely not to have a choice about playing him before the season's over. Remember Arizona with Max Hall, Derek Anderson, and John Skelton?

vikes geek said...


I mostly agree. Cassel was brutal last year--far worse than Ponder overall--with 6 TDs and 12 picks in nine games. There appears to be a direct correlation between greater yardage and more picks for Cassel.

If Cassel performs as he did last year, his tenure in Minnesota will be short and the blame for that will and should fall on Spielman. How does one explain bringing in a backup with career numbers worse than Ponder's and legitimately expect a pass?

ErictheRed said...

The worst part is nobody knows Cassel's strengths and weaknesses better than Pittsburgh coach Todd Haley. Dick LeBeau is going to have all the inside info he needs.

Your backup should have worse numbers than your starter, or else they wouldn't be a backup. Cassel was about the only legitimate option out there. He has been awful at times, but he's had 2 good seasons as an NFL starter. He's one of the better backups in the league right now. He was not supposed to be a starter. Ponder is Spielman's fault, and it is a huge blemish on his resume. Cassel was a good investment in case Ponder failed. There's no way they could roll with Joe Webb again after that playoff game. Cassel is not the answer, but he's a big time upgrade over Webb.

shah8 said...

Sorry dude, but yeah, Cassel is worse than Joe Webb. Webb moves the offense, tends to have higher scoring offenses than either Ponder or Cassel in '11, and can make throws from the pocket that are routine. You don't get WTF passes from Joe. You get misfires, which are altogether safer.

You can't harp on one game forever, man.

vikes geek said...


In the right hands, Joe Webb is a greater all-around threat at quarterback than Ponder or Cassel. I say that in the firm belief that Webb's performance in last year's playoff game was the single worst playoff performance by an NFL quarterback in the modern era. Webb entered that game with zero repetitions at QB in the regular season and a game plan designed for a pocket passer. The Vikings, in short, got what they planned for in that game. Were the Vikings to devise an offensive scheme that permitted the QB to roam, Webb would be a threat. As a strict pocket passer, he would need some reps to work out the throwing miscues--though I think he could manage it fine.

vikes geek said...


Carson Palmer was a free agent in 2013, as were Joe Flacco, and Jason Campbell. So, as it happens, was Brian Hoyer. Palmer and Flacco were only available to teams looking for a starter, but that's how Cassel viewed his signing with Minnesota--as an eventual starter. Campbell has a better track record than Cassel and Hoyer was better than Ponder in the Cleveland game, despite having no running back, only a tight end to throw to, and limited NFL experience. And if the Vikings really thought so little of the free-agent pool, they should have begun working with MBT (unless they do not see a future for him in the NFL, in which case they should not continue to carry him).

On obvious moves--the moves any sensible GM would make--Rick Spielman has fared well. At quarterback, his moves have been either acts of irrational desperation or ploys to paper over the original error.

shah8 said...

I don't really buy the playoff game was the single worst game. Garbage time included, it wasn't even worse than the QBs in the Texans/Bengals game.

More than that, it's easy to remember Tim Tebow's game against NE!

And by the by, in terms of putridness, Webb's game just doesn't come close on any terms other than aesthetics. Google up lists of worst QB playoff performances ever, and the reminders of truly horrible games just pops up.

Cyd said...


Let's strive for something better than "it wasn't the worst playoff game" as a metric for a quarterback. I understand that there is a Webb following and he is very talented and likeable, however I want an elite QB for the Vikings. If we can't have that, since they are in such short supply, including ones coming out of college, then one that is very good should do. Being categorized as "at least he isn't the worst" just doesn't cut it.

On a related topic, what does everyone think of Josh Freeman? Again, talented with a good arm but probably misused. Schiano strikes me as a major, unimaginative, inflexible douche. I would hate to see Freeman's talents go to waste but I have no confidence that our current coaching staff could do anything with him on the roster.

vikes geek said...


If you've followed this blog long-term, you know that I've been in Webb's corner. He did a nice job in regular season games as a fill-in and, in my opinion, if properly coached, is a more elite version of Ponder. In their attempt to coddle Ponder, however, the Vikings stunted Webb's growth and ensured the performance that they got in the playoff game. I think that qualifies my objectiveness on Webb's performance against Green Bay last year. After the opening drive, it was the worst quarterbacking performance that I have seen in a playoff game. Maybe I missed a game or two, but that was brutal. Webb missed wide open players by twenty yards.

Does that mean that Webb cannot be a very good starting quarterback in the NFL? No. It just indicates that the Vikings have no interest in making that a reality. And the clock is ticking for others to do so.

At this point, as Cyd suggests, the Vikings need to make a decision that will result in the team working toward having an elite quarterback. Given how this team currently views matters, that almost certainly means that the Vikings will be drafting a quarterback in round one next year.

In a perfect world, the Vikings would have retained Sage Rosenfels as a backup and drafted a defensive lineman (e.g., Ryan Kerrigan) or Andy Dalton, rather than Ponder. That did not happen.

shah8 said...


I'm not trying to convince anyone that Webb would be a star. Nor was I trying to convince anyone that Webb's performance against GB wasn't bad. Simply was trying to say that there is a lot of hyperbole around that particular performance.

And, well, heh, I've been poking the commentators at Football Outsiders about Webb, so I've gotten into the habit. It has always struck me as amazing just how few football fans know what a real QB actually looks like. In material ways, not As The Earth Turns soapbox tv ways...