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Minnesota Vikings: Grading Christian Ponder's Week 1 Performance

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Minnesota Vikings: Grading Christian Ponder's Week 1 Performance
Leon Halip/Getty Images
Ponder was running for his life against Detroit.

Coming into the 2013 season, one of the biggest questions facing the Minnesota Vikings centered on third-year quarterback Christian Ponder.

Most agree that if the Vikings are going to improve on their surprising 2012, Ponder needs to step up his game.

Since so much in Minnesota is riding on the shoulders of the young QB, his performance is worthy of scrutiny. Every week, we'll grade Ponder on several criteria. Those criteria are accuracy, poise, execution and decision-making. We'll combine those scores to come up with a final grade for the week.

The theory is that Ponder will have to have a B average for the Vikings to make the playoffs. 

 

Execution

In order to grade execution, you have to look at the stats for the game.  Ponder's line against Detroit looked like this:

Ponder vs. Detroit
Completions Attempts Yards Completion % Average
18 28 236 64.3 8.43
Long TD INT Rating
47 1 3 63.1

Pro-Football Reference.com

There are some positives there. The completion percentage is well within the acceptable range.  Ponder threw two passes of over 40 yards (both to Jerome Simpson) and four passes of more than 20 yards. His average per attempt was up about two full yards over his career number of 6.3. The inability to throw the deep ball was one of the biggest knocks against Ponder. It looks like that criticism might fade a bit if he can continue to throw downfield.

Though there are positives there, the negatives far outweigh them. This is indicated by Ponder's overall passer rating. His score of 63.1 is the third lowest for any starting QB in the NFL. Only Brandon Weeden and Blaine Gabbert rated lower.

The reason for the terrible passer rating is the three interceptions Ponder threw on Sunday. As Mike Wobschall of Vikings.com points out, while two of the turnovers didn't hurt the team that much, the second interception was a game-changer.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Ponder’s second interception was much more costly. It came with 2:22 to play in the 1st half and the Vikings driving to try and extend their lead. Instead, the Lions took possession on their own 30 and drove 70 yards for a touchdown right before the half.

Ponder also threw two other passes that should have been intercepted, fumbled a handoff intended for Adrian Peterson and had another fumble negated by a Detroit penalty. As bad as the turnovers were, they could have been even worse.

The fact is that Ponder simply didn't execute well. Inconsistency continues to haunt him. At times, he looked very good. On a handful of plays, he looked awful. A successful quarterback absolutely has to be consistent.

Execution Grade: D

 

Decision-Making

Again, there are positives and negatives here. Ponder made some good decisions in the passing game. His synergy with Jerome Simpson (7 catches, 140 yards) is obviously much better than last year, and his willingness to pull the ball down and run at times helped cover for a surprisingly-porous offensive line.

Ponder was sacked three times and under pressure almost every time he dropped back to pass. While this doesn't help, he still needs to make better decisions. 

The clearest example was on the interception right before the half. Ponder rolls out and is hotly pursued by Ndamukong Suh. Instead of simply running out of bounds and taking a sack, he tried to throw the ball out of bounds. Suh hit his arm, and Stephen Tulloch picked off the pass. That one play changed the game.

You want to say that one play by your quarterback changed a game. You don't want to say that the play caused you to lose. 

Decision-Making Grade: C-

 

Accuracy 

Ponder's accuracy was acceptable overall. If he continues to complete between 62 and 66 percent of his passes, the offense has a chance to move the ball.

However, when he missed on Sunday, he missed badly. When Ponder is wild, he tends to throw high, which is a recipe for disaster. He was intercepted three times by the Lions (although one of those picks wasn't really his fault) and could have been picked off at least two other times. 

Ponder needs to learn to throw the ball in spots more likely to generate positive results. If he's off, it would be much better if his passes hit the ground instead of sailing into the sky.

Accuracy Grade: C

 

Poise 

This is a hard category to quantify. Based on watching the game, most observers would have to say that Ponder wasn't particularly poised.

Leon Halip/Getty Images
The Lions hurried Ponder all day.

Under constant pressure from a strong Detroit pass rush, Ponder was frequently rushed on passing downs and made some poor decisions under duress. All three of his interceptions came on plays where he was evading a stiff pass rush.

His play on the interception that sealed the Vikings' fate at the end of the first half was particularly frenzied. As a starting NFL quarterback, Ponder simply needed to take a sack on that play.

Another disturbing trend on display in the Detroit game was Ponder's insistence on going with his first read. He appeared to lock on to a receiver and stay with that read until the pass rush got to him. He didn't scramble much. Minnesota would be wise to consider more plays that take advantage of Ponder's athleticism.

There's no other way to say it. Ponder spent much of the game under pressure, and simply didn't respond the way a winning quarterback should.

Poise Grade: F

 

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Overall

Simply stated, if the Vikings are going to make the playoffs in 2013, Christian Ponder has to play better than he did on Sunday.

At the very least, he needs to be efficient, avoid turning the ball over and give the team a chance to win. He accomplished none of those things in the season's first week.

Ponder's performance was so poor that Judd Zulgad of 1500 ESPN is speculating that the quarterback's job might be on the line Sunday in Chicago. Zulgad writes:

Christian Ponder's performance in the Minnesota Vikings' 34-24 season-opening loss Sunday at Detroit had many wondering how much patience the franchise will continue to show with him...While many will be tempted to roll their eyes and expect Ponder to remain the starter, there is fairly recent precedent to think the Vikings could make a change.

While most experts feel that the Vikings will stick with Ponder throughout the season, regardless of his performance, there's a reason the team acquired Matt Cassel in the offseason. While GM Rick Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier will contend that the squad was only looking for a viable backup, don't be surprised if they decide to give the veteran a chance if Ponder continues to struggle.

Overall Grade: D

Have your own take on Ponder's progress? Think it's time to take a look at Cassel? Speak your mind in the comments section below.

Follow me on Twitter: @bgarmani

(All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football Reference.com unless otherwise noted.)

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