Monday, May 25, 2015
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christian ponder

The company line at Winter Park this week is going to be that the Vikings still control their own destiny, and that Christian Ponder will be the quarterback to lead this team to the playoffs.

While this is mathematically a possibility, the truth is that the Vikings playoff hopes died on Lambeau Field Sunday when Ponder nearly failed to throw for over 100 yards and had a pair of untimely interceptions that quite literally robbed his own team of hard earned points.

Sure, there are plenty of other things to point to that went wrong on Sunday.  The referees (and I hardly ever resort to this) made a number of calls that left many wondering if Ed Hochuli plans to retire in Green Bay.  Blair Walsh’s missed field goal in the fourth quarter was the nail in the coffin.  Receivers continued to struggle to get open.  Bill Musgrave once again failed to get Adrian Peterson a handoff, not even once, in the fourth quarter.

All of these things can be viewed as unacceptable, but none were more glaring than the horrendous display put on by Ponder against the team fans want to beat the most.

I can’t fault the Vikings staff for starting Ponder today, and I can’t fault them for starting him next week against Chicago, but their decision to keep Joe Webb on the bench following Ponder’s second interception has left me dumbfounded.

You want to be patient with young quarterbacks.  You want them to learn from mistakes and learn how to rebound after committing them.  You want to get a full season’s worth of game tape for evaluation purposes during the offseason.  More than anything, you want to prove everyone else wrong and let him lead you to victory.

Still, with all of those things in mind, what was expected to be gained by keeping Ponder in the game?

Joe Webb has proven to be one the NFL’s best change-up pitchers in the NFL and Ponder gave absolutely no indication that he could win this game, even with Peterson’s ridiculous numbers.  Webb, while not viewed as a viable long term option, should have been allowed to try and redeem the game and put the Vikings (and Christian Ponder) in a position to see postseason action.

Instead, the Vikings chose to place the “development” of their first round quarterback ahead of the team goal of winning a championship, and kept Ponder on the field only long enough to gain a few more yards against a prevent defense.

Whether the call was up to Leslie Frazier, Bill Musgrave, Rick Spielman, or even Zygi Wilf himself, 52 other players and an entire fan base had to suffer Sunday due to the irrational stubbornness displayed by the Minnesota Vikings.

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It never fails.

I spend all day pouring over the Vikings game day media guide, hitting the “sort” button on some statistics page 508 different ways, and spend a couple of hours typing a preview.

Then, like clockwork, the comments from guys like “B. Grant” and “Tomb” end up being far more entertaining (and possibly more informative) than the article they were commenting on.  I recently decided to cut out the middle man, invite B. Grant and Tomb to contribute to VT on an official basis, and to my utter surprise they agreed.

So, when a topic worthy of some salty debate comes up, I am looking forward to seeing these two go back and forth.

Without further ado, I present to you the first installment of “Garbage Time” which features two of VT’s many great readers (and, now, writers).

Enjoy!

Tomb:  Christian Ponder. You probably couldn’t find a more topical debate subject for the Viking faithful in light of recent performance(s). This subject clearly requires the rigorous application of statistics, feelings, instinct, history, visceral emotion etc. It’s something that could really use a technical and measured preface to get things rolling; requires a bit of a football nerd, if you will. Luckily, Coach, ‘nerd’ is right up your alley, so I yield the floor to you. We can pretend I’m doing it as a respectful gesture to a treasured elder of VT, if it feels better. I’m happy to play along!

B. Grant:  Let’s go with the “treasured elder”, shall we? I wouldn’t want to take any of the glory of the full fledged nerd role that you will bring to these discussions.

Yes, Christian Ponder. I actually understand most of what you said there, Tomb, which in and of itself is out of the ordinary. And surprisingly enough (insert sarcastic tone) I fail to agree with much of it. The selection of a QB is not a statistical process, as numbers are a great source of being misled when it comes to evaluating a QB. No position in football is more complex than this one, and no position is more dependent on the performance of others, which is why I tend to withhold my judgment of Ponder at this time. Of greater disappointment to me this season is the offensive line, upon which all QB’s trust their very existence. I thought we would see more protection for him this year, thus giving us a better read on his potential, but alas, that has not been the case. Yes, he may be exiting the pocket a bit early at times, but that is like telling the passengers on the Titanic to wait it out, this thing will level itself off. He’s just trying to save the play in most cases. There is plenty of blame to go around for offensive (both literal and figurative) performances like this past Sunday.

I know I’ve made this difficult for you, Tomb. For any credibility in your response, a position other than “you’re absolutely right, Coach” will be a hard one to take. Do your best, Wordmaster.

Once again, I solicited questions from you guys and spent some time thinking about the answers.  Here are the results:

Adam, to what degree do you think poor offensive line play and a weak receiving corps are having on the performance of Christian Ponder?

Football is a team sport, no doubt about it.  The thing is, however, that football is a unique team sport in that one position is far and away more important than all of the rest.  Argue all you want, but quarterbacks make and break football teams in the modern day NFL.

Now, I’m not making excuses for the receivers dropping the football or for failings in pass protection, but Christian Ponder has to embrace the leadership role he is lucky enough to have before he flat out loses it.  He has to gather the troops, make clear his expectations, lead by example and demand more of himself with every lesson learned.

I think, especially with Harvin sidelined, Ponder has indeed drawn the short straw when it comes to receiver talent.  However, that offensive line is better than people are giving credit for, and if he stopped imagining non-existent pressure causing him to flee the pocket (and, thus, creating pressure by changing directions) I think the line holds up better than most realize.

Also, apologists can make all of the excuses they want for Ponder, but he has the best running back in football right now making life a heck of a lot easier on him than it could be.

Coming off of a big win, the Vikings bye week has not been completely quiet, and I have plenty of great reads to share with you:

Christian Ponder had a rough patch prior to Sunday’s beat down of the Lions at the Metrodome, but he answered those critics that thought he was a lost cause that would doom the Vikings from here on out.

Ponder was feeling so smitten after his 221 yard performance that he took the time during his postgame comments to throw a jab or two back at Vikings fans that were having fun with his newly public love life.

Ponder completed 24 of 32 passes in the matchup and scored two touchdowns, one to Jarius Wright and one to Kyle Rudolph.  He was accurate on the majority of his deep balls, remained pretty calm in the pocket, and even successfully completed a pass while rolling to his right (a rarity this season).

Every time the Lions looked to be getting back into the game, the Vikings offense was able to answer, which was especially impressive down the stretch.  The only other game in which the Lions were outscored was the previous week, after jumping ahead of the Jaguars by 24 points and going into prevent mode.

Ponder deserves credit for bouncing back in the face of adversity in a big divisional game that needed to be won, and I think it is safe to say that we can now all agree:  The Vikings Can Win Game With Christian Ponder.

I honestly believe that, with Ponder at the helm, the Vikings can win any game on any given Sunday.  He has proven to be capable of taking care of the football and doing just enough to keep his team in the ball game multiple times this season.

What I am still not convinced of, however, is that Ponder has the ability to carry this team on his back and will them to victory when the chips are stacked against them.  This is an immeasurable trait that just simply exists in the NFL’s great quarterbacks of past and present, and I have yet to see that attribute surface in Ponder’s play.

The warning signs were not completely absent on Sunday.  Despite an all star performance from Adrian Peterson the Vikings still only managed a 25% touchdown rate in the red zone and 26% on third down.

Ponder’s offense didn’t turn over the ball, however, and controlled the play clock for nearly 10 minutes more than the Lions.

A game manager capable of winning.

For now, we will take that.

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