Monday, December 10, 2012

Trailing Clouds of Heaven (Part 2): Christian Ponder is doing us a frickin' service

To read Pacifist Viking's take on Sunday's glorious 21-14 win over the Chicago Bears, click here.

Like Will Ferrell's Robert Goulet character recording the Coconut Banger's Ball – It's a Rap (see video above), Christian Ponder is actually doing the fans and the Minnesota Vikings franchise a frickin' service by playing so brutally over the past seven games.

In those seven games, he's failed to throw for over 100 yards three times – and two other times he did it happened when the Vikings were way behind and defenses were playing soft coverage. He's only had one game that can be classified as solid-to-good (a month ago against Detroit, which hardly counts), and he's looked only slightly better than Arizona's John Skelton and Ryan Lindley. In the past two weeks it's been clear what Minnesota offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's gameplan has been – do everything you can to minimize, even eliminate, Ponder's impact on the game. They are asking him to do little other than hand off to Adrian Peterson and not throw interceptions. And even with so little being asked of him, Ponder has barely been up to the task.

But as I thought about Ponder's play on Sunday in between cursing it, I got to thinking this isn't such a bad thing.

My line of thinking goes this way. If Ponder was playing serviceable, or even mediocre-level football as the Vikings fashioned a surprising 7-6 record, I think the coaches and general manager Rick Spielman could hope, and try to sell to the fan base, that Ponder was still progressing. They could trick themselves into thinking that with another year or two of experience, and with some newer, better receivers to throw to, he'd develop into the kind of quarterback who could win games for the Vikings. There would still be enough doubt in the minds of the Vikings front office that Ponder really wasn't a mistake. So fans would get one, two, maybe even three more seasons of that kind of play from Ponder and the Vikings would be right where they are now. An Ok team, but no Super Bowl contender.

However, my feeling is Ponder's play of late has removed all doubt that he will go down as a first round bust. I hate that I've come to that conclusion because I really like him personally and I want him to succeed. But experienced football minds like what the Vikes supposedly have on staff must be able to see what I'm seeing with Ponder. They must know very few NFL quarterbacks have been so bad during their first few years in the league and then turned out to be so good. (Hat tip to @ArifHasanDN for finding that link).

In short, while we may be stuck with Ponder in 2012, I think his play will force the Vikings to ensure we aren't stuck with him – at the least – as the only starting QB option in 2013.

And in Vikings Country, we call that progress.


  1. I posted this over at Daily Norseman, but thought might be worth posting here as well. Pre-apologzie for the novel, I got shit over there for it as well (rightfully so):

    I think saying that Ponder has 2 seasons under his belt is fair (he has been in the league for 2 years), but it is IMO misleading. He didn’t get an offseason coming out of college, and took over midway through the season last year when A) are season was pretty much already over and B) we had one of the worst teams in recent memory. He was playing with a disastrous O-line; the receiving corps was arguably worse than it is this year…Harvin and Rudolph both have had another season under their belt; and to top it all off our secondary was legendarily bad/injured thus putting that much more pressure on the offense to keep up with the other team. Not to mention he was suffering from injuries to close out the season.

    If you’re willing to accept this premise then let’s look at this year. Coming into this season none of us expected playoffs and would have been satisfied by development from Ponder and good contributions from the rookies. It’s still early, but I think anyone would be hard pressed to argue that this draft class is shaping up to be a disappointment. As for Ponder’s performance this year – the criticism ranges from, given the opportunity to start and the work AP’s putting in, he shows no promise and is trash to he has shown flashes that he can be at least a serviceable/quality starting NFL quarterback but is just too inconsistent. Either way – we can all at least agree that his performance has been unsatisfactory. In his “first”/ 1.5 season with the team Ponder has shown that he is not a transcendent talent that is going to come in and directly contribute for a couple of wins as the likes of Luck and RGIII.

    Should we let Webb start, trade for another player, spend another high draft pick on a QB? I say…not yet, maybe next year when we’ve set up Ponder to succeed and the QB draft class is better, but hopefully not. There are numerous examples throughout the NFL of QBs that shat the bed their first few seasons in the NFL that have become, IMO good to great quarterbacks. The two quarterbacks that give me optimism are: Alex Smith and Trent Dilfer (I know, probably not the names you were expecting). People have been saying that they want a great quarterback, but with AP and an improving Defense, we could compete for a superbowl next season with a serviceable game manager with better weapons. People are saying we should sign Smith, yet only two seasons ago he was considered a HUGE bust….reason for his renaissance: he was finally given complimentary offensive weapons, and a new OC was brought in that made him comfortable and maximized his talents. Smith got a raw deal to begin with but has shown that jumping off the train early is often the wrong reaction. If you think Ponder is bad, look at Dilfer’s first few seasons. His stats drastically improved in 96 anyone know why? A new Coach (Dungy, west coast offense, game manager can succeed) was brought in and Dilfer was given offensive weapons (Alstott and Dunn)….seems like a familiar trend. In recent memory, he’s probably the worst quarterback I can think of that has won a superbowl, but he (cough, the defense)….won a superbowl, which is a lot more than this franchise can say and you can’t argue with results. In our case, the defense isn’t nearly at the level of that Baltimore team, but our defense isn’t going to be winning us games, AP is (with some help from everyone else). Hopefully Ponder will become a better quarterback than Dilfer (because I never thought he was any good), but he doesn’t HAVE to be better than Dilfer, just a good game manager.

    1. Anon:

      No worries about the length. Thanks for taking the time to post it.

      I hear what you're saying about his first year, playing with a bad O-line and bad WRs and not starting from the beginning of the year like Newton and Dalton did. Still, I am just not seeing any progression from Ponder at this point. In fact, I'm seeing regression. And this is happening when his O-line is miles better than it was last year and actually gives him time to throw the ball, Rudolph is one year older (and better) and Peterson is having a historically good season.

      Harvin's absence doesn't help, but Ponder still looks hopeless and I don't see that changing much. Could he become a solid game manager like Smith or Dilfer with the right coaching and with enough weapons? Perhaps. But it took Smith 5 seasons to reach that point. It took 4 seasons for Dilfer to get there. Can the Vikings afford to wait that long with Ponder? By then Peterson, Allen, Winfield, Greenway, Robison will all be gone.

      There's no easy answer to this problem. I just know after what I've watched the past seven games and what I've seen in others during his two years in the league that Ponder is not it.

  2. Arif had a nice piece over at DN/BR where he discusses Minnesota's 2013 options (namely, Ponder, Webb, early draft pick, late draft pick, trade), and he mentions Matt Moore as being one of the more intriguing options. I didn't remember much about Moore (other than that he's had a few flashy fantasy games in the past few years), but there's actually a lot to like about his potential. Plus, I greatly respect Arif's football opinions.

    How would Matt Moore impact the Vikings? It's been fun to ponder.

    1. I did read Arif's piece yesterday and saw that love for Matt Moore – who I understand is a FA after the season. I have to admit I did not even consider him when I was thinking about all of this over the past month. He's got his issues – or else he wouldn't have been run out of Carolina (and about to leave Miami), but I do remember the strong game he had against the Vikes in 2009 when the Panthers pasted us on their home turf. I remember him having a decent arm, mobility is fine, made good decisions in that game. He'd be OK, I guess, and OK is about the best we're going to get in we bring in a veteran to challenge CP7 in 2013.

    2. "OK is about the best we're going to get in we bring in a veteran to challenge CP7 in 2013."

      That's depressingly spot-on.