Wednesday, October 2, 2013
QB Watch: Vikings' Christian Ponder
By Ben Goessling
A weekly examination of the Minnesota Vikings' quarterback play:
Rewind: With Christian Ponder out because of a rib injury, Matt Cassel turned in the kind of performance the Vikings had been waiting for at the quarterback position. The backup went 16-for-25 for 248 yards, tossing a pair of touchdowns to Greg Jennings and becoming the first Vikings quarterback to post a turnover-free game this season. He helped the team achieve some balance on offense, with Adrian Peterson running for 140 yards, and as the Vikings went into their bye week, Cassel threw open the question of who would start on Oct. 13 against the Carolina Panthers.
Fast-forward: The Vikings will have to determine if Ponder is healthy, first of all, after he broke a rib that the team's medical staff deemed too close to his heart to allow him to play last week. Ponder said he would be ready to play against the Panthers, adding doctors told him he'd need about 10 days before his ribs would be set in place again, but coach Leslie Frazier said on Tuesday that Ponder is still hurt, adding he would have to show he is ready to go by next Friday for the Vikings to start him against Carolina. Cassel could cause Frazier to keep Ponder's threshold high; he made some throws that Ponder has so far been unable to make, and turned Greg Jennings into a legitimate weapon for the first time this year. While Ponder could return to the lineup, the job won't be handed to him at this point.
Managing the reaction: It was probably expected that players would be complimentary of Cassel after he quarterbacked the Vikings to their first win of the season, but the number of offensive players -- from Greg Jennings to Adrian Peterson -- who spoke up about Cassel's command in the huddle might speak to a larger point. If Ponder is healthy enough and Frazier goes back to him, he might have to sell his team somewhat on the idea that Ponder is the best hope for the Vikings to get their season turned around. A large section of the fan base is certainly clamoring for Cassel to start against Carolina, so Frazier will have to do some consensus-building if he goes with Ponder.
Prediction: The Vikings still seem tied to Ponder -- perhaps out of a desire to make a definitive ruling on whether the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft can play the position or not. If Ponder is healthy enough to play, the guess here is that he starts against Carolina, despite Cassel's solid performance and the support it seems to have engendered. If Ponder gets the start, he'll need to bring his level of play up against the Panthers to hang onto the job going forward.