Vikings Weekly Progress Report: Benching Ponder Isn't the Answer to a Freefall
They may be third in the division from a records standpoint, but the last few weeks have called into question if they are the third-best team in the division after all.
Worse, they have dropped games they could have, and should have, won.
Washington, Tampa Bay, Seattle—those three teams are not so much better that the outcome was pre-ordained. They were all winnable games, and you can't drop many of those in the hunt for a playoff berth.
So just over the halfway point of the season, they are virtually back where they started and facing a grueling part of the schedule, including five games against division foes.
Those games were always going to be big deals anyway but now they could be the difference between the playoffs and staying home.
Really, the problems—the biggest issues—are the same ones they've been for weeks.
Tackling remains a problem, as well as an inability to move the ball through the air.
Of course, the regression of Christian Ponder's play has definitely hurt this team.
There are two options here with Ponder. Either the team benches him and looks to Joe Webb, McLeod Bethel-Thompson or some random free agent still lurking about, or it rolls with him.
Really, of the choices to replace him, Webb is the only one to even remotely make sense.
More than anything, the decision comes down to this: Do you believe the team can make it to the playoffs with Ponder at the helm? Or do you believe someone else—really, anyone else—gives you a better shot?
Because the Vikings have the playoffs within reach. We know what they are capable of; we know that they can play football at a high level.
So your question is, would a change at quarterback be the missing piece?
The last month has been brutal for Ponder. He's not played well, he has made some terrible decisions and since the Tennessee game in Week 5, he's thrown eight interceptions.
Part of it is definitely some poor offensive line play, but not always, and definitely not consistently. Pro Football Focus had rookie Matt Kalil rated very high (link is subscriber/pay content) both in pass protection (where he was perfect) and run blocking.
Center John Sullivan has been tremendous this year, while Charlie Johnson and Philip Loadholt have both played pretty well over the course of the season. Only Brandon Fusco has been consistently bad.
So even then, the offensive line can get just so much blame.
The receivers aren't doing Ponder any favors either, but again, it hasn't been so bad as to make it impossible for Ponder to overcome.
Ponder has a lot of his own problems to blame—bad decisions, poor throws, bad reads.
However, the Vikings should ride it out with him.
Some fans feel as though after the start the team had, that anything less than a playoff berth is a bad season. That because it played so well early, that the one thing holding it back is Ponder.
He's not. A change in quarterback, at this point in the season, isn't going to do much, to be honest. Yanking him now isn't going to vastly improve an offense which is light on talented receivers, nor will it fix the floundering defense.
As tough as it might be to hear, Ponder isn't that far off where he could be expected to be at this point in his career. As much as I actually liked him coming out of college, the Vikings picked him well ahead of where I expected him to go.
He is, and has been, a raw prospect.
Now, there are things that concern me to be sure, but benching him now won't make the Vikings a playoff or Super Bowl contender.
Joe Webb is a decent backup, but he's not the answer for this team. If he was, he'd have the job. Seriously, when Donovan McNabb imploded, the team didn't turn to Webb. They turned to Ponder.
Webb is an athlete and remains a raw quarterback, and his accuracy isn't any better than Ponder's. I didn't see much previously to fall in love with save his scrambling and a decent arm. I don't see anything having changed since his last appearances.
They have to know whether Ponder is the guy. This team is young and rebuilding. It's not Super Bowl-ready. It's just not. That's a hard truth perhaps, but there is work to be done.
What should the Vikings do with Ponder?
The Vikings have to know if Ponder is the guy. Given that this is the sort of moment where you find out what your quarterback can do, this is actually the absolute last time you'd want to make this move.
I'm not saying if he throws four pick sixes in the next two games you roll with him. Just that, even though he is struggling, you need to ride with him.
You need to find out where your offense stands. We know it needs more playmakers. We know some more offensive line prospects are important. There's work to do defensively as well.
Of course, the most important piece of the offense is the quarterback.
We'd better know by the end of the season. It's not something we can find out when he's riding pine.
So, frustrating as his play has been, it's not time to ditch Christian Ponder.
It's time to see what he's capable of with his back against the wall.
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