Minnesota Vikings: Is Christian Ponder the Long-Term Solution at QB?
Well, you knew this column was coming didn't you?
The demeanor of the typical Minnesota Vikings fan has become as cold and grey as the weather as their team is in a free fall, losing three of their last four games and looking terrible in the process.
At the center of the storm sits second year quarterback Christian Ponder, who's play of late has been a lot of things; confounding, confusing, erratic, unreliable and just plain bad. You can't say "Vikings" and not hear the name "Ponder" within two seconds anywhere in Vikings territory right now.
In the long view, Ponder is a second year quarterback on a team that was 3-13 last year, and regardless of what they like to say at Winter Park, is in the first stages of a massive rebuilding process.
In the short view, Ponder is currently a quarterback who can't throw from the pocket, throws even worse on the run and has absolutely zero confidence in himself to complete even the shortest of passes.
Throw the long and short views together and it begs the questions below:
Is Ponder the long term solution for the Vikings?
Is any rebuild with him as the center piece doomed to fail? Is it too early to say?
The guess here is no, Christian Ponder is not the long term answer at quarterback.
The caveat is that, no, we haven't seen Ponder throwing to a very good receiving corps, and no, we haven't seen Ponder with a pocket that lasts as long as a snowman in July.
The guess is no because Ponder is simply not an accurate passer and has shown very little feel for the NFL game.
He hasn't passed the eyeball test at all, and what's confounding about him is that he doesn't seem to be picking up anything along the way. He's getting worse, not better.
We all know that playing quarterback in the NFL is the hardest position in sports, and with that comes a steep learning curve fraught with growing pains, a maturation process and some Favre-across-his-body moments.
How Long Should the Vikings Stick With Ponder
What doesn't fall under any of those categories is completing a simple five-yard pass to an open receiver on a roll out.
Will a second year guy probably misfire a couple of times?
Of course, but Ponder blew by a couple of times a while ago.
NFL fans shouldn't be more confident in their rookie kicker from 60 yards than their second year quarterback from five.
Ponder's QBR, the advanced quarterback rating that makes a lot more sense than the simplistic passer rating, is plummeting faster than Facebook stock.
Ponder still has a higher passer rating than Andrew Luck. Nobody who has ever watched a football game would watch their two seasons side by side and say that Ponder is playing better. Not even Ponder. Luck's QBR is 30 points higher than Ponder's.
Ponder ranks 24th in the NFL with a QBR of 46.8. The last four games have seen that number shrinking however: 37.3 against Washington, 18.4 against Arizona, 13.6 against Tampa Bay and 11.1 against Seattle.
For comparison, the Vikings watched rookie third-rounder Russell Wilson have a QBR of 82.8 on Sunday. Wilson was over 90 in two of his three games before Sunday.
Let's address the caveats mentioned above.
Ponder has poor pass protection and lousy receivers. Nobody who follows the Vikings would argue differently.
Andrew Luck also has poor pass protection and lousy receivers. (Reggie Wayne meet Percy Harvin, what else?) What Luck doesn't have is Adrian Peterson to keep defenses honest.
Granted that's not a fair comparison, Ponder isn't now, or ever will be Andrew Luck, but the point is, he has to start making some plays. Ponder has thrown 284 passes on the year, how many times have you thought, "wow, that was a nice throw"?
The dialogue from Vikings enthusiasts has become some form of, "he doesn't need to be great, he just needs to manage the game." Is the bar already that low? Will the Vikings really wait six years like the 49ers did with Alex Smith?
So what to do about it?
You continue to play him. You have to find out what you have with him. Is he just in a slump, or is he not good enough to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. Plenty of guys drafted higher than him have failed.
The coaches have to keep his confidence up and rally everyone around him. You want to see Ponder at his best before making any kind of permanent decisions on him.
GM Rick Spielman went out on a limb drafting Ponder with the 12th overall pick in 2011 and that limb is starting to look a lot smaller.
Ponder's been a fascinating character study over his season and a half. He's clearly a great kid, very affable and down to earth, the proverbial "kind of guy you'd want to date your daughter or favorite ESPN reporter."
It's too bad none of that makes him a good quarterback, because he'd be very easy to pull for.
His body language is slipping fast however, and he's already gone to the "these are fixable mistakes" well too many times.
Are they Christian? It's high time to stop telling us that and to start showing us.
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