As we discussed the offseason development of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, we noted the Vikings wanted to improve their early-down completion percentage. Ponder had one of the worst first-down completion percentages in the NFL as a rookie (50.9), leading to the sort of unmanageable third-down situations that can overwhelm any young quarterback.
Specifically, the Vikings set a lofty goal of completing 75 percent of their first- and second-down passes. It's a feat that has never been accomplished in the post-merger era, as far as we know, so it's worth noting Ponder exceeded that goal in the Vikings' 26-23 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The chart has the full breakdown of Ponder's performance on all three downs. All told, he completed 17 of 20 passes on first or second down, or 85 percent.
The success is attributable to Ponder's accuracy as well as offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's sensible play-calling. With downfield receiver Jerome Simpson serving a suspension, the Vikings didn't wander too far past the line of scrimmage. In fact, only two of Ponder's attempts traveled longer than 20 yards in the air. He completed one of them, a 24-yard pass to Devin Aromashodu in a hectic last-minute drive.
As much fun as it is to watch downfield passing, there is every reason to think the Vikings will continue this approach Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. Although the Colts might not have pass rusher Dwight Freeney (ankle) in their lineup, the Vikings would be well served to manage their offense efficiently at least until Simpson returns.