Sunday, November 24, 2013
Christian Ponder earns another start
By Ben Goessling
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When coach Leslie Frazier named Christian Ponder the Minnesota Vikings' starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers, he quickly anticipated the reaction he'd get from the decision.
"I'm sure some of the follow-up questions will be, 'Why?'" Frazier said. And on Wednesday, when Frazier announced his decision, they seemed valid.
Ponder had been pulled three days earlier after throwing two second-half interceptions against the Seattle Seahawks, and though Frazier pointed to his experience against the Packers, Ponder's only success against them had been in the Metrodome, not at Lambeau Field. He had a combined Total QBR of just 6.2 in his two previous starts at Lambeau, where he'd completed just 47.5 percent of his passes and thrown one touchdown against three interceptions.
But the way Ponder played on Sunday had Frazier saying he'd get another start next Sunday against the Chicago Bears, and it could move the Vikings further toward handing Ponder the job for the rest of the year. He went 21-for-30 for 233 yards and a touchdown, avoiding a turnover when Packers cornerback Davon House dropped an interception and finishing the game without handing Green Bay the ball.
Frazier said after the game "I don't know that it'd be helping our football team not to start him," and it seems to me like the Vikings are getting a handle on what works for Ponder, at least to the point where they can manage the game around him.
Ponder had a QBR of 97.6 when throwing to his right on Sunday, according to ESPN Stats and Information, connecting on 13 of 15 throws for 128 yards and a touchdown when he threw from there. What's more, he was 3 of 4 for 36 yards and a touchdown when throwing to his right and moving outside of the pocket, and all four of those throws came on play action. He's clearly at his most comfortable when rolling right off play action, when he's able to find tight ends John Carlson and Rhett Ellison, and he's shown the mobility to make that work.
The same old issues -- squeamishness in the face of consistent Packers pressure and a reluctance to throw into tight spots -- were there as usual for Ponder on Sunday. But he didn't turn the ball over and would have had a signature touchdown throw if Cordarrelle Patterson had been able to hang onto Ponder's overtime shot to the back of the end zone. The Vikings might not be comfortable enough with Josh Freeman's progress right now to put him in games, or Frazier could be going with what he knows as he tries to scrounge up wins in an attempt to save his job. If he feels like the front office backed him into a corner by signing Freeman, it could be that playing Ponder is Frazier's way of asserting some control.
Whatever it is, it seems fairly obvious that none of the three quarterbacks on the Vikings' roster will keep the team from seriously considering a quarterback at the top of the draft next year, so if Frazier thinks Ponder represents some kind of steadiness at the position, he might just stick with him the rest of the way.
Ponder did little to reopen the issue on Sunday, so for the ninth time this season, it appears he'll be on the field against Chicago.
"Everyone wants to be out there, but I'm happy that I get another chance," Ponder said. "You've got to move on (from bad performances). You have one game a week, and if you let things simmer, you're not going to play as effectively as you should the next game. I'm going to keep learning from those things, and try to get better."