Thursday, March 5, 2015
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christian ponder

Another week of preseason “action” has come and gone and Vikings fans have, for the most part anyways, not grown any more confident in the Christian Ponder led offense.  In fact, most seem to be getting less comfortable with how this offense is shaping up after Friday’s 16-20 loss in Buffalo.  The game was overall pretty sloppy, and it was hard to peer through the slop to try and learn anything, but I’ll give it a whirl anyways.

GRADE A

  • While the first team offense looked like Friday was perhaps their first time playing the game known as football, the defensive starters really did a nice job overall.  Were there a few blemishes throughout their time on the field?  Sure, but they were able to cover for each other and really limit Kevin Kolb (11 yds, 1 INT) and C.J. Spiller (27 rushing yards on 7 attempts).  Like we saw many times last year, the first team defense kept the game close while they were on the field, allowing only three points despite the offense hanging them out to dry on a number of occasions.
  • Last week I noted the lack of turnovers by out defense.  I really think they are close to being one of the NFL’s absolute best defenses, but they have to learn how to force turnovers and capitalize on opportunities before they’ll come close to earning such respect.  Jamarca Sanford seems to often be in the right place to make such plays, but frustratingly turns into Mr. McGoo when it comes to catching the ball.  After rookie corner Xavier Rhodes disrupted a Kevin Kolb pass on Friday, however, it was Sanford that made the diving grab that gave Minnesota possession of the ball.  We will need plenty of plays exactly like that one throughout this season to reappear in the playoffs, but we’ll need them against quarterbacks far more talented than Kold, too.
  • I know that the offense needs confidence.  I know that Adrian Peterson makes a big difference when he is on the field.  Still, I think one of the best things to come out of this game is that the NFL’s current MVP came out of it unscathed because he never played.  Leslie Frazier said Peterson is int he game plan for this coming preseason contest, but I can’t say I approve of playing him at all.

One of the key fundamentals of sharp quarterback play is precise footwook. Christian Ponder and Matt Casell on the surface may have similar stats and appear to play the same typical West Coast game-manager style, however, it is their footwork that separates the two and consequently paints a picture of inconsistent play.

 Cassel is a technician when it comes to his 5 step drops. The former Pro Bowl QB has sharp quick strides and he is able to consistently make his reads and release the ball a bit quicker than Ponder. I also think Cassel gets the hand off to the running backs slightly sooner as well. Now, with that said, after 5 steps all bets are off. Ponder is much better at stepping up in the pocket, throwing on the run or making a play when things break down.

The Vikings took on the Texans Friday night, and after having watched it twice (while also celebrating my daughter’s first birthday) I have come to the table with a look at some of the key takeaways from the contest.  The Vikings lost by a score of 27-13, but it is preseason so the final score is as inconsequential as a training camp scrimmage.  Instead, we try to dissect certain aspects of what happened in an effort to predict things to come.

GRADE A

  • The Vikings are believed to have finished their first week of the preseason without any additional injuries, at least no super serious ones, which is probably the most important thing about the game.  Rookie Sharrif Floyd had a good debut, with a couple of flashy plays (batted pass and tackle for a loss), but gave us all a scare when he hit the ground with a knee injury and was unable to return.  While he will have an MRI today, he is expected to be okay.  Often times, the best teams in any given NFL season are the ones that can stay the healthiest, so it was nice to see them come out of this relatively unscathed.
  • By all appearances, the Vikings got exactly what they expected when they signed veteran quarterback Matt Cassel.  Cassel looked exactly like Cassel has looked almost his whole career, which is to say he looked decent but unspectacular, which is an improvement over Joe Webb’s postseason performance that is still fresh in our memory.  Cassel had some very poor play on the line in front of him, but he still managed a decent outing completing 12 of 19 passes for 212 yards, a touchdown, and one interception.
  • The combination of Zach Line (1 catch, 61 yards, 1 TD) and Bradley Randle (3 rushes, 16 yards) has me excited, I must admit.  I have thought all along that Toby Gerhart would finish out his rookie contract as a Viking, and still consider it likely, but if Line and Randle can continue to make things happen in the preseason then the Vikings might feel tempted to explore trade options for Gerhart.  Line’s rumbling touchdown was quite impressive and Randle pass blocked as good as any Vikings running back since the days of Chester Taylor.
  • One penalty.  10 yards.  The entire game.  That’s the type of discipline that wins football games!

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2013 Training Camp - Christian Ponder
(Photo by Chris Price.)

Vikings players reported to training camp this past Thursday and two days in we already have some catching up to do. Though the first two sessions were without pads, there are still some interesting notes from Friday and Saturday.

  • Let’s talk health first… Through the first two days of camp, the Vikings have emerged relatively unscathed. The biggest piece of injury related news was that nose tackle Letroy Guion was forced to leave the first day of camp with a right elbow injury. Guion, who is presently in competition for his spot with backup Fred Evans, had x-rays done that night to determine the severity of the injury. Luckily, the images came back negative and he should be participating again soon.
  • Now on to Christian Ponder as he has been the primary focus of media and fans the first two sessions. The word out of camp so far isn’t good for #7. Talk has been that Ponder has struggled early with accuracy and often checking down to his tight ends. Ponder threw an interception to Blanton in passing drills, an almost-interception on a pass to Greg Jennings which was dropped by Jamarca Sanford, etc… And apparently, struggles in the passing game continued into Day 2. It’s worth noting that the weather has been nasty at Mankato with some pretty strong gusts. Of his performance and the weather, Ponder told reporters, “The first day was tough with the wind especially… On certain throws, you try to [put] touch on the ball, and if you do that it’s gone. A couple hung in the air and the wind took them away and it looked like some bad plays. It’s going to happen.” Kevin Seifert of ESPN North notes that Ponder did have some nice passes if you’re a glass half full kind of guy.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson has already become a fan favorite at camp with a pretty nice sideline, one-handed grab.

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Training camp is only ten short days away, and there is no question all eyes will be on Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder. As we all know, Ponder had the very definition of an “up and down” season in 2012. He started off great during the team’s first five games, recording no interceptions and leading the charge in a huge week 3 upset over San Francisco, a game in which he completed 21 of 35 passes for 198 yards, 2 touchdowns, and scored on an incredible 23 yard rushing touchdown.

Luck seemed to distance itself from Ponder after week five where, over a ten game span, Ponder failed to reach 200 passing yards seven times, and even failed to reach 100 passing yards three times. The Vikings as a team hit a slump as well because of this after starting off 4-1 in their first five games, ending up 6-6 after twelve games. We all know how the story goes from there, winning the next four games in a row and making the playoffs, and although Adrian Peterson was the main reason for that success, Ponder’s play over those last four games speaks, as well. He threw 4 touchdowns against just 1 interception over the last four games, and had the best game of his career in week 17 at home against the Packers, throwing for 234 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Ponder finished the season with 2,935 yards, 18 passing touchdowns (2 rushing), 12 interceptions, a completion percentage of 62.1%, and a quarterback rating of 81.2.

Although it was not a great season for Ponder, improvement was made in almost every category. He’s shown flashes of brilliance in each of his first two seasons, and with a great offensive line, a new and extremely talented group of receivers, and blossoming Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph, I don’t see how Ponder can’t succeed this year. Will he continue making mistakes? I’m sure we’ll still see some boneheaded passes here and there, but talent surrounding him should give him confidence and allow him to have a legitimate chance at displaying his full potential.

I think Ponder will finish the season with 26 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, and 3,581 yards (3 rushing touchdowns).

This will be a make or break year for Christian Ponder, and he knows it. He’s a smart guy.

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