Is Christian Ponder Holding the Vikings Back from Contention?

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistNovember 5, 2012

LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 14:  Christian Ponder #7 of the Minnesota Vikings runs off the field during the first half against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on October 14, 2012 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The Minnesota Vikings are one of the nice surprises of the 2012 NFL season at the midway point, but could the team be even better if it weren't for second year quarterback Christian Ponder?

Ponder has had an up-and-down year to date, and the Vikings have suffered as a result. While he hasn't been as horrible as his mediocre rookie campaign, he still leaves a lot to be desired from a signal-caller at the professional level. 

A year ago, Ponder only appeared in 11 games and completed just 54 percent of his passes while tossing 13 touchdowns and interceptions.

In the nine games he has played this season, Ponder has completed 64 percent of his passes with a 10 to eight touchdown to interception ratio. 

Ponder has seen a marked improvement in his sophomore campaign, but it's simply not enough yet to allow the Vikings to be legitimate contenders.

The Vikings feature a stellar defensive unit that only surrenders 22 points per game and is a top 10 unit against the pass. It's flanked by running back Adrian Peterson, an elite back that has given the Vikings a top-tier running attack. 

With Peterson having already rushed for 957 yards and six touchdowns on an astonishing 5.7 yards per attempt average, it's difficult to find excuses as to why Ponder isn't playing better with the defense focused on shutting down AP.

Not to mention Ponder has Percy Harvin, a wide receiver who may just be the best all-around offensive player in the league thanks to his versatility.

Harvin has 633 yards and seven touchdowns through the air, but also has the unique ability to line up as a running back and catch passes or take a handoff. 

Ponder is also fortunate enough to have one of the NFL's emerging stars at the tight end position in Kyle Rudolph. He's a 6'6" 260 pounds beast that catches anything thrown his way, and he's already reeled in 27 passes for 242 yards and five touchdowns. 

With so many stellar weapons surrounding and supporting Ponder, it's hard to defend his performance. Thanks to Peterson alone, Ponder should be facing limited coverage on each passing play, which should mean single coverage for some of, if not all his outstanding weapons. 

The Vikings have managed to defeat some great competition so far, including the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers

However, it's worth noting that if the Vikings had a better quarterback, Minnesota might not have dropped games against average opposition such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts.

To be fair, Ponder is truly only in his second year and didn't have the opportunity to play a full season as a rookie. His development has been admirable, but the Vikings are suddenly ready to compete for much more right now. 

On the majority of other teams in the NFL, it would be hard to criticize Ponder given his pace of development, but on the Vikings he's the player that is holding the team back.

He's done some magnificent things in certain situations, such as astutely pulling the ball down and running for key first-downs, but on the whole his inconsistency has limited the opportunities Minnesota has to win games. 

For a team residing in such a tough division with franchises like the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, the Vikings needed Ponder to be better than he already is to have a shot at competing for the NFC North crown in 2012. 

The good news for the Vikings is that Ponder appears to be developing into a viable franchise quarterback, just not at the pace Minnesota needed him to. 

Moving forward, the Vikings have a great core in place around Ponder and will likely be in the conversation for the postseason consistently after this season as long as Ponder continues to develop at his current pace. 

The future is bright for Ponder and the Vikings, but as of now he's the main component holding the Vikings back from contention.