Breaking Down Christian Ponder's Form at the NFL's Midseason Mark

Mike Nelson@Mike_E_NelsonCorrespondent IOctober 24, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 21:   Christian Ponder #7 of the Minnesota Vikings feels the pressure from O'Brien Schofield #50 of the Arizona Cardinals at the Huber H. Humphrey Metrodome on October 21, 2012 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Oh, Christian Ponder. Where to begin ....

It's been an up and down season for the second-year quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings.

At times, he has looked ready to lead the Minnesota Vikings on a deep playoff run.  For example, with 20 seconds left against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1, he led Minnesota to a game-tying field goal to send the game to overtime.  He also powered a 17-3 halftime lead against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3.

Then there were the terrible passes against the Washington Redskins, followed by the impressive comeback attempt that culminated in him passing for 352 yards three weeks ago. And then came Sunday's debacle against the Arizona Cardinals.

Ponder completed 8 of 17 passes for 58 yards. He was 1 of 7 in the second half for 4 yards.

It's been a roller coaster ride–one that the Vikings cannot afford to stay on if they are serious about making a postseason run.

He isn’t the same uncomfortable rookie from 2011. He is now a legitimate NFL quarterback. But the struggles of the last three weeks are real.

Ponder has had six interceptions in the last three games after opening the season with 143 attempts of interception-free football.

Defenses have certainly made adjustments. If given the opportunity, they know that Ponder can tear them apart. He's proven that.

Ponder hasn’t adjusted to those adjustments.

Defenses are coming after him more often. The Vikings offensive line and Ponder have suffered eight sacks in the past three games, including seven against Arizona and Washington.

Ponder does not operate well within the pocket. He does not appear comfortable there. He avoids staying in the pocket whenever possible, preferring to throw outside of the pocket or on the run.

Ponder has demonstrated the ability to work through his progression of receivers. He sometimes eyes up his receiver too long, though, tipping off the defense to where the ball is going. If not for dropped passes by defenses, this tendency would have cost him an interception earlier this season.

Accuracy beyond 20 yards has been a cause for concern from the beginning of this season. He’s completed 1 of 10 passes thrown for 21 yards or more. Within 21 yards he is 142 of 199 (71.4 percent completed).

He’s thrown 54 passes behind the line of scrimmage for 367 of his 1,492 yards–that’s a lot of Percy Harvin at work.

He needs to improve on his deep ball in the future to become an elite quarterback, but the Vikings don’t need him to do that this season.

But in order to better himself this season, Ponder must improve his touch, which seems to have left him the previous three games.

A big reason why Ponder was interception-free for so long was the precision with which he threw the football. It was an accurate ball.

Ironically, all but one of Ponder’s interceptions came within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage, where he’s at his best.

Four of his six interceptions came outside of the pocket on the move. All have been awful throws where Ponder underthrew, overthrew or had miscommunication with his receiver.

He showed in the first four games that he could orchestrate successful drives with shorter throws. Minnesota needs him to regain that form if it has any aspirations to be a serious contender this season.